Something in the Way

"Something in the Way" is a song by American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain. It is the 12th and final song on their 1991 album Nevermind (not counting the secret track included on most CD editions of the album, "Endless, Nameless").

"Something in the Way"
Song by Nirvana
from the album Nevermind
ReleasedSeptember 24, 1991 (Nevermind)
RecordedJune 1991 at Sound City, Van Nuys and Devonshire, North Hollywood
Length3:52 (20:37 with "Endless, Nameless")
LabelDGC Records
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"

Origin and recording

"Something in the Way" was written by Cobain in 1990. It was first performed live on November 25, 1990, at The Off Ramp Café in Seattle.

The song was recorded by Butch Vig in May 1991 at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, for the band's second album, Nevermind. According to Vig, Cobain had originally wanted to record the song with the full band, but when initial attempts at this were unsuccessful, Cobain sat on a couch in the control room of studio A and played the song for Vig on acoustic guitar, to show him how he thought it should sound.[1] Vig was impressed with the way Cobain's solo rendition sounded, and after turning off the air-conditioning and unplugging the telephone in the control room, set up microphones and recorded three takes of the song the same way, with Cobain's guitar and vocals only.[1][2]

This became the core of the recording, with the first vocal take being used for the verses.[3] Cobain then recorded vocal harmonies and drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic added their parts,[1] though both Grohl and Novoselic had difficulty playing in time with Cobain's performance. Novoselic also had trouble tuning his bass to Cobain's guitar, a 12-string Stella acoustic with five nylon guitar strings that Cobain had never tuned, and Grohl had to play more quietly than he was used to, to match the song's gentle mood. "Kurt and I wanted the drums to be very understated," Vig recalled. "Dave was used to playing much louder; plus, it can be very difficult to go back and lay drums over an acoustic guitar track, as the meter may vary a bit".[4] Cobain's harmonies, the bass and the drums were recorded in studio B, a smaller room down the hall from the larger one they generally worked in. On the final day of the Nevermind sessions, Kirk Canning, a friend of the band's they had met through L7, added cello to the recording,[1] although he too had difficulties tuning to Cobain's guitar.

On November 9, 1991, a version of the song was recorded by Miti Adhikari for the BBC program The Evening Session at Maida Vale Studios in London, England. This electric version, which featured heavy drumming during the choruses, was more reminiscent of the way the song usually sounded when performed in concert.[5]

Composition

"Something in the Way" was originally believed to be based on a period when Cobain was supposedly homeless and slept underneath a bridge in his native town, Aberdeen, Washington.[1] This myth, started by Cobain, was refuted in 2001 with the publication of the biography Heavier Than Heaven by Charles Cross, who pointed out that if Cobain really had spent nights underneath the bridge mentioned in the song, he would have been in danger of being swept away by the high tide waters of the Wishkah River. According to Heavier Than Heaven, Cobain was indeed homeless at times as a teenager, but spent this time sleeping at the houses of his friends, where he also left his possessions in cardboard boxes. He also allegedly slept in waiting rooms of hospitals in the town. However, Cobain did spend time under the bridge. In Heavier Than Heaven, both Novoselic and Kurt's sister Kim Cobain confirmed that while it was unlikely that Kurt slept there, it was a popular recreation area for local teenagers, probably including Kurt.

Cobain himself suggested that the song wasn't necessarily autobiographical, telling Michael Azerrad that the song was "like if I was living under the bridge and I was dying of AIDS, if I was sick and I couldn't move and I was a total street person. That was kind of the fantasy of it".[6]

In Azzerad's 1993 biography Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Cobain claimed that he used to fish from the Wishkah River, which may have inspired the lyric, 'Its okay to eat fish, cos' they don't have any feelings'.[7]

Reception

In 2015, Rolling Stone listed the song at number five on their ranking of 102 Nirvana songs.[8] In 2019, The Guardian placed it at number 12 in their list of Nirvana's 20 greatest songs.[9]

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 "Something in the Way" was ranked at number seventeen.[10]

A brief cover of the song, performed by Jerry O'Connell in the role of Frank "Cush" Cushman, appears in the 1996 romantic comedy Jerry Maguire, directed by Cameron Crowe. The intentionally poor rendition appears during a hotel room scene in which "Cush disrupts football business talk with a nasally, out-of-tune take on Nirvana’s darkest track off Nevermind," according to Ashley Zlatopolsky of Billboard.[11]

The Nevermind version appears in the 2005 war drama Jarhead, directed by Sam Mendes. According to Universal Pictures president of film music Kathy Nelson, Mendes had insisted on the song, but a then-ongoing dispute between Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, and surviving Nirvana members had made the licensing of Nirvana songs difficult at the time. However, Love allowed the song's use due to being a "huge fan" of Mendes and actor Peter Sarsgaard. “That’s why it’s probably the first Nirvana song you’ve heard in a movie,” Nelson said.[12]

Accolades

Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
1998 Kerrang! United Kingdom 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars[13] 13
2019 The Guardian Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked![14] 12

Recording and release history

Demo and studio versions

Date recorded Studio Producer Releases Personnel
Unknown Cobain residence Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings (2015)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
March 1991 Converted barn, Tacoma, Washington Nirvana Nevermind (deluxe) (2011)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
May 2–28, 1991 Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, California Butch Vig Nevermind (1991)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)
  • Kirk Canning (cello)
November 9, 1991 Maida Vale Studios, London, England Miti Adhikari Nevermind (deluxe) (2011)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums)

Live versions

Date recorded Venue Releases Personnel
February 14, 1992 Kokusai Koryu Center, Osaka, Japan Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! (1994)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl (drums, backing vocals)
November 18, 1993 Sony Music Studios, New York City, New York About a Girl (1994)
MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
Nirvana (2002) (European 2002 vinyl and Japanese CD only)
  • Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar)
  • Krist Novoselic (bass)
  • Dave Grohl - (drums, backing vocals)
  • Pat Smear (guitar)
  • Lori Goldston (cello)

References

  1. Crisafulli, Chuck. (1996). Nirvana, The Stories Behind the Songs. pp. 54 – 55. ISBN 0-7119-5809-2.
  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. Cross, Charles; Berkenstadt, Jim (February 22, 2012). Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind. Schirmer Trade. ISBN 9780857127686.
  6. Epstein, Daniel. "No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked". Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  7. Azerrad, Michael. Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Doubleday, New York: 1993, ISBN 0-86369-746-1
  8. Epstein, Daniel. "No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  9. Petridis, Alexis (July 2, 2019). "Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  10. 20 most-played Nirvana songs revealed to mark Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday planetrock.com. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  11. Zlatopolsky, Ashley (September 24, 2016). "Nirvana's 10 Greatest TV and Film Moments: 'SNL' Smooching, Muppets & Beyond". Billboard. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  12. Pearson, Ryan (November 12, 2005). "'Jarhead' introduces new era of war tunes". The Spokesman. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  13. "The Hit List: 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars". Kerrang!. No. 709. July 25, 1998. p. 49. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  14. Petridis, Alexis (June 20, 2019). "Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
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