Lithium (Nirvana song): Wikis


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Single by Nirvana
from the album Nevermind
B-side "Been a Son" (live)
Released July 21, 1992
Format CD
Recorded May–June 1991 at Sound City, Van Nuys, California
Genre Grunge
Length 4:16
Label DGC
Writer(s) Kurt Cobain Krist Novoselic
Producer Butch Vig
Nirvana singles chronology
"Come as You Are"
"In Bloom"

"Lithium" is a song by the American grunge band Nirvana, written by frontman Kurt Cobain. The song features shifts in dynamics from quiet to loud sections. "Lithium" was released as the third single from the band's second album Nevermind (1991) in July 1992, and it peaked at number 64 in the United States. The music video, directed by Kevin Kerslake, consisted of a live footage video montage.


Background and recording

Nirvana singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain described "Lithium" as "one of those songs I actually did finish while trying to write it instead of taking pieces of my poetry and other things".[1] Nirvana recorded "Lithium" with producer Butch Vig at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin during April 1990. The material recorded at Smart Studios was intended for the group's second album for the independent record label Sub Pop.[2] The book Classic Rock Albums: Nevermind (1998) noted that observers considered the session for "Lithium" as a key event in the developing rift between Cobain and drummer Chad Channing. Cobain was dissatisfied with Channing's drumming as their musical styles were inconsistent. Cobain told Channing to perform the drum arrangement he had devised for the song.[3] Cobain blew his voice out while recording vocals for the song, which forced the band to shut down recording.[4] The songs from these sessions were placed on a demo tape and circulated within the music industry, generating interest in the group among major record labels.[5]

After signing to DGC Records, Nirvana reconvened with Vig in May 1991 to work on its major label debut, Nevermind, at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Between the sessions bassist Krist Novoselic simplified the bassline; he said, "I enriched the bass-playing a little more but that was about all that we changed."[6] The recording session for "Lithium" was one of the most arduous for Vig and the group at Sound City. The band kept speeding up while recording the song, so Vig resorted to using a click track. The producer suggested that new drummer Dave Grohl use simpler fills and patterns for the song, which resulted in a sastifactory instrumental take. Cobain's guitar track was more difficult to record. "Kurt wanted to be able to play the guitar very . . . not methodical—it needed to have this space", Vig recalled. "It had to be relaxed." Every time Cobain sped up, Vig called for another take.[1] During the first day of recording the song, Cobain became so frustrated at the slow progress that the band instead began playing an instrumental jam it had been working on. Vig recorded the jam, later titled "Endless, Nameless", and the song was inserted as a hidden track at the end of Nevermind.[7]

Composition and lyrics

"Lithium" is representative of the musical style Nirvana had developed during work on Nevermind, alternating between quiet and loud sections.[8] During the choruses, Cobain adds distortion to his guitar while he sings variations on the word "yeah". After the second chorus, the band plays a bridge section where Cobain sings several lines that end with the lyrics "I'm not gonna crack". After a brief bass interlude, the band ends the song with third verse, chorus, and bridge section.

Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad described the song's title as a reference to Karl Marx's statement that religion is the "opium of the masses".[9] Cobain said the song is about a man who, after the death of his girlfriend, turns to religion "as a last resort to keep himself alive. To keep him from suicide".[10] While Cobain said the narrative of "Lithium" was fictional, he said, "I did infuse some of my personal experiences, like breaking up with girlfriends and having bad relationships".[11] Cobain acknowledged that the song was possibly inspired in part by the time he spent living with his friend Jesse Reed and his born-again Christian parents. He explained to Azerrad, "I've always felt that some people should have religion in their lives [. . .] That's fine. If it's going to save someone, it's okay. And the person in ['Lithium'] needed it."[9]

The title is a reference to lithium pharmacology, a mood stabilizer used to treat bipolar disorder.

Release and reception

"Lithium" was released as a single in July 1992. The packaging included full lyrics for all the songs on Nevermind. In the United States, the single charted at number 64 on the Billboard Hot 100 single chart. "Lithium" peaked at number 16 and 25 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock Tracks airplay charts, respectively.[12] The song was tied at number 20 with singles by Ministry, Lisa Stansfield, and Utah Saints in the 1992 Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[13]

Music video

The music video for "Lithium" was the second Nirvana video directed by Kevin Kerslake. Cobain originally wanted the video to feature an animated story about a girl named Prego who discovers some eggs that hatch. When Cobain and Kerslake discovered the animation would take four months to produce, they instead created a film collage of Nirvana performing in concert. Among the concert footage used was a 1991 Halloween performance and scenes from the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992). Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad commented, "Although [the video] was enlivened by Kerslake's neat trick of using more violent footage during the quiet parts of the song and vice versa, it was something of a disappointment from a band and a song that promised so much."[14]

Track listing

  1. "Lithium" (LP Version) (Cobain) - 4:16
  2. "Been A Son" (Live) (Cobain) - 2:14
  3. "Curmudgeon" (Previously Unreleased) (Cobain, Nirvana) - 2:58
  4. "D7" - 2:54 (appears only on certain pressings)[15]

Chart positions

Chart (1992) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[16] 53
Dutch Singles Chart 17
Irish Singles Chart[17] 5
Finland Singles Chart[18] 3
New Zealand Singles Chart[19] 28
UK Singles Chart[20] 11
US Billboard Hot 100[21] 64
US Mainstream Rock[21] 16
US Modern Rock[21] 25


  • The Polyphonic Spree covered the song on the group's 2006 EP "Wait."
  • A bossa-nova version was recorded by singer Bruce Lash and appears in the 2009 film Marley & Me.[22]
  • The Bad Plus released a cover version in their irreverent jazz-based style on the album For All I Care with singer Wendy Lewis on vocal
  • Papa Roach Played a cover of the song live in MTV in 2001
  • Nirvana (UK band) covered it on their 1996 compilation Orange and Blue
  • Sampled by the GIrl Talk album Feed The Animals in the song In Step.


  • Classic Albums—Nirvana: Nevermind [DVD]. Isis Productions, 2004.
  • Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47199-8
  • Berkenstadt, Jim; Cross, Charles. Classic Rock Albums: Nevermind. Schirmer, 1998. ISBN 0-02-864775-0


  1. ^ a b Berkenstadt; Cross, p. 76
  2. ^ Azerrad, p. 137
  3. ^ Berkenstadt; Cross, p. 38
  4. ^ Classic Albums—Nirvana: Nevermind [DVD]. Isis Productions, 2004.
  5. ^ Azerrad, p. 138
  6. ^ Berkenstadt; Cross, p. 38–39
  7. ^ Berkenstadt; Cross, p. 77–78
  8. ^ Berkenstadt; Cross, p. 78
  9. ^ a b Azerrad, p. 218
  10. ^ Al and Cake. "An interview with...Kurt Cobain". Flipside. May/June 1992.
  11. ^ Morris, Chris. "The Year's Hottest New Band Can't Stand Still". Musician. January 1992.
  12. ^ Nirvana Artist Chart History: Singles. Retrieved on September 1, 2008.
  13. ^ Christgau, Robert. "The 1992 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". March 2, 1993. Retrieved on September 10, 2008.
  14. ^ Azerrad, p. 259
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992 and 1993 - 2005. St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0646119176.
  17. ^ "Search results for "Nirvana"". Retrieved 2008-09-11.  Note: User must define search parameters as "Nirvana."
  18. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2003). Sisältää hitin: levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972. Otava Publishing Company Ltd. ISBN 951121053X
  19. ^ Scapolo, Dean (2001). New Zealand Music Charts, 1975-2000: ISBN 0908876343.
  20. ^ "Chart Stants - Nirvana - Lithium". Chart Stats. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  21. ^ a b c "allmusic ((( Nirvana > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles )))". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  22. ^

External links



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