Pennyroyal Tea

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Pennyroyal Tea"
A cup of tea being brewed in a cup. A spoon, biscuits and an ashtray filled with cigarette buts surround the cup. On top of the cup, blue text in block capitals reads "Nirvana" and under the cup, orange italicised text reads "Pennyroyal Tea."
Single by Nirvana
from the album In Utero
B-side "I Hate Myself and Want to Die"
Released April 1994 (original cancelled release)
April 19, 2014 (re-release)
Format CD, 7-inch vinyl
Recorded February 13–26, 1993 at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Length 3:36
Label Geffen
Songwriter(s) Kurt Cobain
Producer(s) Steve Albini
Nirvana singles chronology
"All Apologies" / "Rape Me"
"Pennyroyal Tea"
"About a Girl"
In Utero track listing
13 tracks
  1. "Serve the Servants"
  2. "Scentless Apprentice"
  3. "Heart-Shaped Box"
  4. "Rape Me"
  5. "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"
  6. "Dumb"
  7. "Very Ape"
  8. "Milk It"
  9. "Pennyroyal Tea"
  10. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"
  11. "tourette's"
  12. "All Apologies"
  13. "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip"

"Pennyroyal Tea" is a song by the American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain. It is the ninth track on the band's third and final studio album, In Utero, released in September, 1993. The song was due to be released as the third single from In Utero in April 1994, but the single was recalled following Cobain's death the same month.[1] The single was re-released, on limited edition 7 inch vinyl, for Record Store Day in April 2014, and charted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales chart.[2][3][4][5]

Origin and recording[edit]

According to Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, "Pennyroyal Tea" was written by Cobain in 1990 in an Olympia, Washington apartment he shared with Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl. "Dave and I were screwing around on a 4-track," Cobain explained, "and I wrote that song in about thirty seconds. And I sat down for like half-an-hour and wrote the lyrics and then we recorded it."[6] It was first performed live on April 17, 1991 at the OK Hotel in Seattle, Washington, the show at which Nirvana also debuted their breakthrough single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."[7] Two unfinished takes, both lacking vocals, were recorded by Jack Endino on October 26, 1992, at Word of Mouth in Seattle, Washington.[7]

The final version was recorded by Steve Albini at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota in February, 1993, and officially released on In Utero in September, 1993. Cobain was unsatisfied with the recording, telling David Fricke in a 1993 Rolling Stone interview that the song "was not recorded right. There is something wrong with that. That should have been recorded like Nevermind, because I know that's a strong song, a hit single. We're toying with the idea of re-recording it or remixing it."[8] The song was remixed by Scott Litt, who had remixed the In Utero songs "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" prior to the album's release, on November 22, 1993 at Bad Animals in Seattle, Washington.[9] This version appears on the censored Wal-Mart and Kmart versions of In Utero, released in March 1994, and is the mix that was released as a single. It also appears on the band's two greatest hits albums, Nirvana (2002) and Icon (2010).

Composition and lyrics[edit]

The song's title refers to the tea made from boiling the leaves of the plant Mentha pulegium, or pennyroyal, which is used as an abortifacient, among other things, in traditional medicine. In Cobain's unused liner notes for In Utero, published posthumously in Journals in 2002, the entry for "Pennyroyal Tea" simply reads: "herbal abortive... it doesn't work, you hippie."[10]

In an interview in the October 1993 issue of Impact, Cobain gave greater insight into the song, saying that it was about a person suffering from severe depression:[11]

When I ask Cobain if 'Penny Royal Tea' is about indigestion, he half-laughs. 'Penny royal tea is a herbal abortive,' he says. 'I threw that in because I have so many friends who have tried to use that, and it never worked. The song is about a person who's beyond depressed; they're in their death bed, pretty much.' Cobain's own bout with serious stomach pain was well documented last year. 'Yeah, it did rub off on the song,' he admits. And I couldn't help noticing the 'Canadian' reference to a Leonard Cohen afterworld. 'That was my therapy, when I was depressed and sick. I'd read things like Malloy Dies [sic] by Beckett, or listen to Leonard Cohen, which would actually make it worse,' he laughs.

In a 2004 interview, Cohen told The Guardian, "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him."[12]


The "Pennyroyal Tea" single was recalled shortly after Cobain's death in April, 1994.[1] This was announced in Cashbox magazine in the issue dated April 30, 1994.[13] At the time only retail versions of the CD single made in Germany had been manufactured and distributed.[1] The singles were recalled by the record company and destroyed but some escaped destruction.[1] The obvious reason for the cancellation of the single was because one of the B-side songs had the title "I Hate Myself and Want to Die",[1] although it may well have been cancelled anyway so that it did not seem like the record label was profiting from Cobain's death.[1] It is possible however that some copies were sold by retailers.[1] The recalled singles were destroyed in the presence of people from the record label; however distribution employees managed to put some copies aside which seems to be the main source for the copies that have survived.[1] A promotional CD single was manufactured in the United Kingdom and has survived in even smaller numbers than the German retail CD.[14] The sleeves for 7 inch vinyl singles and inserts for retail CD singles were also manufactured in the UK but the vinyl records and CD's themselves were not manufactured due to the cancellation of the single's release.[15] Artwork made in the USA and sent to the UK has been found for proposed 7 inch vinyl and even cassette singles.[16]

A planned promotional performance on the UK TV show Top of the Pops is evident as a Digital Audio Tape has been discovered containing three different mixes of "Pennyroyal Tea" all without vocals for the show which was strictly live vocal to track performances.[17]

2014 Record Store Day re-release[edit]

On April 19, 2014, the "Pennyroyal Tea" single was re-released on 7-inch vinyl for Record Store Day 2014, limited to only 6000 copies.[18][19] It was the top-selling vinyl single of Record Store Day in the US,[5][20] reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales Chart.[2]


Unlike the artwork for the previous In Utero singles, "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies"/ "Rape Me", the artwork for the "Pennyroyal Tea" single featured no input from Cobain. "We got it done and I don't know that Kurt was around to approve it or not," recalls designer Robert Fisher. "I think it might just have been shot to management to approve or something."[21] The single's cover features a teacup on a table next to a used ashtray, a cream pitcher and animal crackers.

Music video[edit]

Dutch director Anton Corbijn was asked to direct a music video for "Pennyroyal Tea", but he refused, saying he did not believe he could make a video better than the one he had made for "Heart-Shaped Box", the first single from In Utero. American director Jeffery Plansker was enlisted as the director instead, but the planned video was abandoned after Cobain's death in April 1994.[22]

Track listings[edit]

All songs written and composed by Kurt Cobain unless otherwise noted.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2014) Peak
UK Physical Singles Sales (Official Charts Company)[23] 4
UK Rock and Metal (Official Charts Company)[24] 26
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[25] 121
US Hot Singles Sales (Billboard)[2][3][26] 1

MTV Unplugged version[edit]

A live, acoustic version appears on the album MTV Unplugged in New York, released in November, 1994. It was recorded during the band's MTV Unplugged performance on November 18, 1993 at Sony Music Studios in New York City. The band had tried different approaches to the song during the rehearsal earlier that day, performing it in a different key and with guitarist Pat Smear on backing vocals. However, during the show Cobain decided to attempt the song on his own and in the regular key, asking, "Am I going to do this by myself?" to which Grohl replied, "Do it by yourself," and Cobain joking that "if it sounds bad, these people are just going to have to wait." The song was performed in the same arrangement as the In Utero version but without the guitar solo, and Cobain paused before the third verse, as if briefly forgetting what lyric to sing next, then regained himself and completed the song. Cobain's biographer, Charles Cross, called this version Cobain's "single greatest moment onstage," writing that "like all the high-water marks of his career, it came at a time when he seemed destined to fail."[27]

Footage from the rehearsal appears on the MTV Unplugged in New York DVD, released in November, 2007.


All personnel credits adapted from In Utero's liner notes[28] except design personnel adapted from "Pennyroyal Tea"'s liner notes.[29]

Production personnel
Design personnel
  • Robert Fisher – art direction, design
  • Greg Stata – art direction, design
  • John Skalicky – photography

Recording and release history[edit]

Demo and studio versions[edit]

Date recorded Studio Producer/recorder Releases Personnel
October 26, 1992 Word of Mouth Productions, Seattle, Washington Jack Endino In Utero (Deluxe) (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain (guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
Unknown Cobain residence Kurt Cobain With the Lights Out (2004)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
February 1993 Pachyderm Studios, Cannon Falls, Minnesota Steve Albini In Utero (1993)
Nirvana (2002)
Icon (2010)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)

Live versions[edit]

Date recorded Venue Releases Personnel
April 17, 1991 OK Hotel, Seattle, WA With the Lights Out (2004)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
November 18, 1993 Sony Music Studios, New York City, New York MTV Unplugged in New York (DVD) (2007)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Dave Grohl - guitar
  • Pat Smear - guitar, backing vocals
November 18, 1993 Sony Music Studios, New York City, New York MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
December 13, 1993 Pier 48, Seattle, WA Live and Loud (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - drums, backing vocals
  • Pat Smear - guitar
February 4, 1994 Studio 3, Canal +, Paris, France Live and Loud (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - drums


Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
2004 NME United Kingdom Top 20 Nirvana Songs[30] 8
Q 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't[31] 2
2007 KROQ-FM United States Top 500 Songs of the '90s[32] 461

Cover versions[edit]

"Pennyroyal Tea" has been covered by the following artists:


  • Azerrad, Michael (1993). Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-86369-746-1.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea single. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Hot Singles Sales Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Record Store Day Chart Recap: Vinyl Album Sales Reach Historic High Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  4. ^ Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles Retrieved 25 April, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Nirvana Top Record Store Day 2014 Best-Sellers Retrieved 26 April, 2014.
  6. ^ Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
  7. ^ a b Gaar, Gillian G. (2006). In Utero. United States: Continium. p. 19. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  8. ^ Fricke, David (January 27, 1994). "Kurt Cobain, The Rolling Stone Interview: Success Doesn't Suck". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  9. ^ Garr, Gillian G. (2006). In Utero. United States: Continium. p. 59. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  10. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Journals". Published in 2002 by Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-232-7.
  11. ^ Punter, Jennie. (October 1993). "In Womb." Impact. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  12. ^ de Lisle, Tim (September 17, 2004). "Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head?". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  13. ^ "Cashbox - International - U.K/London Calling" (PDF). Cashbox. April 30, 1994. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  14. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Penny Royal Tea promo. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  15. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea UK sleeves and inserts. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  16. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea artwork. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  17. ^ TV Mixes Penny Royal Tea Quoting: I. Godd, MCA UK head of TV promotion. Retrieved March 26, 2016
  18. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Official List for US Stores Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  19. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  20. ^ Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles Retrieved 26 April, 2014.
  21. ^ Gaar, Gillian G. In Utero. Continuum, 2006. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  22. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea Music Video. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  23. ^ Official Physical Singles Chart Top 100 - 27 April 2014 - 03 May 2014 Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  24. ^ "Official Rock & Metal Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  25. ^ CHART LOG UK: NEW ENTRIES UPDATE - CLUK Update 26.04.2014 (wk16) Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  26. ^ "Nirvana - Hot Singles Sales search results". Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  27. ^ Cross, Charles R. (August 15, 2001). Heavier Than Heaven. United States: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6505-9.
  28. ^ In Utero (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1993. GED 24536. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  29. ^ Pennyroyal Tea (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1994. GED 21907. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  30. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  31. ^ "105: Missed Hits - 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't". Q. 2004. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  32. ^ KROQ Top 500 Songs of the '90s (Labor Day 2007) Retrieved 14 February, 2014.

External links[edit]