15 Years Ago: Nirvana’s ‘You Know You’re Right’ Released Following Lengthy Lawsuit
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Nine years after the last Nirvana LP was released, fans of the iconic Seattle band clamoring for new material were finally rewarded when the song “You Know You’re Right” from the band’s forthcoming, eponymous greatest hits collection came out as a single Oct. 8, 2002. Yet the road to finally hear the finished studio version of the long-bootlegged track was not an easy one, and it prompts the question: Did its impact outweigh the often frustrating wait?
Recorded in the early part of 1994, a scant eight weeks before frontman Kurt Cobain would take his own life, “You Know You’re Right” was initially slated for release in time for the 2001 holiday season as part of a rarities box set put together by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl. Designed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the group’s breakthrough effort Nevermind, the set was shelved when Cobain’s widow Courtney Love filed a lawsuit to block its release.
At the core of the suit was Love’s contention that the song was a “potential ‘hit’ of extraordinary artistic and commercial value,” and that it didn’t belong on a multi-disc box set where it might get buried, but on a standalone single hits CD which she believed would reach sales upwards of 10 to 15 million copies. Furthermore, the Hole frontwoman sought control of Nirvana’s legacy, bargaining for “exclusive ownership of the right of publication for all unpublished songs of Kurt Cobain.”
Novoselic and Grohl fought back, counter-suing Love, filing an injunction to prevent her from trying “to appropriate the music of Nirvana” as they said in an open letter put out that December. The two musicians also revealed that the box set was in the works for five years, and that Love had only recently decided against it.
“We will always be proud of the music we made with Nirvana,” Grohl and Novoselic said. “We were looking forward to releasing unheard Nirvana material for our personal sense of closure. As the cycle of life moves forward, we are each living our own lives and moving on to new things. We only wanted to go on with the assurance of knowing that all of Nirvana’s music is where it really belongs; in the hearts and minds of millions of people in the world.”
There was no shortage of nastiness ignited by the back and forth legal proceedings over the ensuing several months, but somewhat cooler heads prevailed by the next summer, when Grohl and Novoselic acquiesced to the single-disc idea, settling the lawsuit just before it was to go before a superior court. “We are pleased that these issues have been resolved positively and we can move on,” the three said in a shared statement.
Following all the buildup and theater-like shenanigans perpetuated by Love, there was little likelihood “You Know You’re Right” would live up to the hype. Clocking in at just over three and a half minutes, it starts with a menacing bass line before exploding in the vein of familiar loud-quiet-loud Nirvana cherry-picked from the Pixies and successfully made their own.
The song kicks off Nirvana, retrospectively sticking a bit out of place as the introductory number among genuine hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” It’s not a bad piece of music per se – far from it – just not the preeminent track it was made out to be. And when it came to the sales predictions, it didn’t come close to the 10 to 15 million on which Love was banking – worldwide the set didn’t move even half that. Two years later, the long-planned rarities box, With the Lights Out, was finally made available, just in time for the holidays.
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