Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Lead Belly vs Nirvana)

This great but dark dark song, also known as “In the Pines”, is actually a very old southern american folk song which dates back to the 19th century. It tells the horrible tale of a girl who’s husband was decapitated by a train (the train part is not specified in Nirvana’s version, but it is in Lead Belly’s), who’s now going where the cold wind blows, sleeping in the pines where the sun never shines, shivering… Although there are other versions of “In the Pines” out there which are a little less morbid (Dolly Parton’s, etc.), in every case, the story remains dramatic. It’s not surprising, as death and suffering are recurring themes in old folk songs.

Lead Belly is a legendary folk singer and musician, “the King of the 12-string guitar”, who’s talent and life still fascinate people today (his work in the fields in the rural South, his years in southern prisons – he actually obtained a pardon by singing a song, true story! -, his struggle with poverty and disease…). Lead Belly’s wonderful version of this song is emotional, genuine. It has a great bluesy feel to it. Just beautiful.

Nirvana chose to end the (now considered as almost mystical) 1993 MTV Unplugged performance with the haunting version of “Where did you sleep last night”, sang with great intensity, almost painfully, by Kurt Cobain. Who doesn’t remember the moment when his voice cracks at the end? Although I really love Lead Belly’s version, to me Nirvana’s version seems more memorable. And not because of Kurt Cobain’s sudden death just a few months later. In terms of vocal performances, Kurt’s a very memorable one. But as always, I’m eager to hear what my fellow bloggers think.

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