Following Nirvana’s three studio albums, three compilations, three live albums, three bonus-rich reissues and an extensive four-disc box set, it was assumed that material by the Seattle outfit, whose career lasted just seven years, had finally run dry.
However, next month sees the release of Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, a set of lo-fi acoustic performances by Kurt Cobain that were taped on a boom box between 1986 and 1994. The songs were collected to soundtrack this year’s documentary on the singer, Cobain. Today, the first official fruits from his posthumous debut solo album have emerged, in the form of a fragile acoustic demo version of Sappy, recorded at some point between 1986 and 1988. It will be accompanied on a 7” by a cover of the Beatles’ 1964 song And I Love Her.
Sappy is, in many ways, the great lost Nirvana classic. Cut from In Utero at the 11th hour, it got an official release as a secret track on the 1993 charity compilation No Alternative. Written around 1987, Cobain would attempt to record the track numerous times, in different keys and arrangements, and was never satisfied with the results. The song was first attempted with Bleach producer Jack Endino in 1990. “Even [Nirvana’s first label] Sub Pop was kind of puzzled by it,” he said later. “[T]here was no reason to record it right then, no single was planned or anything.”
A few months later the band re-recorded the song with Butch Vig as part of an aborted Sub Pop album, this time much less raw and heavy than Endino’s take, but neither version was released. A third stab was made during the recording of Nevermind a year later, again with Vig, at Sound City. It was intended to be grouped with Polly and Sliver, among others, as a collection of “Boy” songs that would make up one side of the album (a second side of “Girl” songs would include tracks written about Cobain’s ex-girlfriend, Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail, including Drain You and Lounge Act). By now the key had shifted down and the lyrics had changed, but again Cobain wasn’t happy, abandoning the take after the guide vocal claiming he was “not into it right now” and jettisoning the boy/girl idea altogether.
A final attempt was made to record Sappy during the In Utero sessions with Steve Albini in 1993, and though this version is easily the most impressive – heavy, immediate and emotive – Cobain again cooled on the song, dropping it from the record and gifting it to an Aids benefit compilation on the proviso it was unlisted.
This latest release is the earliest known version of the track. Recorded at home with a tape-recorder, it’s a fragile sketch, stripping the song back to its bare bones and perhaps revealing why Cobain was so keen to get a definitive take down: its sad, aching melody was among his very best. Take a listen to the track below.