Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Subpop)


Listen to Kurt Cobain's magnetic isolated vocals for Nirvana song 'Lithium'

Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain is more tragically remembered as the shining light of grunge. An icon who not only broke down the rule of the music industry but inspired a generation of kids to challenge authority and pursue equality whenever possible. It was a neat trick for the lead singer of a rock band. However, after only a few years at the top of the rock pile, Cobain took his own life, citing the pressure of fame as one of the main reasons behind his suicide.

While Cobain’s meteoric rise and cataclysmic fall may preside over his musical legacy like an unwelcomed shadow, the truth is that Cobain was incredibly gifted. Not simply as a songwriter, as is most often noted, but as a singer too. One of the founding fathers of the modern rock tone, Cobain’s tortured sonics would add credence to his impassioned lyrics. One such song that shows this perfectly is ‘Lithium’.

Originally released as part of the seminal album Nevermind, the song ‘Lithium’ has gone on to be recognised as one of Cobain’s best. While the clever lyricism may be the main reason for hooking audiences, and the ferocious sounds of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl bolstering Cobain’s guitar attack with their powerful rhythm section may have landed them in the net, the isolated vocals for this song prove that Cobain’s presence as a singer is also worth admiration.

Written from the perspective of a man in the midst of a mental health battle and struggling with suicidal thoughts, the track lands heavy blows through its instrumentation. The bullish sonics allow the delicacy of Cobain’s subject matter to feel blurred and unbreakable. There is evidently a lot of self-loathing in ‘Lithium‘ (“I’m so ugly/but that’s okay/’cause so are you”), though Cobain stressed that more often than not, he was not singing and writing about himself.

The title of the track comes from the drug Lithium, which is often used by psychiatrists to help treat manic depression and bipolar disorder and can help to regulate the mood of those in depressive suffering. Cobain once said, “the story is about a guy who lost his girlfriend. I can’t decide what caused her to die – let’s say she died of AIDS or a car accident or something – and he’s going around brooding, and he turned to religion as a last resort to keep himself alive, to keep him from suicide.” Cobain added elsewhere: “He’s decided to find God before he kills himself. It’s hard for me to understand the need for a vice-like [religion], but I can appreciate it too. People need vices.”

It is this intricacy of thought that Cobain applied to seemingly simple rock songs that made Nirvana the iconic band they are today. There was no matter too grand for their notepads, and Cobain made sure to hit all the right notes when he went into the studio to pick up the vocals for ‘Lithium’, arguably giving one of his standout vocals performances from the band’s discography.

Listen below to Kurt Cobain’s magnetic isolated vocals for Nirvana’s song ‘Lithium’.