Eighteen years ago, Nirvana recorded “Drain You” during a European tour at Maida Vale studios in London for the BBC.
For the past month or so, we’ve been taking our songs each day from the past, combing through the archives of music history for forgotten gems, and bringing them back up to be appreciated and analyzed once more. So far, it’s been a fun little way to keep the music we share relevant, and continue to learn more about music history.
Our song of the day today is Nirvana’s 1991 song, “Drain You”, which was featured on their sophomore album, “Nevermind”. On September 3, 1991, Nirvana recorded “Dumb”, “Drain You”, and “Endless, Nameless” for the Radio 1 John Peel show in London. But before we get too far into the song itself, let’s first get a bit more context.
“Nevermind” was the second studio album released by Nirvana on September 24th, 1991. Over the years since its release, its cover has become one of the most iconic covers of all time, and its music has seeped into and back out of the zeitgeist. “Nevermind” was largely responsible for ushering in the grunge and alternative rock wave of the mid nineties.
The album was a huge commercial success, reaching the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200, as well as in the top five of over a dozen other countries. Four singles were released with the album: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, and “In Bloom”.
In 2004, the album was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Songs included into the registry are typically done so for their aesthetic, historic, or cultural significance.
“Drain You” is the eighth track on “Nevermind”, and one that is generally less well-known or popular than Nirvana’s hits. After its release, it peaked on the U.S. Alternative Rock Top 50 at No. 44.
In terms of its composition, like most Nirvana songs, “Drain You” is fairly simple. It’s written in the key of C Major in common time. The verse consists of the repeated chords of C5 – E5 – A5 – D5, and alternates between F5 and D5 during the chorus. The song verges into experimental complexity during its instrumental bridge section, however, with building drums, screaming, and a collection of unusual sound effects.
The lyrics to “Drain You” can be a bit puzzling to parse out. But we’ll do our best here to provide you with a comprehensive look at the different interpretations behind it. While the song’s imagery and theme appear to be at odds with one another, it’s contradictory nature makes it all the more compelling as a whole.
“One baby to another says, ‘I’m lucky to have met you’
I don’t care what you think unless it is about me
It is now my duty to completely drain you
I travel through a tube and end up in your infection”
If we take the lyrics at face value here, the song seems to be about two babies, one cannibalizing the other, but at the same time, merging with it. This could be inspired by the phenomenon of one fetus absorbing the other in the womb.
“Chew my meat for you
Pass it back and forth in a passionate kiss
From my mouth to yours
I like you”
This section now offers us with enough firepower for a different interpretation of the song. Here, we can imagine that the song might very well be about love, and what it’s like to be in a relationship. According to Kurt Cobain, at least. An alternate version of the middle two lines is given in the final lines, “Sloppy lips to lips / You’re my vitamins”. This further illustrates that the song is about love. Perhaps a kind of love that makes both people feel as innocent as a baby with a dark side.
While “Drain You” might not be the most popular or musically interesting song that Nirvana ever made, it still stands alone as a strong example of their style, voice, and vision driven by Kurt Cobain. Besides, not every song can be a major radio hit. Nevertheless, Nirvana’s “Drain You” may be one of their more underrated songs that deserves a little more attention than it gets. But that’s why we do this, after all.