Friday, February 7, 2014

Nirvana - Sheep

Nirvana – Sheep
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Dive
2.  Lithium
3.  Imodium
4.  Sliver
5.  Been A Son
6.  Polly

Side B:
7.  In Bloom
8.  Stain
9.  Pay To Play
10.  Sappy
11.  Here She Comes Now

This was a blog-follower request from last year.  It was a project that was very close to my heart and I thought it would be a fun reconstruction to partake in.  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1990 Nirvana album Sheep, which is essentially the precursor to what would eventually be released as Nevermind in 1991.  It is designed to emulate what Nirvana’s second album would have sounded like in 1990 as an indie release, rather than the major-label blockbuster that Nevermind actually became.  While all this material can easily be found on modern remasters (notably the 20 Anniversary edition of Nevermind), alternate sources were utilized to avoid the highly compressed and brickwalled masters from that release. 

By 1990, Nirvana had relentlessly toured in support of their debut album, Bleach.  Their reputation for a staggering live show as well as songs that seemed to speak to their audience had garnished the band attention inasmuch as that many hailed it as a modern, Seattle-based equivalent of Beatlemania.  Enlightened with a slew of new songs that were more pop-influenced than the stereotype grunge found on their debut album, the trio began recording with producer Butch Vig in April at his own recording studio in Madison, WI.  The sessions were fruitful, with eight songs completed for a tentative album for Sub-Pop, in which Kurt Cobain desired to be dubbed Sheep, allegedly a reference to the target-audience of the album itself.  The band was at first pleased with the results and 2/3rds of their sophomore album was in the can for a release date later that year.  Nirvana intended to book a follow-up session with Vig at Smart Studios to finish the album….  or so they thought.  Two important events prevented the Sheep album from happening, which allowed it to become Nevermind instead.

The first event was the band’s discontent with drummer Chad Channing and his dismissal from Nirvana.  The truth was that the core of the band—founders Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic—had simply settled for Channing in 1988 after being unable to find a drummer that lived up to their first choice: Dale Crover of The Melvins.  Crover was a powerful hitter who had assisted Nirvana to record their first studio demo which secured their contract with Sub-Pop Records.  Chad was a much lighter hitter and seemed to embody the “hippy aesthetic”, which was contrary to Kurt and Krist’s “punk aesthetic”.  Cobain himself was a competent drummer and often complained that Chad was not performing up to Cobain’s specifications.  This often resulted in on-stage hostility, in which Cobain would vent his frustration at the drummer by literally plummeting himself at Chad at the conclusion of their sets, crashing the drumkit to bits.  Of course this became a fan-favorite stage-antic, and the tradition carried on for the remainder of the band’s career, even without Chad; but the truth was that it originated with Kurt’s “drummer frustrations”.  After the Smart Sessions, Chad was fired from Nirvana and the hunt for a new drummer resumed.  The band eventually stumbled upon prodigical Dave Grohl—the best alternative to Dale Crover—and the rest was history.  But with an infinitely more powerful drummer on-hand, the eight songs recorded earlier in the year would clearly be unusable for Nirvana’s second album.  It needed to be re-recorded.

The second factor of Sheep’s death was Nirvana’s dissatisfaction with Sub-Pop Records.  Despite a European tour as well as local-celebrity status, the label did not seem to quite meet Nirvana's expectations, as Sub-Pop could not meet the market demands for the album.  Fan-feedback was consistent: fans simply could not find their album in the stores.  What was Sub-Pop even doing?  Revenues from one album generally went on to fund the label’s next project; was there really room for Nirvana?  Was it right that Cobain and Grohl, now roommates, would live in squalor while Sub-Pop reaped their benefits?  Nirvana’s only hope to progress was to sign to a major label.  Hence the Smart Sessions recordings—funded by Sub-Pop for a tentative album—were relegated to a demo used to shop for a major label deal.   The sophomore Nirvana album would have to be re-recorded for a bigger label with a bigger budget, with their better drummer behind his kit.  Fate would prove to be on Nirvana’s side, as that is exactly what happened: Nirvana eventually signed to Geffin/DGC Records, who paid the bill to rerecord the Smart material plus more (notably the newly-written “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You are”) at a million dollar studio. 

This reconstruction attempts to erase both these factors: what if Nirvana were content with both Chad Channing as a drummer and Sub-Pop as a label, and Sheep would have been their second album proper?  How would we reconstruct that album?  Luckily for us, Cobain left an abundance of clues as to what the album's design and tracklist was to be, thanks to many sketches and tentative tracklists which were published in his Journals; unluckily for us, they are all drastically different, including songs that were never recorded with Chad Channing.  While all centering around the material recorded at Smart Studios—which creates the meat of this reconstruction—they are all in different orders with other random songs from this era mixed in. 

On page 89 of Kurt Cobain’s Journals, we have a tentative Sheep tracklist of: Imodium / Lithium / Dive / Polly / Sappy / Token Eastern Song / Verse Chorus Verse / In Bloom / Pay To Play / Dumb / Been A Son.  On page 116, we have a tracklist of: In Bloom / Imodium / Pay To Play / Territorial Pissings / Lithium / Sliver / Verse Chorus Verse / Sappy / Polly / Something In The Way.  And finally on 123 we have: In Bloom / Lithium / Polly / Territorial Pissings / Imodium / Pay To Play / Sliver / Been A Son / Sappy / Verse Chorus Verse / Something In The Way.  Clearly, Cobain could not make up his mind.  I have created test sequences of all three, and they all sound poor with no flow.  To make matters worse, we should remind ourselves that the final tracklist of the classic Nevermind album—an album with notably excellent cohesion and flow—was compiled completely arbitrarily, on the spot, by Kurt Cobain.  Apparently, he was face-to-face with a record exec who demanded a final tracklist in order to release the album, only for Kurt to hesitantly rattle off the track order off the top of his head!  The truth is that if they had asked Cobain a day later or sooner and had he been in a different mood, the running order of Nevermind could have been very different! 

So we know that the core of our reconstruction would be all eight songs recorded during the Smart Session in April 1990, which include: “Dive”, “Imodium”, “Here She Comes Now”, “In Bloom”, “Lithium”, “Pay To Play”, “Polly” and “Sappy”.  Would all eight of these songs actually have found their way onto Sheep?  Most likely not; for one, “Here She Comes Now” was specifically recorded for a Velvet Underground tribute album, never meant for album inclusion.  But because we are, for these purposes, only limiting ourselves to pre-Dave Grohl recordings, we are forced to use the entirety of the Smart Sessions on our Sheep reconstruction.  This is not entirely implausible as we have the precedent set with the cover of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” on Nirvana’s debut Bleach.  Who’s to say they wouldn’t have included a cover on Sheep as well? 

Since eight songs are not enough for an album, we’ll need more.  “Sliver” was featured on two of the three tentative tracklists so we can use it, although it features Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters, temporarily filling-in Chad’s shoes.  “Been A Son” was also featured on two of the three tentative tracklists so we will use the recording found on the Blew EP, dating from September 1989, produced by Steve Fisk.  Although “Token Eastern Song” was also recorded during the Fisk Sessions and is featured on one of the three tracklists, the song honestly sounds as if it was born in a junkyard; instead we will use the superior track “Stain”, recorded during the same Fisk Sessions and released along with “Been A Son.”  Noting that “Dumb”, “Verses Chorus Verse”, “Territorial Pissings” and “Something In The Way” were all never recorded with Chad Channing and thus excluded, we are left with an 11-song set that features one cover tune, all amounting to a minute or two shy of 40 minutes—just like Bleach!  This is all too perfect for its supposed kindred kin Sheep

The actual track order of these 11 songs is not based on Cobain’s erratic and indecisive suggestions, but my own instincts and preference.  The album begins much like Bleach, with a groovy bass riff that drives a grungy rocker: “Dive”.  This is the original master taken from the 1990 Sub-Pop CD single pressing.  Following is the Smart Sessions version of “Lithium”; although better mastering can be found on bootlegs, the modern remix found on the Nevermind 20th Anniversary is unfortunately superior in soundquality, and is used here.  Next is the 1990 live standard “Imodium”, this less-brickwalled master taken from the rare Nightly Nirvana promo CD.  Next is the original studio version of “Been A Son”, taken from the first CD pressing of the Blew EP, with the album's side A closing with “Polly”, taken from the Nevermind 20th Anniversary box set.  Side B begins with “In Bloom”, sourced from an audio rip of the Sub-Pop video, found on the With The Lights Out DVD, the best source to avoid the brickwalled mastering found on the Nevermind 20th Anniversary box.  The original mastering of “Stain” from the CD pressing of Blew is next, followed by “Pay To Play” from the DGC Rarities compilation album.  The Nevermind 20th Anniversary remix of “Sappy” is unfortunately clearer than the best bootleg sources, so the brickwall mastering will have to be tolerated.  But the album is luckily concluded with the superior original mix of “Here She Comes Now” from the Heaven and Hell compilation, as well as a surprise after a minute of silence... 

How does Sheep compare with Nevermind?  Percussion-wise, it’s obviously weaker; Dave Grohl is one of the best drummers of our time, and the comparatively wimpy Chad Channing is no match for him.  Just compare “Pay To Play” here to Nevermind’s “Stay Away” to see exactly what Grohl added to Nirvana.  But on the other hand, the production of Sheep is much less slick, if that is your gripe with Nevermind, and even though Sheep features more pop-song structures and emphasizes Cobain’s excellent sense of melody, it is still very “punk" sounding and comparable to Bleach’s aesthetic.  We can’t say if Sheep is better or worse than Nevermind, but obviously the slicker production and intense drumming surely helped propel Nirvana into super-stardom, and things would have panned out quite differently for Nirvana had Sheep been released instead.  Without any super-stardom repercussions for Cobain to resent and ultimately attempt to "solve", this ‘album that never was’ opens our imaginations to a ‘life that never was’…  So in this sense, maybe Sheep was the album that should have been all along?

320kps mp3s
Lossless flac (part 1, part 2)

Sources used:
Nirvana - Blew EP (original CD master, Sub-Pop1989)
Nirvana - Sliver single (original CD master, Sub-Pop 1990)
Nirvana - Sliver single (original vinyl rip, Sub-Pop 1990)
Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary CD box set, Geffin 2011)
Nirvana - Nightly Nirvana (promo CD, Geffin 2004)
Nirvana  - With The Lights Out (DVD audio rip, Geffin 2004)
Various artists- DGC Rarities vol 1 (CD, DGC 1994)
Various artists - Heaven and Hell (CD, Communion 1990)

flac --> wav --> editing in Audacity & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included


  1. Thanks! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nice to have a fresh take on such a classic as "Nevermind". Definitely more "punk" sounding.

  2. Very interesting take on nevermind. Never heard of Sheep. Nice to read a little back story on the making of the album.

  3. hey, very nice to see you posting again! ty & looking forward to more stuff...

  4. Many thanks for taking the time to do this - downloading now.

  5. Could you do Bob Dylan's Unreleased 1963/64 Live album In Concert with the bootleg series, Live at Carnegie Hall 1963, The 50th Anniversary Collection: 1963 & actual bootlegs, as some columbia releases are missing intros, this should be relatively easy to do, I would really appriciate it.

  6. Hey!Great reconstruction!Got an idea for you:Put Double Fantasy and Milk & Honey in a single album with only John Lennon songs.Thank you!

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  8. Duff, Disc Four of the excellent Lennon boxed set was just that. Personally, I think Yoko's songs make for a great complement to John's and aren't necessarily the weaker half of either of those great albums, but anyway, that disc pretty much has all of that material in one place and fits nicely together.

    I have two requests...

    1) U2 - Pop ("Finished Version")...As some may know, this record was rushed to the presses in order to be out there before the band's impending world tour. Five of the singles had alternate mixes for radio and/or commercial CD singles (Discotheque, Last Night On Earth, Mofo ("Phunk Phorce Mix"), If God Will Send His Angels and Please)....three of the songs would be reworked by the band in new mixes for their second Best Of (Discotheque, Staring At The Sun, Gone)...and one more would lead to an interesting (and superior) cover version by Bono and Jools Holland.

    - A reworking should utilize the best source material (FLAC rips of the CDs for a FLAC version)

    - Potential new edits of tracks could be made utilizing the single/radio mixes in addition to the album versions (or choosing the versions deemed superior). You could also consider creating new edits of the later mixes of these tracks by paring them down a bit. The Phunk Phorce Mix of Mofo (truly the better version of the song and more of a "single") clocks in at 8:43 for example and would likely need trimming to fit the album (although I believe there's a music video for it on the Best Of DVD that's only like four minutes, so maybe an edit already does exist...) Just some food for thought.

    - Perhaps dropping some of the album's worst tracks in favor of b-sides would make it a better album (two of the four tracks that weren't later reworked are Miami and The Playboy Mansion and they're usually considered the record's worst while b-sides like I'm Not Your Baby are highly regarded by fans). Changing the running order could also prove interesting...I'm sure it was originally shuffled together at the last minute and I heard the band was still tinkering with the tracks hours before they turned in the record.

    - I forget where I found the information, but there's supposedly multiple mastering errors in the album. I think Do You Feel Loved has a couple which is kind of ironic given that it's the one track that's well regarded from the album that the band never really altered (the fourth, Wake Up Dead Man, had a very different feeling to it during the live shows on the Elevation Tour). Anyway, something that would be worth researching although I'm not sure if it's guaranteed that you'll be able to find the information on the mastering errors although I can say that it exists. Also, a good U2 discography resource is necessary in order to suss out all of the mixes...Discotheque for example had a rather underwhelming radio mix (an edit, I believe) that might not be the easiest thing to come across.

    2) Oasis - Be Here Now. A new version that lines up properly with the first two albums. Edit down the tracks so they aren't as bloated, given the album a run time in line with the two that came before it. It would probably be a point or two better by trimming a lot of the excess. Possible that there's also some non-album tracks from the era that might be better than some of the ones on the CD, but I wouldn't really know.

  9. Holy shit. Just looked through some recent comments and you already did the Be Here Now project. I'm speechless and have to hear it!

    You really should upload all of that material on here. It's truly fascinating stuff you've put together (especially the Smashing Pumpkins stuff)....just unload it ALL in one blog post with a title stating that these aren't actually Albums That Never Were. We would all be GREATLY appreciative.

    1. Haha OK I'll post that and my stereo Zaireeka here, just because it's convenient.

  10. Found your Be Here Now mix elsewhere...60 minutes still seems too long, but I haven't actually listened to that album in its entirety in ten years, so who knows. The sound will surely be improved since you sourced it from the right place as the CD was always way too loud. Kudos on that. If I can come up with any other sections that might be worth swinging an axe at, perhaps you could consider an even shorter revised addition...


    3) U2 - Rattle & Hum ("Studio Only" version). Give it an alternate title like Heartland. Dump all the live tracks and let it be only new studio tracks. There's some strong b-sides from the era that continue in that roots-rock vein ("Room At The Heartbreak Hotel" and the minor hit "Everlasting Love" in particular). I don't mind including the covers if they fit the theme since a song like "Jesus Christ" is miles more interesting than a lot of material that was on the album. Again, sourcing this material from CDs would be great as FLAC versions of a lot of these non-album tracks aren't all that easy for people to come across, so this would be a big boost in sound quality as well. I've always considered this to be U2's worst album and a stunning head-scratcher to release after what I consider to be the best album ever made.

    1. Damn dude, it looks like you already know everything, so how about working on these projects yo'self and let soniclovenoise continue to refashion REAL rock music...not "pop" like discU-2.

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    3. Here's 'Rattle & Hum' with only studio tracks. Sure, some of them are covers, but there were plenty of covers on the original album, too...

      1. "Jesus Christ" (Woody Guthrie cover - 'Folkways: A Vision Shared' compilation)
      2. "Van Diemen's Land"
      3. "Desire"
      4. "Hawkmoon 269"
      5. "Fortunate Son" (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, feat. Maria McKee - recorded during 'Rattle & Hum' sessions but not released until its inclusion on the "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" single)
      6. "Hallelujah Here She Comes" ("Desire" single)
      7. "Unchained Melody" (The Righteous Brothers cover - "All I Want Is You" single)
      8. "A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel" ("Angel of Harlem" single)
      9. "Angel of Harlem"
      10. "Love Rescue Me" (feat. Bob Dylan)
      11. "When Love Comes to Town" (feat. B.B. King)
      12. "Everlasting Love" (Robert Knight cover - "All I Want Is You" single)
      13. "Heartland"
      14. "God Part II"
      15. "Dancing Barefoot" (Patti Smith cover - "When Love Comes to Town" single)
      16. "All I Want Is You"

  11. Just adding my thanks - I also really enjoyed this (not so sure my wife did!). Keep it up!

  12. This is one of the most interesting music blogs around. I like that there is such a variety of artists, and there is so much care and research put into making these reconstructions as true as they can be to what might have been. Like some other folks, I have several requests: (a) Tom Petty's "Southern Accents," which was supposed to be a double album, and I'm not even sure if there's enough information on it or there's enough of the songs to recreate it, but if anyone knows you will, (b) Frank Zappa's "Zoot Allures," which was also supposed to be a double album. There is an article I read that gives a rundown of what was supposed to be on it, and I think all of it is available, and (c) ELO's "Secret Messages," again a double album and all the songs I think are available (though "Beatles Forever" is of pretty questionable quality). My fave so far has been the Beach Boys' original version of "Smile," which works better than any of the other reconstructions I've heard over the years.

    1. As for your Zoot Allures request, only one song still has mysteriously little-known information: Night of the Iron Sausage, which was also what the album was going to be called. Kinda seems like a double album reconstruction would be useless without that song, so it's like it shouldn't be done until it gets surfaced, if it ever does.

  13. sonic, great work as usual, really enjoyed this. I got a question. Where does the "surprise" comes from? Is it real?

    1. It is the hidden track found on the Sliver single, and it is indeed real!

  14. Great effort considering the limitations of using tracks from an unfinished recording session. Seems to me that these three tracks would have been on Sheep if the band had stayed with Sub Pop: Verse Chorus Verse, Something in the Way, and Territorial Pissings. I used your tracks, added the Devonshire mixes of those three tracks, and kept Here She Comes Now as a "bonus track"

  15. Hi, I just love all of your posts and would suggest you to do the clash's unreleased double album "rat patrol from fort bragg" I wish you posted more frequently!!

    1. Huh I didn't know about that, that Combat Rock was supposed to be a double album. I'll see what I can do!

  16. I'd like to ask you to recostruct Who's 1968 unreleased album Who's For Tennis?,my perfect tracklist:
    Side A
    1.Glow Girl
    2.Faith In Something Bigger
    4.Early Morning Cold Taxi
    5.Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
    Side B
    1.Magic Bus
    2.Little Billy
    3.Call Me Lightning
    4.Gittering Girl
    5.Someone’s Coming
    6.That Motherland Feeling

  17. I've been playing the shit out of this one over the past month. It's my new favorite Nirvana album. Thanks again!

  18. Can you do "Cigarettes and Valentines" by Green Day? I think it'd be cool and fun thing to do.

    1. Only 4 songs are known to have come from those sessions. Which other songs is he supposed to use? This is why I think you guys should stop requesting this album (assuming it's gotten more than one request). Although, I have seen a reconstruction on YouTube.


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  21. If this is what a Nirvana album would sound like if they released one in 1990, I wonder what one would sound like if they released one in 1988, before Bleach. I wonder this because there was a page in Cobain's Journals about the idea for a hypothetical album called, "Ashamed to Be Human", which would've included stuff from Incesticide and WTLO.

    1. This is what my idea of it was.

      Side A:
      1. Downer
      2. Mexican Seafood
      3. Pen Cap Chew
      4. Beeswax
      5. Hairspray Queen
      6. Big Cheese

      Side B:
      7. Blandest
      8. Spank Thru (I think I used the 1988 version.)
      9. Aero Zeppelin
      10. If You Want (If I'm gonna change one name, I may as well change another.)
      11. Start a New Union (Mrs. Butterworth, given a new name since it was only given a fake name so that it could be released.)
      12. Beans (a more normal-sounding-pitched version that I found on YouTube)

      You could use the Love Buzz single for a source of cover art.

    2. Another Nirvana-related request: a compilation of the best of the material that's still exclusive to the Incesticide bootleg series as a sort-of sequel to WTLO.

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  22. Cobain's murderers needs to be brought to justice.

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  24. Interesting alternate-reality what-could've-been exercise. Incidentally, the chorus of Token Eastern Song is "hold it in your gut", not the often-misheard "home in the junkyard".

  25. You did a great job on this, even down to avoiding the bizarro mastering that plagues the Nirvana catalog. A friend from back East came to Seattle for Thanksgiving 1990 and dragged this old man out to see some local twerps at the Off Ramp. One of the greatest nights of my life, as it turned out. Thanks for fashioning this cluster of killer tunes into a meaningful whole.

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  27. Any chance you could re-up the FLAC links for this? They don't seem to work :(

  28. I'm using an iMac and when I click the links it takes me to a blank page saying 'forbidden.' I'm really eager to hear this - the job you have done on the Punpkins Glass and The Ghost Children is brilliant. Any way I can contact you directly for a FLAC link?

  29. This is really excellent, just finished listening to it and even though I think it proves they went the right way with Nevermind, I think I may end up listening to this one more.

  30. Both mp3 and flac downloads have been taken down... any chance to reupload it?

  31. Please, can you reupload it? I can't find it anywhere else, I downloaded it a long time ago but I accidentaly deleted the files :(