Nirvana: Did the Band Steal One of Their Biggest Hits?

Did Nirvana Steal ‘Come As You Are’ From Killing Joke Who Stole It From The Damned?

Today on Rock N’ Roll True Stories they take a look at the song ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana and whether it was stolen from Killing Joke who appeared to have lifted the riff from the Damned. Today marks the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind album. Check out the video below!

You immediately recognize the song when you hear it’s opening guitar riff. Come as You Are would be the final top 40 hit for Nirvana’s career and the  lyrics would take on a whole new meaning following Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death. But the song’s reputation was also tarnished over accusations of plaigarism. But the story’s deeper than that and we’re going to explore what happened in today’s video. 


Ahead of Nirvana entering the studio in early 1991 to record Nevermind they would sent producer Butch vig a demo tape featuring a handful of songs including come as you are. The song was recorded pretty quickly with the Cobain’s guitar solo being completed in just twp take, while the vocals were done in three takes. Nirvana Drummer Dave Grohl would look back at how frontman Kurt Cobain approached songwriting for the band telling VH1’s classic albums We wanted them to be almost like children’s songs; we would tell people they were intended to be as simple as possible,”“Kurt’s focus was the melody – he used to say that the music comes first and the lyrics come second.”


Ahead of Nevermind’s release the label and their management assumed that the first single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit” would be and i quote a base-building alternative cut while the second single which was planned to be come as you are would cross over to other radio formats. However when Smells Like Teen Spirit became a massive hit, the album’s second single was used to maintain the band’s popularity, but Cobain had second thoughts about releasing Come as You Are as a single. 


Nirvana’s manager s Danny Goldberg would recall In the 2000 book, Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day-By-Day Chronicle, , “We met to discuss what [Nevermind‘s] second single would be. We couldn’t decide between ‘Come as You Are’ and ‘In Bloom.’ Kurt was nervous about ‘Come as You Are’ because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song [‘Eighties’], but we all thought it was still the better song to go with. And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it.”



Nirvana’s 1991 track Come as You Are sounded like a slowed down version of Killing Joke’s 1985 track Eighties. “ 


Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker still harbored some resentment , telling Guitarist magazine that the group were and i quote ​“very pissed off about that”., ​“It’s obvious to everyone. Our publisher sent their publisher a letter saying it was, and they went, ​‘Boo, never heard of ya!’ But the hysterical thing about Nirvana saying they’d never heard of us was that they’d already sent us a Christmas card!”


But Killing Joke opted not to file a lawsuit at the time citing person and financial reasons. It likely would have been an expensive endeavour and it wouldn’t have been an easy case because the Killing Joke track eighties bore some resemblence to the damned’s 1982 track ‘Life Goes On.The members of Killing Joke would deny being familiar with the Damnd’s 1982 track. But the story doesn’t end there. Two other songs by lesser known bands makes use of a similar sounding riff. A band called Garden of Delight had a song called 22 faces that was released in october of 1984, 6 months after killing joke released eighties as a single. But there’s more to the story we have to go all the way back to 1966 and listen to the equals song baby come back. According to music journalist Alex Smith, Killing Joke openly admitted to knowing about the riff from the equals and being influenced by it for their song eighties 


It would seem by the 2000’s the beef between Nirvana’s former members and Killing Joke was water under the bridge as Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman  sang their song Requiem with Foo Fighters at a handful of gigs in the years that followed. In 2003 Dave Grohl would perform drums for Killing Joke’s new album at the time The Death and Resurrection Show. Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven would tell Rolling Stone of the whole controversy over come as you are and eighties revealing  “Yeah, Dave and I had a few laughs about that over the past year or so. He mentioned it to me when I met him backstage at Pantera a couple of years back.


Released as the second single from Nevermind in March of 1992, “Come as You Are” peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. It remained on the hot 100 charts for 4.5 months while it also peaked at number 3 on the billboard mainstream and modern rock tracks chart. 


A music video would be shot for Come As You Are. Cobain had had a horrible experience filming the music video for Smells Like Teen Spirit after fighting with director Samuel Bayer. For the group’s second music video Cobain wanted to go with a different director working with kevin kerslake who would go on to direct the videos “Lithium“, “In Bloom“, and “Sliver“,for the band.

Cobain was in awful shape during the filming of the video. The band was about to head out to australia on their tour and Cobain was trying to kick drugs. As he was going through withdrawals the video showsed minimal shots of Cobain’s face with drummer Dave Grohl remembering ​“looked bad, grey. He just looked sad, because he wasn’t using.”


So let me know your guys thought sin the comments section below, do you hear a similarity.