Nirvana weren’t exactly architects. They were more like wrecking balls, blasting holes in the overproduced and overwrought sound of the 1970s and ’80s rock music. With a power trio set up, simple chords, and guitar solos that were either a copy of the central melody or complete noise, the last thing that Kurt Cobain ever wanted to do was sound larger than life.
That’s somewhat ironic, considering how that’s the sound that eventually came to define them on their sophomore album Nevermind. But even though Cobain’s multitracked vocals and Dave Grohl’s stadium-ready drum sound were tricks used by the bands that Cobain hated, Nirvana were still clearly working in a different idiom. Nobody would have mistaken Nirvana for Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin.
Not that Cobain didn’t like those bands, it has to be said. He just didn’t want to sound like them. For Cobain, and by extension Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the aim was to match their immediate predecessors and contemporaries: Husker Du, Scratch Acid, Pixies, and Screaming Trees. But it was inevitable that some of the earliest influences would eventually find their way into the band’s music, and Cobain decided to write a song that would dutifully make fun of these cock rock giants and their legions of followers.
“Christ!? Yeah, let’s just throw together some heavy metal riffs in no particular order and give it a quirky name in homage to a couple of our favourite masturbatory 70’s rock acts,” was how Cobain described ‘Aero Zeppelin’ in one of his early lyrics sheets. But Cobain was quick to point out that it was more about the cheap knockoffs that follows the two titular bands. “This song is not about Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin,” he said. “It’s about: The Cult, Faster Pussy Cat, Kingdom Come, Guns-n-Roses, Whitesnake, and Nirvana.”
Recorded during the band’s first official studio recording session in 1988 with legendary Seattle producer Jack Endino, ‘Aero Zeppelin’ was an early seed for the style that Nirvana would eventually adopt. Far more stylistically indebted to the underground punk that the band were trying to make their way into, the song features Melvins drummer Dale Crover, as the band had lost their first drummer, Aaron Burckhard.
Nirvana would quickly evolve beyond the unfocused riffage of ‘Aero Zeppelin’, honing in on the simple chord changes and heavy dynamic changes of the Pixies. After recruiting drummer Chad Channing, the group quickly recorded their debut LP, Bleach, less than a year after their first demo tape was recorded. Much of that tape gives only a brief glimpse at what Nirvana would become, and ‘Aero Zeppelin’ remains one of the most haphazard early tracks in the Nirvana canon.