Did Nirvana pull off a killer joke for the “Come As You Are” riff?

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Nirvana will go down in history as one of the defining bands of a generation. Although no one could see it at the time, the irony of the band parodying the Beatles about Ed Sullivan in the “In Bloom” video isn’t lost in time. Since the Beatles, no rock band has had such an influence on popular culture as a whole.

Part of what made Nirvana so special was their willingness to wear their influences on their sleeve. They’ve covered everyone from avant-garde giants The Velvet Underground, to acid punk kings The Wipers, to blues legend Lead Belly. Nirvana members were music lovers and musical encyclopedias.

Sometimes there’s a thin line between influence and imitation, and that’s proven to be a real problem for Nirvana more than once. In 1980, they were accused of stealing the chorus “Daddy’s Little Girl Isn’t a Girl Anymore” in “Negative Creep” from Mudhoney’s “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.” Given how close the two groups are to each other, it’s a move that’s seen as more of an ode than a blatant rip-off.

Given their previous number with Mudhoney, the band were hesitant to release “Come As You Are” as a single. The problem was that the main riff of “Come As You Are” bore a striking similarity to “Eighties”, the first single from killer jokeIt is Night tide and one of their most popular songs.

As noted in former manager Danny Goldberg’s autobiography, Eyewitness Nirvana: the day-to-day chronicle:

“We met to discuss this [Nevermind‘s] second single would be. We couldn’t choose 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 best song to go with. And, he was right, Killing Joke later complained about it.

Killing Joke did indeed consider legal action and even filed paperwork, but ultimately the band decided to drop the issue. Dave Grohl would even go on to play drums in Killing Joke on their 2003 self-titled album. a few laughs about it over the past year.

Here’s the thing: It turns out that the riff in question from “Eighties” also sounds a lot like “Life Goes On” by fellow punk band The Damned. As it turns out, the first appearance of this riff dates back to the song “Baby Come Back!” by The Equals in 1966. Killing Joke freely admits to borrowing the riff from The Equals but denies any knowledge of The Damned track.

It just shows how far a catchy riff will go, intentionally or not.

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