It is a well-known fact that The Beatles had a massive impact on both Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. You’d be hard-pressed to find any musician from Generation X that wasn’t in some part inspired by the Fab Four. Equivalent to the ‘Big Bang’ in popular music, without their pioneering steps in writing, recording and aesthetics, the musical world today would look very different.
The effect of this can be split into two distinct camps. We have those directly inspired by The Beatles, which ranges from their contemporaries such as The Byrds to the likes of Nirvana. Then, on the other hand, you’ve got those who were inspired to take up their craft by The Beatles, only this time via proxy. If you think of any modern band that cites Nirvana as an influence, an intrinsic part of that influence comes from The Beatles, whether they’re aware of it or not.
All three members of Nirvana were huge Beatles fans, and understandably their influence bled through Nirvana’s work. Whether that be the way in which Cobain had an uncanny knack for writing catchy vocal melodies and big choruses, or even the way that Cobain saw a kindred spirit in John Lennon; without the influence of The Beatles, it is safe to say that Nirvana would have been a completely different band.
Another way The Beatles can be linked to Nirvana is via the music video for the Nevermind version of their hit single, ‘In Bloom’. The video was first aired in November 1992, and it is perhaps Nirvana’s most iconic music video aside from the obvious.
According to Michael Azerrad’s biography, Come As You Are, Cobain’s original concept for the video was a lot more complex than the final product, but typically very Kurt Cobain. The book claims it was “a surrealistic fable about a little girl who is born into a Ku Klux Klan family and one day realizes how evil her parents are”.
This quickly proved to be “too ambitious”, even for a band with the might of the music industry behind them. Instead, Cobain opted to make a video that parodied the musical performances of bands on ’60s variety shows, namely The Ed Sullivan Show.
To capture the essence of the monochrome shows, the video was shot on old Kinescope cameras at the direct request of Cobain. To further emulate authenticity, the band improvised their performance. The satirical tone was inspired by Cobain and the band being “so tired for the last year of people taking us so seriously… I wanted to fuck off and show them that we have a humorous side to us”.
The brilliant thing about the video was that the band managed to be so authentic in hiring Doug Llewelyn, the former host of The People’s Court, to play the video’s unnamed host. He introduces Nirvana to the in-studio crowd of young fans, whose manic screaming is throughout the duration. The most iconic part of the video is when Llewelyn makes his best Ed Sullivan impression and labels Nirvana “thoroughly all right and decent fellas”.
In 1992, Cobain told Melody Maker: “We wanted to be like The Beatles – no, The Dave Clark Five, I was wearing glasses – we would never make fun of The Beatles.” This statement from Cobain was drenched in irony as they were attempting to emulate the most prominent Ed Sullivan appearances. Famously, it was The Beatles who broke US television records when they appeared on the show in 1964.
Furthermore, his comments claiming how he would never make fun of The Beatles shows clearly just how deep Cobain’s and the band’s love for the Fab Four ran. So next time you listen to Nirvana, be sure to try and pick up all the flecks of The Beatles that run through their work.
Watch the video for ‘In Bloom’ below.