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Music

The Nirvana song that references a hippie classic

When Nirvana released Nevermind in the fall of 1991, it was the most potent attack on hippie culture since punk rock first hit in the mid-1970s. With aggressive screams, thunderous drums, sullen lyrics, and full-throttle electric instrumentation, Nevermind had no time for any 1960s inspiration. Even when the album did go acoustic on songs like ‘Polly’ and ‘Something in the Way’, the results were dark and brooding, not bright and happy.

Apart from the more abstract takedowns of peace and love ideals, there seemed to be a direct piss-take clowning on one of the most beloved flower power anthems of all time. At the very beginning of ‘Territorial Pissings’, right before the buzzsaw guitars come through, Krist Novoselic gets his one vocal appearance on a Nirvana record by nasally whining the chorus to The Youngbloods’ ‘Get Together’.

Originally written by Chet Powers, guitarist and singer for San Francisco greats Quicksilver Messenger Service, ‘Get Together’ was recorded by New York folk trie The Youngbloods in 1966 and became one of the emblematic songs for the Summer of Love the following year. But while ‘Get Together’ was a song about unity and harmony, ‘Territorial Pissings’ was about violence and aggression towards minorities. 

“On one hand, ‘Territorial Pissings’ references Native Americans – people smashed by raging attacks,” Kurt Cobain explained. “And at the same time, it’s about appreciating women. I hate the violence they suffer, the daily injustices for belonging to a different sex.”

Apart from the ironic qualities of singing such a harmonies song against a song full of ugliness and aggression, the ‘Get Together’ introduction helped drive home the message of ‘Territorial Pissings’. “The song speaks of people who join together to be cool and try something new, the ideal contrast to the macho men I’m portraying in ‘Territorial Pissings.’ We didn’t mean to be offensive to the guy who wrote it,” Cobain told O Globo in 1992. “The idea of being positive and causing change in society and the world was appropriated by media, who turned it into something ridiculous, a caricature.”

As the most uncompromising song on Nevermind, ‘Territorial Pissings’ naturally became a favourite of Nirvana’s to pull out at opportune times. That was when they were making television appearances and didn’t want to play nice with show business. The song was played at the same Saturday Night Live appearance where the band played ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and when the band were asked to play ‘Lithium’ on Tonight with Jonathan Ross, they decided to take a detour into ‘Territorial Pissings’ instead.

Check out the performance from Tonight with Jonathan Ross down below.