After eight years of sitting in a vault and after one of the most talked-about lawsuits in rock history, Nirvana’s final studio track, “You Know You’re Right,” will be officially released on October 29th.
The song will be the first track on a greatest-hits album, simply titled Nirvana. “The Nirvana ‘feud’ is over,” Courtney Love posted on her Web site in late September, “and you get your recordings.” The feud — which culminated with two years of court wrangling between Love and the remaining members of Nirvana, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl — came to an end when the parties agreed to release a greatest-hits collection this fall; a video will follow early in 2003 and a box set in 2004.
Though the court papers in the suit describe “hundreds” of unreleased Cobain demos that remain in the vaults, “You Know You’re Right” is one of a handful of finished Nirvana tracks. “It’s one of their best songs,” says Adam Kasper, who produced the last session, “probably in the Top Ten.”
“You Know You’re Right” was recorded on January 30th, 1994, two days before the band left Seattle for a scheduled three-month European tour and just two months before Cobain’s death. Nirvana had booked the studio for three days, but due to Cobain’s drug problems, he did not make it the first two days. Grohl and Novoselic spent that time working on Grohl’s songs, several of which were recut for the first Foo Fighters album. On January 30th, Cobain showed up, in a surprisingly good mood. Nirvana worked through a few of Grohl’s tunes and jammed on some Novoselic riffs. “I think they were trying to open it up to more band writing,” Kasper recalls.
At a dinner break at a local pizza parlor, Cobain told road stories, including how one night a drunk Eddie Van Halen had ventured backstage at a Nirvana show and begged to jam. The tale brought on a laughing fit from Cobain. “It was funnier than hell,” says studio owner Robert Lang.
The band members then returned to Lang’s studio for what would be their final session as Nirvana. Cobain suggested a song they had done only once before live. “He was fixing some of the lyrics at the last minute, and he still didn’t have a title,” remembers Lang. After just two run-throughs, the group cut what would be the master take of “You Know You’re Right.” “Kurt had the riff, and he brought it in and we put it down,” says Novoselic. “We Nirvana-ized it.”
In the control room, Kasper and Lang were stunned. “When they started playing it, I was almost speechless,” says Lang.
Cobain did four more vocal takes, and Kasper double-tracked the vocal, while Cobain lay on the marble floor of the studio. Cobain’s only complaint that day seemed to be his chronic back pain: He said the hard floor made it feel better. Perhaps his physical condition contributed to the evocative lyrics: The verse of “Things have never been so swell” is paired with a chorus of “Pain!” wailed in Cobain’s most primal voice. “It was so telling and so typical of Kurt,” Kasper recalls. “It’s like a message.”
Cobain never explained the song and no one in the room dared ask what it was about. The band made plans with Lang to return after its European tour and finish tracks for what would have been its fourth album. As the night grew late, Cobain put down one final guitar overdub, and “You Know You’re Right” was complete. The session was over and with that, Kurt Cobain walked out the door.