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(Credit: Subpop)

Music

Listen to the first Nirvana performance of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night'

@TylerGolsen

For many, ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ was the epitaph for Nirvana. As the last song performed during the band’s legendary MTV Unplugged concert, the haunting cover of Lead Belly’s ‘In the Pines’ was the ghostly conclusion to a brief and culture-shifting career. Although it wasn’t the final song they ever played, Nirvana would forever be kept in amber thanks to those strained final notes that Kurt Cobain screamed out during the Unplugged show.

As a song that most fans associate with the end of the band’s career, ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ had actually been in the Nirvana canon for quite some time. Cobain had been exposed to the original Lead Belly version of the song through Mark Lanegan, and the pair collaborated on a recording of the song for Lanegan’s solo debut The Winding Sheet in 1990.

During the recording of The Winding Sheet, Nirvana broke out their own version of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ for the first time in November of 1989. This was pre-Dave Grohl, pre-Nevermind, and pre-stardom for Nirvana. The group were still an underground success story thanks to the then-recent release of Bleach on Sub Pop.

Playing at the l’Usine cultural centre in Geneva, Switzerland, Nirvana unleashes a heavy and heady version of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’. Cobain arranges the song in a slightly different fashion to the version heard on MTV Unplugged – whereas the Unplugged version kicks off with the song’s refrain, Cobain opts to jump into the first verse for the initial live version of the track.

All told, the first version of the song is more nebulous and freeform than the versions that would follow. Cobain screams and jumbles lyrics while letting out a feedback-laden solo, with Krist Novoselic and Chad Channing dutifully churning out the song’s repeating progression on repeat. Instead of a bone-chilling scream, the first version ends with a final crashing note that feels slightly anticlimactic.

The band would polish the song through occasional performances throughout the 1990s, eventually settling on the arrangement that became famous.

Check out the first performance of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ down below.