Pennyroyal Tea

"Pennyroyal Tea" is a song by the American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain. It is the ninth track on the band's third and final studio album, In Utero, released in 1993.

"Pennyroyal Tea"
A cup of tea being brewed in a cup. A spoon, biscuits and an ashtray filled with cigarette buts surround the cup. On top of the cup, blue text in block capitals reads "Nirvana" and under the cup, orange italicised text reads "Pennyroyal Tea."
US/UK picture sleeve
Single by Nirvana
from the album In Utero
B-side
ReleasedApril 1994 (cancelled release)
April 19, 2014 (re-release)
RecordedFebruary 13–26, 1993 at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota
GenreGrunge
Length3:36
LabelGeffen
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Steve Albini
Nirvana singles chronology
"All Apologies (unplugged)"
(1994)
"Pennyroyal Tea"
(1994)
"About a Girl"
(1994)
In Utero track listing
12 tracks

The song was due to be released as the third single from In Utero in April 1994, but the single was recalled following Cobain's death the same month.[1][2] The single was re-released, on limited edition 7 inch vinyl, for Record Store Day in April 2014, and charted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart.[3][4][5][6][7]

Origin and recordingEdit

Early historyEdit

According to Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, "Pennyroyal Tea" was written by Cobain in 1990 in an Olympia, Washington apartment he shared with Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl. "Dave and I were screwing around on a 4-track," Cobain explained, "and I wrote that song in about thirty seconds. And I sat down for like half-an-hour and wrote the lyrics and then we recorded it."[8]

"Pennyroyal Tea" was first performed live on April 17, 1991 at the OK Hotel in Seattle, Washington, the show at which Nirvana also debuted their breakthrough single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."[9]: 19  Footage of both songs from this performance was released on the DVD of the Nirvana rarities box set, With the Lights Out, in November 2004.

Two unfinished takes of the song, both lacking vocals, were recorded by Jack Endino on October 26, 1992, at Word of Mouth in Seattle, Washington.[9]: 19 

In UteroEdit

The final studio version of "Pennyroyal Tea" was recorded by Steve Albini at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota in February, 1993, and officially released on In Utero in September 1993.

The song was first attempted on February 14, with the first take being an instrumental."[9]: 47  In a 2013 interview for the audio series Spotify Landmark, Albini revealed that "Pennyroyal Tea" and the album's eventual first single, "Heart-Shaped Box," were the only two songs recorded during the sessions that required "more than a couple of takes," saying that both were "recorded several times in several aerations."[10] Albini also explained that Grohl's bass drum was replaced on "Pennyroyal Tea," as well as "Dumb," with a small one "with a full-front head on it, so that it had a very sort of bouncy, jazzy sound, as opposed to the sort of more percussive, more hard rock sound on the rest of the record."[11]

Cobain was ultimately dissatisfied with the recording, telling David Fricke in a 1993 Rolling Stone interview that the song "was not recorded right. There is something wrong with that. That should have been recorded like Nevermind, because I know that's a strong song, a hit single. We're toying with the idea of re-recording it or remixing it."[12]

The song was remixed by Scott Litt, who had remixed the singles "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" prior to the album's release, on November 22, 1993 at Bad Animals in Seattle, Washington.[13] This version appeared on the censored Wal-Mart and Kmart versions of In Utero, released in March 1994. It was also the mix used on the recalled "Pennyroyal Tea" single, and became widely available when it appeared on the band's first greatest hits compilation, Nirvana, in November 2002.

Post-In UteroEdit

On November 18, 1993, Cobain performed a solo, acoustic version of the song during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged appearance at Sony Music Studios in New York City.

A full band version, featuring second guitarist Pat Smear, was recorded in Paris, France on February 4, 1994 during Nirvana's appearance on the French television show, Nulle Part Ailleurs.

The band had planned to perform the song on the UK TV show Top of the Pops later in 1994, as revealed by the discovery of a Digital Audio Tape containing three instrumental mixes of the song.[14] The show allowed musicians to mime live vocals over pre-recorded instruments, and first featured Nirvana in November 1991, when Cobain mocked the show's format by singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a lower key.[15]

"Pennyroyal Tea" was performed for the last time live at Nirvana's final concert, on March 1, 1994, at Terminal Eins in Munich, Germany.

Composition and lyricsEdit

The song's title refers to the tea made from boiling the leaves of the plant Mentha pulegium, or pennyroyal, which is used as an abortifacient, among other things, in traditional medicine. In Cobain's unused liner notes for In Utero, published posthumously in Journals in 2002, the entry for "Pennyroyal Tea" simply reads: "herbal abortive... it doesn't work, you hippie."[16]

In an interview in the October 1993 issue of Impact, Cobain gave greater insight into the song, saying that it was about a person suffering from severe depression:[17]

When I ask Cobain if 'Penny Royal Tea' is about indigestion, he half-laughs. 'Penny royal tea is a herbal abortive,' he says. 'I threw that in because I have so many friends who have tried to use that, and it never worked. The song is about a person who's beyond depressed; they're in their death bed, pretty much.' Cobain's own bout with serious stomach pain was well documented last year. 'Yeah, it did rub off on the song,' he admits. And I couldn't help noticing the 'Canadian' reference to a Leonard Cohen afterworld. 'That was my therapy, when I was depressed and sick. I'd read things like Malloy Dies [sic] by Beckett, or listen to Leonard Cohen, which would actually make it worse,' he laughs.

In a 1995 interview, Cohen told Addicted to Noise correspondent Peter Howell, "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him. Or maybe not."[18][19]

Release and receptionEdit

Reviewing In Utero for Rolling Stone, Fricke wrote, "In the sepulchral folk intro of 'Penny Royal Tea,' Cobain almost sounds like Michael Stipe at the beginning of R.E.M.'s Drive'—before the heaving, fuzz-burnt chorus comes lashing down with a vengeance."[20] In his review of the album for the NME, John Mulvey wrote that "Pennyroyal Tea" was "a terrific song – straightforward, insidious, oddly moving," but that "the guitars don’t scream enough, the chorus doesn’t tower like it should, and overall it’s the one real ‘Call Butch Vig’ moment."[21]

LegacyEdit

In 2004, the NME ranked "Pennyroyal Tea" at number six on their list of the 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[22] The same year, Q erroneously included the song on their list of 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't, at number two.[23] In 2015, Rolling Stone placed it at number 11 on their ranking of 102 Nirvana songs.[24]

SingleEdit

The "Pennyroyal Tea" single was recalled shortly after Cobain's death in April 1994.[1] The single's cancellation may have been in part due to the title of one of the b-sides, "I Hate Myself and Want to Die,"[2] although it may have been cancelled regardless of this, so as not to capitalize on Cobain's death.[2] In the United Kingdom, the single was scheduled to be released on May 3, 1994, but this was scrapped with Music Week reporting that sales of Nirvana releases had rocketed but that MCA did not want to cash-in on Cobain's death.[25]

At the time, only retail versions of the CD single made in Germany had been manufactured and distributed.[2] The singles were recalled and destroyed by the record label or retailers, but some copies were put aside, which is apparently the source of surviving copies.[26] Some copies may have been sold by retailers, despite the recall.[2]

Sleeves for the single's United Kingdom release, on 7 inch vinyl and cassette, were manufactured, but the single itself was not pressed in the UK prior to the recall.[27] As with all Nirvana artwork, it had been produced in the United States, although there were no plans to release the single in the US.[28] However, the song did receive some airplay on US rock and alternative radio in 1994-95.[29]

A promotional CD single for the song was manufactured in the UK and exists in even smaller numbers than the German retail CD.[30] It features only the title track, misspelled as "Penny Royal Tea."[31] In 2019, it was reported that the promotional single had appeared twice on Discogs with prices of $1,120 and $1,199.[32]

In a March 2020 Goldmine article, journalist Gillian G. Garr reported a range of $346 to $1,100 as recent prices of the single, and "upwards of $1,000" for the promotional single, with one recently on sale for $2,597.[33]

ArtworkEdit

Unlike the artwork for the previous In Utero singles, "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies"/ "Rape Me", the artwork for the "Pennyroyal Tea" single featured no input from Cobain. "We got it done and I don't know that Kurt was around to approve it or not," recalls designer Robert Fisher. "I think it might just have been shot to management to approve or something."[34] The single's cover features a teacup on a table next to a used ashtray, a cream pitcher and animal crackers.

2014 Record Store Day re-releaseEdit

On April 19, 2014, the "Pennyroyal Tea" single was re-released on 7-inch vinyl for Record Store Day 2014, limited to only 6000 copies.[35][36] It was the top-selling vinyl single of Record Store Day in the US,[7][37] reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales Chart.[4][6][7]

Music videoEdit

Dutch director Anton Corbijn was asked to direct a music video for "Pennyroyal Tea", but he refused, saying he did not believe he could make a video better than the one he had made for "Heart-Shaped Box", the first single from In Utero. American director Jeffery Plansker was enlisted as the director instead, but the planned video was abandoned after Cobain's death in April 1994.[38]

MTV Unplugged versionEdit

Featuring only Cobain on vocals and guitar, the MTV Unplugged version of "Pennyroyal Tea" was the only solo performance of the concert. The band had tried different approaches to the song during the rehearsal earlier that day, performing it in a different key and with Smear on backing vocals. However, during the show Cobain decided to attempt it on his own, asking, "Am I going to do this by myself?" to which Grohl replied, "Do it by yourself," and Cobain joking that "if it sounds bad, these people are just going to have to wait." The song was performed in the same arrangement as the In Utero version but without the guitar solo, and Cobain paused before the third verse, as if briefly forgetting what lyric to sing next, then regained himself and completed the song. Cobain biographer Charles Cross called this version Cobain's "single greatest moment onstage," writing that "like all the high-water marks of his career, it came at a time when he seemed destined to fail."[39]

This version was officially released on the album MTV Unplugged in New York in November, 1994. Footage of the performance, as well as from the rehearsals, were released on the MTV Unplugged in New York DVD in November, 2007.

AccoladesEdit

Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
2004 NME United Kingdom Top 20 Nirvana Songs[40] 8
Q 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't[41] 2
2007 KROQ-FM United States Top 500 Songs of the '90s[42] 461

Track listingsEdit

All songs written and composed by Kurt Cobain unless otherwise noted.

Chart positionsEdit

Chart (2014) Peak
position
UK Physical Singles Sales (OCC)[43] 4
UK Rock & Metal (OCC)[44] 26
UK Singles (OCC)[45][46] 121
US Hot Singles Sales (Billboard)[3][4][5][6][7] 1

PersonnelEdit

All personnel credits adapted from In Utero's liner notes[47] except design personnel adapted from "Pennyroyal Tea"'s liner notes.[48]

Nirvana
Production personnel
Design personnel
  • Robert Fisher – art direction, design
  • Greg Stata – art direction, design
  • John Skalicky – photography

Other releasesEdit

  • The second of the two instrumental takes recorded at Word of Mouth in Seattle, on October 26, 1992, was released on the 20th anniversary "Deluxe" and "Super Deluxe" versions of In Utero in September 2013.
  • A third mix of the studio version, done by Albini in 2013, also appeared the 20th anniversary "Deluxe" and "Super Deluxe" versions of In Utero.
  • A live version, recorded at Pier 48 in Seattle, on December 13, 1993 for MTV, was released on the live video, Live and Loud, in September 2013. An edited version of the concert, including "Pennyroyal Tea," first aired on MTV on December 31, 1993. The Live and Loud DVD also featured rehearsal footage of the song for the show, recorded earlier that day at the same venue, as bonus material.
  • The live version recorded during the band's appearance on Nulle Part Ailleurs in Paris, on February 4, 1994, appeared as bonus material on the Live and Loud DVD.

Unreleased versionsEdit

  • The 4-track version recorded by Cobain and Grohl in Olympia in 1990 was leaked on the internet in 2015, but has never appeared on an official release. Michelle Geslani of Consequence of Sound described this recording as "darker [and] more slow-burning" than the final studio version, and wrote that it "features Cobain adapting a guttural growl not unlike Leonard Cohen (interesting, given the lyrics)."[49]

Cover versionsEdit

Year Artist Album
1999 Kristin Hersh Echo
2014 Whirr In Utero: In Tribute

ReferencesEdit

Bibliography
  • Azerrad, Michael (1993). Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-86369-746-1.
References
  1. ^ a b Courtney, David (April 30, 1994). "Internation - U.K./London Calling" (PDF). Cashbox. p. 16. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea single. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Nirvana - Hot Singles Sales". billboard.com. Archived from the original on June 28, 2020. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Caufield, Keith (April 24, 2014). "Record Store Day Chart Recap: Vinyl Album Sales Reach Historic High". billboard.com. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Hot Singles Sales" (PDF). Billboard. May 5, 2014. p. 46. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Grow, Kory (April 25, 2014). "Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles". yahoo.com. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
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  8. ^ Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
  9. ^ a b c Gaar, Gillian G. (2006). In Utero. United States: Continium. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
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  12. ^ Fricke, David (January 27, 1994). "Kurt Cobain, The Rolling Stone Interview: Success Doesn't Suck". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  13. ^ Garr, Gillian G. (2006). In Utero. United States: Continium. p. 59. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  14. ^ TV Mixes Penny Royal Tea crimson-ceremony.net. Quoting: I. Godd, MCA UK head of TV promotion. Retrieved March 26, 2016
  15. ^ ""Top of the Pops" shows". Guardian. UK. July 16, 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2019.
  16. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Journals". Published in 2002 by Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-232-7.
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  28. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea artwork. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Penny Royal Tea promo. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  31. ^ Garr, Gillian G. (31 March 2020). "A look at Nirvana's collectible recordings". Goldmine. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  32. ^ Iahn, Buddy (August 21, 2019). "Bob Dylan, Madonna Among Discogs 100 Most Expensive CDs Sold". themusicuniverse.com. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
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  39. ^ Cross, Charles R. (August 15, 2001). Heavier Than Heaven. United States: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6505-9.
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  41. ^ "105: Missed Hits - 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't". Q. 2004. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  42. ^ KROQ Top 500 Songs of the '90s (Labor Day 2007) Archived 2017-06-12 at the Wayback Machine rocklists.com. Retrieved 14 February, 2014.
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  48. ^ Pennyroyal Tea (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1994. GED 21907.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  49. ^ Geslani, Michelle (5 August 2015). "Early demo of Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea" surfaces, plus new details on Kurt Cobain solo album". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 21 December 2021.

External linksEdit