About a Girl (Nirvana song)

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"About a Girl"
Nirvana about a girl.png
Single by Nirvana
from the album MTV Unplugged in New York
B-side"Something in the Way" (live)
ReleasedOctober 24, 1994 (1994-10-24)
FormatCD
RecordedNovember 18, 1993 (1993-11-18)
Genre
Length3:37
LabelDGC
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Nirvana and Scott Litt
Nirvana singles chronology
"Pennyroyal Tea"
(1994)
"About a Girl"
(1994)
"The Man Who Sold the World"
(1995)
MTV Unplugged in New York track listing
Audio sample
Music video
"About a Girl" on YouTube
"About a Girl"
Song by Nirvana
from the album Bleach
ReleasedJune 15, 1989
Recorded1988–1989
GenreAlternative rock, grunge
Length2:48
LabelSub Pop
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Jack Endino
Bleach track listing
11 tracks
  1. "Blew"
  2. "Floyd the Barber"
  3. "About a Girl"
  4. "School"
  5. "Love Buzz"
  6. "Paper Cuts"
  7. "Negative Creep"
  8. "Scoff"
  9. "Swap Meet"
  10. "Mr. Moustache"
  11. "Sifting"

"About a Girl" is a song by American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain. It is the third song on their debut album, Bleach, released in June 1989.

The song reached a wider audience after its acoustic performance during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged concert in November 1993. This version was released as a single to promote the posthumous album MTV Unplugged in New York in October 1994, and reached number one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 22 on Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart.

Origin and recording[edit]

Dating back to 1988, "About a Girl" was reportedly written after Cobain spent an afternoon repeatedly listening to Meet the Beatles!, the 1964 second American release by the Beatles.[1] The song was recorded in December 1988 by Jack Endino at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington, and appeared on Nirvana's debut album, Bleach, in June 1989. It was debuted live at a dorm party at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in February 1989.

According to Cobain, he had been attempting to conceal his pop songwriting at this time, and was reluctant to include the song on Bleach for fear of alienating the band's then-largely grunge fan base. In a 1993 Rolling Stone interview with David Fricke, he explained:

"Even to put 'About a Girl' on Bleach was a risk. I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old ‘60s stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground — like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky." [2]

However, Endino was excited about the song, and even saw it as a potential single.[3] In a 1997 interview with Gillian G. Gaar for Goldmine, he recalled Cobain's initial trepidation about including the song on Bleach.

"I think Kurt felt nervous about putting 'About a Girl' on there, but he was very insistent on it. He said, 'I've got a song that's totally different from the others, Jack, you've gotta just humour me here, because we're gonna do this real pop tune.' The question was raised at some point, gee, I wonder if Sub Pop's going to like this, and we decided, 'Who cares?' Sub Pop said nothing. In fact, I think they liked it a lot."[4]

In 2004, Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana's 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind, cited "About a Girl" as the first hint that there was more to Nirvana than grunge. "Everyone talks about Kurt's love affair with... the whole punk scene, but he was also a huge Beatles fan, and the more time we spent together the more obvious their influence on his songwriting became," Vig told the NME.[5]

On October 26, 1989, a version was recorded by Ted de Bono at Maida Vale Studios in London, England, during Nirvana's first BBC Peel Session. The full session was first broadcast on November 22, 1989.[6] Another version was recorded on November 1, 1989 at Villa 65 in Hilversum, the Netherlands for the VPRO radio show, Nozems-a-Gogo.

The studio version of "About a Girl" was re-released on the band's first "best of" compilation, Nirvana, in October 2002. The MTV Unplugged version was re-released on a second hits compilation, Icon, in August 2010.

"About a Girl" was performed for the final time live at Nirvana's last concert, at Terminal Einz in Munich, Germany on March 1, 1994.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"About a Girl" is a alternative rock song that runs for a duration of two minutes and forty-eight seconds.[7] According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by BMG Rights Management, it is written in the time signature of common time, with a moderately fast rock tempo of 130 beats per minute.[8] "About a Girl" is composed in the key of E minor, while Kurt Cobain's vocal range spans one octave and six notes, from the low-note of B4 to the high-note of A5.[9] The song song primarily alternates between the open chords of Em and G in the verses and follows a chord progression of C5–G5–F5–C5–G5–F5–E5–A5–C5 during the refrain.[10] During the verses, Cobain repeats the same two chords as Kris Novoselic's bass line continuously ascends while a vocal harmony and tambourines appear in the background. The song's chorus features slight key modulation, where chords land just a slightly away from the place expected.[11] "About a Girl" has an aching, wistful melody which Cobain sings over simple chord progressions. His electric guitar playing grows rawer and noisier over the course of the track.[11]

According to Chad Channing, Nirvana's Bleach-era drummer, Cobain didn't have a title for the song when he first brought it into the studio. When asked what it was about, Cobain replied, "It's about a girl." [12] The "girl" was Tracy Marander, Cobain's then-girlfriend, with whom he lived at the time. Apparently, Marander had asked Cobain why he had never written a song for her, and Cobain responded with "About a Girl." The lyrics addresses the couple's fractured relationship, caused by Cobain's refusal to get a job, or to share cleaning duties at their apartment, which housed many of his pets. During arguments on the subject, Cobain would occasionally threaten to move into his car, at which point Marander would usually relent.[13] Cobain never told Marander that he had written "About a Girl" for her. In the 1998 Nick Broomfield documentary Kurt and Courtney, Marander revealed that she only found out after reading Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana.

Reception[edit]

"About a Girl" has frequently been cited as early evidence of Cobain's talent as a pop songwriter. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic wrote that the song "illustrated signs of [Cobain's] considerable songcraft."[14] Evan Rytlewskia of Pitchfork called it "a glimpse at the melodic impulses that would make [Cobain] one of the defining rock musicians of the ’90s."[15] According to Will Bryant of Pitchfork, it was "curious, based on the clean guitars and tinny cymbals that dominate ["About a Girl"], how Nirvana ever came to be identified with grunge, the genuinely dirty and moody sound more readily associated with contemporaries Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Tad than the punk-metal hybrid Nirvana favored."[16] The NME described it as "Kurt's first true masterpiece," which "showed Nirvana's soft underbelly could be just as arresting as their ear-splitting thrashes."[17]

In 2004, the NME ranked "About a Girl" second on their list of the 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[18] The same year, Q ranked it second on their list of the 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[19] In 2015, it was placed at number eight on Rolling Stone's ranking of 102 Nirvana songs.[20] It was ranked at number 112 on Pitchfork's 2015 list of The 200 Best Songs of the 1980s, with Raymond Cummings calling it a "sharp, perceptive, well-constructed, and almost Beatles-esque" song "that demonstrated a potential beyond grunge's ghetto."[21] In 2019, it was ranked eighth on The Guardian's list of Nirvana's 20 greatest songs.[22]

"About a Girl" is a BMI award-winning song.[23]

MTV Unplugged version[edit]

Featuring Pat Smear on second guitar, the MTV Unplugged version was released as a single in October 1994, to promote the album MTV Unplugged in New York, released the following month. It was the only commercial single released from the album, and featured the Unplugged version of "Something in the Way" as the b-side. Cobain opened the song by saying, "This is off our first record. Most people don't own it."

Reviewing MTV Unplugged in New York for the NME, John Harris wrote that the song's "musical backdrop suggests The Beatles in 1964, at their lovelorn best: minor-key introspection gives way to regular traces of lightened-up calm, only to regain the upper hand within bars. ... For that reason, encapsulated in the fact that it rides on a divinely simple verse/ chorus/ verse undertow, it may be the most beautiful song here."[24]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "About a Girl" (Cobain)
  2. "Something in the Way" (Cobain)

Chart positions[edit]

Accolades[edit]

Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
1998 Kerrang! United Kingdom 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars[54] 8
2004 Q High Spirits: 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever[55] 2
2011 NME Nirvana: Their 10 Best Tracks[56] 2
2019 The Guardian Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked![57] 8

Recording and release history[edit]

Demo and studio versions[edit]

Date recorded Studio Producer/recorder Releases Personnel
1988 Cobain residence, Olympia, Washington Kurt Cobain With the Lights Out (2004)
Sliver: The Best of the Box (2005)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
December 1988 - January 1989 Reciprocal Recording, Seattle, Washington Jack Endino Bleach (1989)
Nirvana (2002)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Chad Channing (drums)
October 26, 1989 Maida Vale Studios, London, England Ted de Bono Unreleased
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar, backing vocals)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Chad Channing (drums)
November 1, 1989 Villa 65, Hilversum, Netherlands Anne Bakema Unreleased
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Chad Channing (drums)

Live versions[edit]

Date recorded Venue Releases Personnel
February 9, 1990 Pine Street Theatre, Portland, Oregon Sliver (1991)
Bleach (20th Anniversary Edition) (2009)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Chad Channing (drums)
October 31, 1991 Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! (1994)
Live at the Paramount (2011)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
November 25, 1991 Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! (DVD) (2006)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
August 30, 1992 Reading Festival, Reading, England Live at Reading (2009)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
November 18, 1993 Sony Music Studios, New York City, New York MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
Icon (2010)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic – (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
  • Pat Smear (guitar)
December 13, 1993 Pier 48, Seattle, Washington Live and Loud (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
  • Pat Smear (guitar)
Year Artist Album
1999 Cibo Matto Moonchild
2005 Cibelle About a Girl
2011 Little Roy Battle for Seattle

In popular culture[edit]

The song inspired the title of the 1998 novel About a Boy, by British author, Nick Hornby.[58]

The studio version appears as downloadable content in the Rock Band video game.

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  • About a Girl discography information at sliver.it
  • Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Doubleday, New York: 1993, ISBN 0-86369-746-1

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Azerrad, Michael (1994), Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana
  2. ^ "LiveNIRVANA.com Interview Archive | 1993 | October 25, 1993 - Chicago, IL, US". Live Nirvana. Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  3. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  4. ^ True, Everett. Nirvana: The Biography. Da Capo Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780306815546.
  5. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Luerssen, John D. (2014). Nirvana FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Most Important Band of the 1990s. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-61713-588-0.
  7. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Nirvana 'About a Girl' Sheet Music in E Minor - Download & Print". Musicnotes.com. BMG Rights Management. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  8. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Nirvana 'About a Girl' Sheet Music in E Minor - Download & Print". Musicnotes.com. BMG Rights Management. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  9. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Nirvana 'About a Girl' Sheet Music in E Minor - Download & Print". Musicnotes.com. BMG Rights Management. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  10. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Nirvana 'About a Girl' Sheet Music in E Minor - Download & Print". Musicnotes.com. BMG Rights Management. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Nirvana – About a Girl Song Review by Steve Huey". AllMusic. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  12. ^ Krist Novoselic (2009-10-28). "Bleach: Krist Novoselic Interviews Chad Channing - Page 1 - Music - Seattle". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  13. ^ Azerrad, Michael (1994). Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday. p. 100. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
  14. ^ Stephen Thomas, Erlewine. "AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine". Allmusic. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  15. ^ Rytlewski, Evan (10 September 2018). "The 200 Best Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  16. ^ Bryant, Will (14 November 2002). "Nirvana: Nirvana". Pitchfork. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  17. ^ "Why Nirvana's 'Bleach' Doesn't Deserve To Sit In The Shadow Of Its Massive Follow-Up Albums". NME (15 June 2015). Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  18. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  19. ^ "123: High Spirits - 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". Q. 2004. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  20. ^ Shepherd, Julianne Escobedo (8 April 2015). "No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  21. ^ Cummings, Raymond (24 August 2015). "The 200 Best Songs of the 1980s". Pichfork. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  22. ^ Petridis, Alexis (20 June 2019). "Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  23. ^ Nirvana songs listed by BMI. bmi.com Retrieved on December 26, 2012.
  24. ^ Harris, John (October 29, 1994). "Unplugged In New York". NME. London. Archived from the original on March 30, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  25. ^ "Australian-charts.com – Nirvana – About a Girl %5BMTV Unplugged Version%5D". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  26. ^ "Ultratop.be – Nirvana – About a Girl %5BMTV Unplugged Version%5D" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  27. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2676." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  28. ^ Schlüter, Johan (January 6, 1995). "Official Danish Singles Top 50". IFPI Danmark Report (Week 1). IFPI Danmark, AC/ Nielsen Marketing Research.
  29. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. January 14, 1995. p. 9. Retrieved July 28, 2018. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  30. ^ "M & M Charts Airplay EHR Top 40" (PDF). Music & Media. Music & Media. January 28, 1995. p. 29. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  31. ^ "Top 10 Sales in Europe" (PDF). Music & Media. November 19, 1994. p. 26. Retrieved March 23, 2019. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  32. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2003). Sisältää hitin: levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972. Otava Publishing Company Ltd. ISBN 951-1-21053-X.
  33. ^ "Lescharts.com – Nirvana – About a Girl %5BMTV Unplugged Version%5D" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  34. ^ Vinsseldalistinn 10 - 17 November 1994 (last week's position). timarit.is. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  35. ^ Salvatori, Dario. (1999). 40 anni di hit parade italiana: [le canzoni, gli interpreti, i record e le curiosità di tutte le classifiche dal 1957 a oggi]. Firenze: Tarab. ISBN 88-86675-55-0
  36. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Nirvana ((USA))" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  37. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Nirvana – About a Girl %5BMTV Unplugged Version%5D" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  38. ^ "ABOUT THE GIRL". Polskie Radio. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  39. ^ "Archiwum Listy Przebojow - Trojki - Nrivana". www.lp3.pl. Polskie Radio. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  40. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Nirvana – About a Girl %5BMTV Unplugged Version%5D". Singles Top 100. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  41. ^ "Nirvana Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  42. ^ "Nirvana Chart History (Radio Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  43. ^ "Nirvana Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  44. ^ "Nirvana Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  45. ^ "CHR/Top 40" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. December 2, 1994. p. 78. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  46. ^ "Pop CHR Top 40" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. November 25, 1994. p. 83. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  47. ^ "Rock Tracks Top 60" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. December 16, 1994. p. 91. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  48. ^ "Alternative Top 50" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. November 25, 1994. p. 57. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  49. ^ "Official Rock & Metal Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  50. ^ "RPM 100 Hit Tracks of 1994". RPM. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  51. ^ "The Top 94 of 1994" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. December 16, 1994. p. 42. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  52. ^ "The Top 94 of 1994" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. December 16, 1994. p. 34. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  53. ^ "RPM 100 Hit Tracks of 1995". RPM. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  54. ^ "The Hit List: 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars". Kerrang!. No. 709. July 25, 1998. p. 49. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  55. ^ "123: High Spirits - 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". Q. 2004. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  56. ^ Elan, Priya (September 7, 2011). "Nirvana – Their 10 Best Tracks". NME. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  57. ^ Petridis, Alexis (20 June 2019). "Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  58. ^ Muther, Christopher (20 February 2014). "NBC's 'About a Boy' reboots Hornby novel". Boston Globe. Retrieved 14 December 2018.

External links[edit]