Heart-Shaped Box was the first single in the UK to be lifted from In Utero, the third and ultimately final studio album by Nirvana.
It was released at the end of August 1993 and, in reaching #5, it gave the band their highest chart position on terms of singles.
The band had enlisted the services of Steve Albini to be the producer on the new album, intending to move away somewhat from the style and sound that helped Nevermind shift zillions of copies. They certainly achieved the desired outcome, much to the horror of the bosses at the record label, with the consensus being that it was bordering on the unlistenable and unlikely to get much, if any, exposure on mainstream radio – the suggestion was that it should be re-recorded or at very least, remixed. (During the subsequent row which broke out, the label denied they had felt this way and had put no pressure on the band to do anything in terms of re-recoding or remixing…..the facts of the matter have come to light in subsequent years)
It is fair to say that having left the studio and listened to the recordings back at home, the band members themselves were themselves having a few doubts over the end product – particularly with regards to how low the bass was in the mix and how so many of the lyrics seemed inaudible. Albini declined their request to do get involved in any remixing effort and so the band turned to Scott Litt, best known for his work with R.E.M.
Changes were made to a few tracks, including Heart Shaped Box, with Kurt Cobain also taking the opportunity to add acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies.
There’s a very interesting story behind the b-side of the single.
During the period when Nevermind was being recorded, drummer Dave Grohl was busying himself in another studio writing and recording songs on which he sang and played all the instruments. He wanted to issue them in as low-key a way as possible and so they were sneaked out, as a cassette-only release on a small independent label. The album was called Pocketwatch and the work was attributed to an act called Late!. The only possible indication as to the true identity of the composer/performer were the words ‘all music and instruments by Dave G’.
The band, while in the studio with Steve Albini, recorded a new version of one of the songs that could be found on Pocketwatch, most likely always intending to issue it as a b-side to a subsequent single:-
mp3 : Nirvana – Marigold
Dave Grohl is on lead vocal on this recording. There was something of an element of surprise that, in the wake of Kurt’s death, he would find even greater and enduring success with Foo Fighters. Those who were perhaps paying closer attention to things might well say that his move into some sort of solo work was inevitable.
Here’s the original version of the single before Scott Litt did the remix…..the biggest difference is certainly in the vocal during the chorus and some harmonising during the verses….oh and the drums bring mixed right up top!!:-
And here’s the original version of the b-side, in its rough and lo-fi format:-