This almost feels like cheating. The cover is MILES better known than the original. And it’s Nirvana. It’s Nirvana’s first single, whereas it was just an album track for Dutch hippies Shocking Blue.
Look how young Kurt looks on the sleeve photo. He was calling himself Kurdt at the time. Kurdt Kobain. Despite looking like a 14 year-old he had the scream already; ‘can you feel my love BUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZ!!!’
I’ve often wondered if the choice of ‘Love Buzz’ as a song had anything to do with Kurt’s friend and punk mentor, Buzz Osborne of the mighty Melvins (‘Can you, Buzz? Can you feel my love, Buzz’). It was Krist’s idea to cover this though, so maybe not.
Someone once described Nirvana as bolting pop songs onto a grunge engine and that seems like a pretty good summary to me. Kurt was an incredible songwriter. He hadn’t fully honed his talent in 1988 when this came out, but even so, it’s surprising that their first single was a cover. It was a limited run of 1000 as part of Sub Pop’s Singles Club. If you want to buy an original copy any time soon it’ll cost you about $3000 US.
Nirvana’s take on ‘Love Buzz’ is everything a cover version should be; hijacking a song by somebody else – an obscure and peculiar song, at that – and turning it into something greater than it was to begin with. It’s faster, it’s heavier, it drops the stop/start dynamic of the original and settles for repeating the first verse rather than fucking around with a whole new second verse.
It uses a lot of the tricks that would become Nirvana trademarks – quiet verse/loud chorus, lots of distortion, Kurt’s guttural holler – but it still stands out on Bleach with the distinctive eastern motif that Shocking Blue take credit for. The single version also included an introductory clip from one of Kurt’s sound collages, entitled ‘Montage Of Heck’ and it’s a shame this wasn’t retained for the album. It gives it another dimension. We know that now, without having to spend $3000, thanks to the wonders of the internet.
Shocking Blue were formed in The Hague in 1967. The Hague is a lovely city, full of healthy, pleasant Dutch people and has a museum devoted to MC Escher, but it doesn’t really have the feel of a rock and roll mecca. Nevertheless, the band produced some really nice Jefferson Airplane-esque psychedelia, especially on their debut album ‘At Home’.
Their original ‘Love Buzz’ may arguably have been superseded by Nirvana’s, but another high-profile cover of one of their songs shows how things can go entirely the other way. Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ is a brilliant, bold, sexy, joyous hippie romp, featuring the powerful vocals of Mariska Veres. Bananarama’s 80s cover is horrible (I refuse to link to it).
The beautiful Mariska Veres died in 2006, aged 59.