Nirvana fans always talk about the Nirvana: Unplugged album because it is simply one of the best rock albums ever made. I watched the debut broadcast of the performance, and I knew the moment it was over that I just watched something really special. For me, the highlight of the show was Nirvana's version of Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night?.
To get this thing going, let's expose just about everyone who is reading this to Leadbelly for the first time. No, he is not performing to an audience. Leadbelly was the first performer to break the fourth wall, and he did it constantly. Here is Leadbelly singing Where Did You Sleep Last Night?:
As with most of the old blues artists, Leadbelly sounds perfectly comfortable singing about the most horrible subjects with his haunting voice. The old masters made misery sound like second nature, and that was just one of the reasons their music endures today.
Kurt Cobain was probably the most troubled and tortured soul rock and roll has ever seen, and he let all of that emotion out when he sang. Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is perfect for Kurt's voice and, more importantly, perfect for his attitude towards life. Here is Nirvana covering Where Did You Sleep Last Night?:
In my opinion, Leadbelly would have been very happy with the way Cobain interpreted his song. You can see the emotion of the song getting into Kurt as he is singing, and you can hear the pain in his soul as he keeps on singing. This is one of this instances where the cover and the original are so close that it is almost impossible to separate the two.
Verdict: Pick 'em. You can't lose with either version.
George N Root III is a musician who loves listening to the old masters. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.