Aloha! I’m going to continue my 90’s-themed, ukulele-twisted nostalgia with what is arguably THE 90s band. The ultimate 90s band. The band that encapsulated a scene, burned down what was before, and set a decade into motion.
Of course, I’m talking about Nirvana.
Nirvana hit with such force and speed that it was a shock to almost every adult. The Christmas of 1991 saw a ton of copies of Nevermind fly off the shelves (probably with Christmas money from relatives), but Michael Jackson’s Dangerous was still #1. Until the week of January 11th, when kids returned their gifted copies of Dangerous and bought Nevermind with the refunds, moving Nervmind from #6 to #1 beating Dangerous on the charts.
Just think about that for a second. Nirvana moved from #6 to #1 based on word of mouth and refunds of probably the most popular artist to date. If that doesn’t say the kids are into your music, nothing ever will.
But that basically sums up Nirvana’s whole lifespan. They presented a sound and image that was so popular that it dismantled what was there prior. Nirvana has solos, but not lame-o Poison solos. And they didn’t have weak power ballads like… well, Poison did that too. Poison just kind of sucks and seems to be a pretty easy punching bag right now.
Nirvana seemed to be the band that had no interest in fame even if they did want to be rock stars and everyone bought in. The raw sound, the catchy hooks, the great writing, and the rebellious image of normality when bands like Guns ‘N Roses and Twisted Sister were making spectacles of themselves presented us with something new.
They seemed not only like the genuine article, but like a band of everybodies. Their image was the same as most of the people at the time and their songs weren’t known for being insanely difficult. It moved the focus from virtuosity to being genuine and we can all be genuine.
In the end, it was too much to bear for singer Kurt Cobain, but he left behind an amazing legacy that still sounds fresh today.
And you can play 20 of them on the ukulele with this book from Hal Leonard!
Personally, I was suspect when I first saw the book as Nirvana is usually associated (at least to me) with loud electric guitars, but the more I thought about the songs themselves, the more convinced I became that the different tone of the ukulele combined with the stripped-down nature of strumming and singing the songs to yourself with no accompaniment might turn them into something other than what they were before.
Kind of like their unplugged album.
The book presents 20 solid songs in musical notation with chord boxes and the ultimate goal of getting your strumming along. And, while the songs aren’t overly difficult, some of them have a good amount of chords and fast changes, so it should make for a fun challenge for some players.
Or you could always play them slower for a moodier feel. There’s really no WRONG way to play Nirvana.
And it’s because of this that I recommend this book for anyone interested in playing alternative on the ukulele. 90’s alternative hits often came in two varieties: original and unplugged and the unplugged version was almost always better, but if you wanted to rock out, the original was the way to go. Similarly, you can stretch, slow down, speed up, and warp these songs and usually have good outcomes because they’re just good songs and you can do that. They aren’t the kind of songs where if you pull a thread it all comes apart. The songs are solid and complex, not so much in the chord shapes, but in the different vibes you can present just by playing it slower and alone.
Think “Hurt” by Johnny Cash compared to the original Nine Inch Nails. (And I know that was from 2002, but it still works to convey what I’m talking about)
But if you’re not interested in creating a moody environment playing these songs slower and alone (or even at speed and alone), you can always play them at speed with your friends and sing along because that was an important part of 90s alternative, too. For all the angst and difficult issues being worked out from abortion, suicide, and general injustice, it was also about finding peace and being happy.
So I say get this book, grab your uke, and see what you can do with these songs!
Until next time!