Aneurysm (song)

"Aneurysm" is a song by the American rock band, Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl. It first appeared as a b-side on the band's breakthrough "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single in September 1991. A second studio version was released on the rarities compilation, Incesticide, in December 1992

Promotional single by Nirvana
from the album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah
ReleasedOctober 8, 1996
FormatPromo CD single
RecordedDel Mar, California, December 28, 1991
Nirvana singles chronology
"The Man Who Sold the World"
"You Know You're Right"
Audio sample
  • file
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Music video
"Aneurysm" on YouTube

A live version, recorded on December 28, 1991 at Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, California, was released as the first promotional single from the live compilation, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, in 1996. It reached number 11 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 13 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart.

Origin and recording

Written in 1990, "Aneurysm" is one of the few Nirvana songs credited to all three members. It was first performed live on November 25, 1990 at the Off Ramp Café in Seattle, Washington. The first studio version was recorded on January 1, 1991 at Music Source in Seattle, Washington. The session was recorded by the band's audio engineer Craig Montgomery, and was their first with Grohl, who had joined Nirvana in September 1990. This version of the song was released as a b-side on the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single in September 1991, along with "Even in His Youth," recorded at the same session. Both songs were re-released on the Australian and Japanese tour EP, Hormoaning, in January 1992.

A second studio version of "Aneurysm" was recorded by Miti Adhikari for the BBC program The Evening Session at Maida Vale Studios in London, England. It appeared on the band's rarities compilation Incesticide in December 1992, along with versions of "Polly" and "Been a Son" from the same session. Of the four songs recorded during the session, the band spent the longest working on "Aneurysm," using fade-ins and fade-outs on the backing vocals during the verses to give the recording an "unusual" vocal effect, as described by author Gillian G. Garr, and overall "lighter" feel than the Music Source version.[1]

Despite never being released on a studio album, "Aneurysm" was a regular part of the band's setlist in 1991 and 1992. Its final performance was on August 6, 1993 at the King Cat Theatre in Seattle.

Lyrics and composition

"Aneurysm" is an alternative rock song that lasts for a duration of four minutes and thirty-five seconds.[2] According to the sheet music published at by BMG Rights Management, it is written in the time signature of common time, with a moderately fast rock tempo of 132 beats per minute.[2] "Aneurysm" is composed in the key of B Minor, while Kurt Cobain's vocal range spans one octave and five notes, from a low of A4 to a high of F5.[2] The song has a basic sequence of F5–C–B5–A5 during the introduction, alternates between the chords of B5 and D5 in the verses and follows F5–G5–A5–B5–B5–B5–A5 at the refrain as its chord progression.[2] Its arrangement begins with an extended introduction, opening with an echoed, descending guitar riff. The song's verses are structured around a simplistic, crunching two-chord sequence.[3] Throughout the number, Cobain loudly snarls parodic lyrics insisting listeners to, "Come on over, and do the twist."[3] During the chorus, he delivers a rousing round of catchy chants. The song concludes with enigmatic praise for an unidentified woman: "She keeps it pumpin' straight to my heart."[3]

According to the 2001 Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross, Cobain wrote the lyrics to "Aneurysm" about his ex-girlfriend, musician Tobi Vail.[4] Cobain's lyrics for the song make fun of pop conventions and drug-use rituals ("shoot the shit"), ("beat me out of me").[5] Cobain's lyrics for the song allude to the first time he spent time with Tobi, when he got so nervous he had to throw up: "Love you so much, makes me sick!" He also wrote it as a dark love song to try to get her back and to describe how the break-up devastated him: "Come on the twist, Overdo it...and have a fit!"[6]


In his Allmusic review of Incesticide, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that "Aneurysm" was "perhaps the greatest single song the group ever recorded."[7] Allmusic's' Mark Deming wrote that the song "may have been [Nirvana's] final grunge masterpiece" before the release of their mainstream breakthrough Nevermind in September 1991, and described it as being characterized by "big, loud rock riffs, pop culture parody, self-conscious self-disgust, and a finale worthy of a thousand upheld Bic lighters."[3]

In 2013, "Aneurysm" was voted the seventh best Nirvana song in a Rolling Stone's reader's poll.[8] In 2015, it was ranked at number 30 on Rolling Stones' No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked list.[9] In 2019, The Guardian placed it at number six on their list of Nirvana's 20 greatest songs, with Alex Petridis calling it "every bit the equal of anything on Nevermind."[10]

On April 10, 2014, "Aneurysm" was performed by surviving Nirvana members Grohl, Novoselic and Pat Smear, with lead vocals by Kim Gordon, vocalist and bassist of the American indie rock band Sonic Youth, at Nirvana's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, New York. Rolling Stone named it one of the 10 Best Cover Songs of 2014, calling it a "fitting" end to the ceremony given Sonic Youth's role in helping Nirvana attain mainstream success, and writing that "Kurt would've approved."[11] Gordon discussed the performance in her 2015 autobiography Girl in a Band, writing that "Ontage, I was reminded that Kurt was the most intense performer I had ever seen ... I sang 'Aneurysm,' with its chorus, 'Beat me out of me,' bringing in all my own rage and hurt from the last few years - a four-minute-long explosion of grief, where I could finally let myself feel the furious sadness of Kurt's death and everything else surrounding it."[12]

In 2017, to mark what would have been Cobain's 50th birthday, the Phonographic Performance Limited released a list of the top 20 most played Nirvana songs on television and radio in the UK, in which "Aneurysm" was ranked at number nine.[13]

Del Mar Fairgrounds version

A live version of "Aneurysm," recorded on December 28, 1991 at Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, California, appeared on the live compilation From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in October 1996. It was released as the album's first promotional single, peaking at number 11 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 13 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart.[14]

Music video

Footage of the band performing the song from the 1994 home video, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, was used as a music video on MTV and MuchMusic for the Del Mar Fairgrounds version in 1996, to promote its release as a promo single.[15] The Live! Tonight!! Sold Out!! version is an edit of two different live versions, from shows at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands on November 25, 1991, and the Hollywood Rock festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 23, 1993. No footage of the Del Mar Fairgrounds performance is known to exist.

The "Aneurysm" video reached number one on the Canadian MuchMusic Countdown in November 1996.[16]



Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
1998 Kerrang! United Kingdom 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars[29] 15

Release history

Studio versions

Date recorded Studio Producer/recorder Releases Personnel
January 1, 1991 Studio A, The Music Source, Seattle, WA, US Craig Montgomery Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
Hormoaning (1992)
With the Lights Out (2004)
Nevermind (deluxe) (2011)
November 9, 1991 Maida Vale Studios Mark Goodier Incesticide (1992)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)

Live versions

Date recorded Venue Releases Personnel
October 31, 1991 Paramount Theatre (Seattle, Washington) Live at the Paramount (2011)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
November 25, 1991/
January 23, 1993
(in two parts)
Paradiso (Amsterdam)/
Hollywood Rock Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!
(1994 VHS / 2006 DVD)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
December 28, 1991 Del Mar Fairgrounds, California From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (1996)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
August 30, 1992 Reading Festival, England Live at Reading (2009)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)


Nashville songwriter/producer Shane Tutmarc released an all electronic version of the song as a single, and music video, in 2013.[30]


  1. Gaar, Gillian G. (2006). In Utero. United States: Continium. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  2. Cobain, Kurt. "Nirvana 'Aneurysm' Sheet Music in B Minor - Download & Print". BMG Rights Management. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  3. Deming, Mark. "Nirvana – Aneurysm Song Review by Mark Deming". AllMusic. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  4. Cross, Charles R. (2012) [1st ed. 2001]. Heavier Than Heaven. A Biography of Kurt Cobain. New York: Hachette. ISBN 1-444-71712-X. ISBN 978-1-44471712-9.
  5. Crisafulli. pp. 77.
  6. Cross, Charles. R. Heavier Than Heaven. A Biography of Kurt Cobain. p. 169
  7. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Nirvana - Incesticide". Allmusic. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  8. "Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Nirvana Songs". Rolling Stone. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  9. Murray, Nick (9 April 2015). "No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  10. Petridis, Alexis (20 June 2019). "Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  11. "10 Best Cover Songs of 2014". Rolling Stone. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  12. Gordon, Kim (24 February 2015). Girl in a Band. United States of America: Dey Street Books. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-062-29590-3.
  13. 20 most-played Nirvana songs revealed to mark Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  14. Nirvana - All Music Guide - Awards Retrieved December 21, 2013.
  15. Billboard - Video Monitor (PDF). Billboard. October 12, 1996. p. 104. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  16. "MUCHMUSIC (CANADA) WEEKLY SINGLE CHARTS FOR 1996". Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  17. "Top RPM Singles: Issue 9930." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  18. "Top RPM Rock/Alternative Tracks: Issue 9847." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  19. Pennanen, Timo (2003). Sisältää hitin: levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972. Otava Publishing Company Ltd. ISBN 951-1-21053-X.
  20. "ANEURYSM". Polskie Radio. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  21. "Archiwum Listy Przebojow - Trojki - Nrivana". Polskie Radio. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  22. "Nirvana Chart History (Radio Songs)". Billboard.
  23. "Nirvana Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard.
  24. "Nirvana Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard.
  25. "Rock Tracks Top 50" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. October 18, 1996. p. 84. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  26. "Alternative Top 50" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. October 11, 1996. p. 110. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  27. "Active Rock Top 50" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. October 4, 1996. p. 106. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  28. "Alternative 96 of 1996" (PDF). Radio & Records. Radio & Records. December 13, 1996. p. 104. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  29. "The Hit List: 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars". Kerrang!. No. 709. July 25, 1998. p. 49. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  • Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Doubleday, New York: 1993, ISBN 0-86369-746-1



    • Crisafulli, Chuck. Nirvana: The Stories Behind the Songs. Omnibus Press.(1996). ISBN 0-7119-5809-2.
    • St Thomas, Kurt and Smith, Troy. Nirvana: The Chosen Rejects. St Martin's Griffin (2004). ISBN 0-312-20663-1.
    External video
    Nirvana - Aneurysm (Live at Reading 1992) on YouTube, NirvanaVEVO
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