Pennyroyal Tea

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"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"
ReleasedApril 1994 (original cancelled release)
April 19, 2014 (re-release)
FormatCD, 7-inch vinyl
RecordedFebruary 13–26, 1993 at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Steve Albini
Nirvana singles chronology
"All Apologies" / "Rape Me"
"Pennyroyal Tea"
"About a Girl"
In Utero track listing
12 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"

"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 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).

The final live performance of "Pennyroyal Tea" was at Nirvana's last concert, on March 1, 1994, at Terminal Einz in Munich, Germany.

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 1995 interview, Cohen told Addicted to Noise correspondent Peter Howell, "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. Or maybe not."[12][13]

Release and reception[edit]

The "Pennyroyal Tea" single was recalled shortly after Cobain's death in April 1994.[14] The single's cancellation may have in part be due to the title of one of the b-sides, "I Hate Myself and Want to Die,"[1], although it may have been cancelled regardless of this, so as not to capitalize on Cobain's death.[1]

At the time, only retail versions of the CD single made in Germany had been manufactured and distributed.[1] The singles were recalled and destroyed by the record label or retailers, but some copies were put aside, which is apparently the source of surviving copies. Some copies may have been sold by retailers, despite the recall.[1] A promotional CD single manufactured in the United Kingdom survived in even smaller numbers than the German retail CD.[15] Sleeves for the single's release in the UK, on 7 inch vinyl and cassette, were manufactured, but the single itself was not pressed in the UK prior to the recall. [16] As with all Nirvana artwork, it had been produced in the United States, although there were no plans to release the single in the US.[17]

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.[18]

Reviewing In Utero for Rolling Stone, Fricke wrote, "In the sepulchral folk intro of 'Penny Royal Tea,' Cobain almost sounds like Michael Stipe at the beginning of R.E.M.’s Drive' — before the heaving, fuzz-burnt chorus comes lashing down with a vengeance."[19] In his review of the album for the NME, John Mulvey wrote that "Pennyroyal Tea" was "a terrific song – straightforward, insidious, oddly moving," but that "the guitars don’t scream enough, the chorus doesn’t tower like it should, and overall it’s the one real ‘Call Butch Vig’ moment."[20]

In 2004, the NME ranked "Pennyroyal Tea" at number six on their list of the 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[21] The same year, Q erroneously included the song on their list of 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't, at number two.[22] In 2015, Rolling Stone placed it at number 11 on their ranking of 102 Nirvana songs.[23]

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.[24][25] It was the top-selling vinyl single of Record Store Day in the US,[5][26] 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."[27] 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.[28]

MTV Unplugged version[edit]

A live, acoustic version 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, 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."[29]

This version was officially released on the album MTV Unplugged in New York in November, 1994. Footage of the performance, as well as from the rehearsals, were released on the MTV Unplugged in New York DVD in November, 2007.


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

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)[33] 4
UK Rock and Metal (Official Charts Company)[34] 26
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[35] 121
US Hot Singles Sales (Billboard)[2][3][36] 1


All personnel credits adapted from In Utero's liner notes[37] except design personnel adapted from "Pennyroyal Tea"'s liner notes.[38]

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
1990 Cobain/Grohl residence, Olympia, Washington Kurt Cobain/Dave Grohl Not officially released[A]
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Dave Grohl (percussion)
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, Seattle, Washington 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, Washington 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, Washington Live and Loud (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
  • Pat Smear (guitar, backing vocals)
February 4, 1994 Studio 3, Canal +, Paris, France Live and Loud (2013)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
  • Pat Smear (guitar, backing vocals)

Cover versions[edit]

Year Artist Album
1999 Kristin Hersh Echo
2014 Whirr In Utero: In Tribute


  • 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 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. ^ MTV News Staff (August 6, 1995). "Leonard Cohen on Kurt Cobain". MTV. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Cashbox - International - U.K/London Calling" (PDF). Cashbox. April 30, 1994. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  15. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Penny Royal Tea promo. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  16. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea UK sleeves and inserts. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  17. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea artwork. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  18. ^ TV Mixes Penny Royal Tea Quoting: I. Godd, MCA UK head of TV promotion. Retrieved March 26, 2016
  19. ^ Fricke, David (16 September 1993). "In Utero". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  20. ^ Mulvey, John (4 September 1993). "Nirvana : In Utero". NME. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  21. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ Johnston, Maura (8 April 2015). "No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked". Rolling Stone.
  24. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Official List for US Stores Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  25. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  26. ^ Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles Retrieved 26 April, 2014.
  27. ^ Gaar, Gillian G. In Utero. Continuum, 2006. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  28. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea Music Video. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  29. ^ Cross, Charles R. (August 15, 2001). Heavier Than Heaven. United States: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6505-9.
  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) Archived 2017-06-12 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 February, 2014.
  33. ^ Official Physical Singles Chart Top 100 - 27 April 2014 - 03 May 2014 Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  34. ^ "Official Rock & Metal Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  35. ^ CHART LOG UK: NEW ENTRIES UPDATE - CLUK Update 26.04.2014 (wk16) Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  36. ^ "Nirvana - Hot Singles Sales search results". Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  37. ^ In Utero (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1993. GED 24536. |access-date= requires |url= (help)CS1 maint: others (link)
  38. ^ Pennyroyal Tea (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1994. GED 21907. |access-date= requires |url= (help)CS1 maint: others (link)

^ The unreleased version was known to be in existence prior to 2015 but was leaked onto the internet in August 2015 via the Nirvana subreddit.[1]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ RareNirvana (2015-08-04), Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea (Acoustic Demo 1990), retrieved 2018-11-06