May 23, 1991
On this day in 1991, photographer Michael
Lavine took what would be the publicity shots for the relatively unknown
grunge group Nirvana's Nevermind
album at Jay Aaron Studios in Los Angeles. The idea for the now iconic
front cover shot of the baby swimming came after Kurt Cobain and drummer
Dave Grohl saw a TV documentary on water babies.
Cobain mentioned the idea to his record
label Geffen's art director Robert Fisher, who found some stock footage
of underwater births but they were too graphic for the record company
(and the stock house that controlled the photo of a swimming baby wanted
$7,500 a year for its use). So instead Fisher hired photographer Kirk
Weddle to take some shots.
Weddle's contacted his friends Renata
and Rick Elden who agreed to allow their baby son Spencer to be photographed
underwater for a flat fee of $200. The hook, line, and dollar images,
which appear on what became one of most famous and recognizable album
covers in rock history, were superimposed at a later point.
However, there was some concern because
Elden's penis was visible in the image (Led Zeppelin were forced to
cover exposed young girls' naked bottoms on their Houses Of The Holy album
sleeve). Geffen prepared an alternate cover without the penis, as they
were afraid that it would offend people, but relented when Cobain made
it clear that the only compromise he would accept was a sticker covering
the penis that would say, "If you're offended by this, you must
be a closet pedophile." And I don't think that was ever going
Now a young man, in interviews Elden
has expressed embarrassment at his penis featuring so prominently on
the famous album cover. "It's kind of creepy that so many people
have seen me naked. I feel like I'm the world's biggest porn star."
The album (the first to feature drummer
Dave Grohl) had the working title of Sheep, something Cobain
came up with as an inside joke towards the people he expected to buy
the record. As recording sessions for the album were completed, Cobain
grew tired of the title and suggested that the new album be named
Nevermind. Cobain liked the title because it was a metaphor for
his attitude on life, and because it was grammatically incorrect.
Despite low commercial expectations
by the band and its record label, Nirvana's second album Nevermind
became a surprise success in late 1991, largely due to its first single,
and opening track on the album, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
The track became a huge hit on MTV and in 2000 the Guinness World Records
named "Teen Spirit" the Most Played Video ever on MTV Europe.
The album debuted on the Billboard
200 at number 144 (Geffen Records hoped that Nevermind would
sell around 250,000 copies). By January 1992, it had replaced Michael
Jackson's album Dangerous at the top of the charts, and by this
time was selling approximately 300,000 copies a week.
As the album topped the charts, Geffen
Records sent one-year-old Spencer Elden a platinum album along with a
teddy bear as a thank you for his contribution to what had become a
runaway success. (Elden now works as an artist, interning at Shepard
Fairey's Obey Giant studio).
has now sold over 26 million copies worldwide and was responsible for
bringing alternative rock and Nirvana to a world-wide audience, and
critics subsequently regarded it as one of the best rock albums of all