On a Plain

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"On a Plain"
On a Plain CD.jpg
Promo CD from Nirvana's Nevermind album
Song by Nirvana
from the album Nevermind
Released September 24, 1991
Recorded 1991
Genre Grunge
Length 3:16
Label DGC
Songwriter(s) Kurt Cobain
Producer(s) Butch Vig
Nevermind track listing
12 tracks
  1. "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
  2. "In Bloom"
  3. "Come as You Are"
  4. "Breed"
  5. "Lithium"
  6. "Polly"
  7. "Territorial Pissings"
  8. "Drain You"
  9. "Lounge Act"
  10. "Stay Away"
  11. "On a Plain"
  12. "Something in the Way"

"On a Plain" is a song by American rock band, Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist, Kurt Cobain. It is the 11th track on their second album, Nevermind, released in September, 1991. The song was released as a promo-only single in 1992.

Origin and recording[edit]

"On a Plain" was written in 1990. It was first recorded in the studio on January 1, 1991, by Craig Montgomery at Music Source Studios in Seattle, Washington. Its live debut was at Jabberjaw in Los Angeles, California on May 29, 1991.

The song was recorded for the band's second album, Nevermind, by Butch Vig in May 1991 at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Vig later called it "a great pop song," remembering it as "a really new one. It took a few takes to get it."[1] The lyrics were written in the studio shortly before the vocals were recorded, which led to the line, "What the hell am I trying to say?" The recording features high harmonies by drummer Dave Grohl. Vig had wanted to end the recording with Grohl's harmonies repeated four times a capella, and originally mixed the song this way, but upon hearing the mix, Cobain decided the song should end after only one pass of the harmonies.[2] Cobain's lead vocals were done in one take.[3]

"On a Plain" was released as a promo single in the summer of 1992, and became a moderate hit.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

In a 1993 interview with Jon Savage, Cobain said that the song was about "classic alienation, I guess," although he then noted he had to change his explanation every time he was asked about the meaning to his songs, saying that his lyrics were largely taken from "pieces of poetry thrown together," and that his poetry was "not usually thematic at all."[4]

The lyric "Don't quote me on that" is a reference to an inside joke in the studio that week, with people frequently repeating the line to each other.

"On a Plain" was recorded in the key of D Major with Cobain tuning his guitar down to drop D. The song starts with a noise intro played by Cobain with an audible handclap. After a short pause the main riff comes in with the power chords D5-G5-F5-E5-F5-E5-D5 played twice then followed by the power chords D5-C5-B5-A5 followed by the first progression again. The chord progressions are played twice for all verses followed by the power chords D5-G5-Bbmaj7sus2 for all choruses. After the second chorus a bridge is played with the power chords F5-E5-A5-G5. The song then goes onto the third verse followed by a final chorus which is treated as the outro with the words, "I'm on a plain/I can't complain" being repeated multiple times until all instruments and main vocals start fading out until the last thing that's heard is the repeating, wordless vocal harmony from the chorus.[5][6]


In 2017, to mark what would have been Kurt Cobain's 50th birthday, the Phonographic Performance Limited released a list of the top twenty most played Nirvana songs on the TV and radio in the UK in which "On a Plain" was ranked at number ten.[7]

Other versions[edit]

  • A live version appears on the November 2009 CD/DVD release, Live at Reading. It was recorded during the band's August 30, 1992 appearance at the Reading Festival in Reading, England, on August 30, 1992.
  • A demo version, recorded during a March 1991 rehearsal in Tacoma, Washington, appears on the second disc of the 20th anniversary Nevermind re-issue, released in September, 2011.


Chart (1992) Peak
US Alternative Songs (Billboard)[8] 25


The song was covered by Agent Orange for the album Smells Like Bleach: A Punk Tribute to Nirvana.

Animal Collective covered the song in 2004 for an acoustic live show at the now-closed Other Music record store in Manhattan, where band members Avey Tare and Panda Bear were previously employed.

A reggae version of the song was released on the Little Roy album Battle for Seattle in 2011.

In September 2011, Frank Turner covered the song for Kerrang! magazine's tribute to Nevermind for its 20th anniversary, entitled Nevermind Forever.[9]

Ambient acoustic band The Album Leaf also covered the song on the Nirvana tribute album Come as You Are: A 20th Anniversary Tribute.


  1. ^ Jovanovic, Rob (September 2004). Nirvana" The Recording Sessions. S A F Pub Ltd. ISBN 978-0946719600. 
  2. ^ Cross, Charles; Berkenstadt, Jim (February 22, 2012). Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind. Schirmer Trade. ISBN 9780857127686. 
  3. ^ Cross, Charles; Berkenstadt, Jim (February 22, 2012). Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind. Schirmer Trade. ISBN 9780857127686. 
  4. ^ Cross, Charles; Berkenstadt, Jim (February 22, 2012). Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind. Schirmer Trade. ISBN 9780857127686. 
  5. ^ http://www.e-chords.com/chords/nirvana/on-a-plain
  6. ^ http://www.guitaretab.com/n/nirvana/309541.html?no_takeover
  7. ^ 20 most-played Nirvana songs revealed to mark Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday planetrock.com. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  8. ^ "Nirvana Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  9. ^ Kerrang! Kerrang! Magazine 24/09/11

External links[edit]