Rewinding the Charts: In 1991, Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Dethroned the King of Pop

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Kirk Weddle
From left: Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain in a hotel swimming pool in Los Angeles in 1991.

The Seattle-based alt-rock trio hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 – unseating Michael Jackson – with its major-label debut and ushered in the age of grunge.

"NIRVANA PULLS OFF AN ASTONISHING palace coup," wrote former Billboard editor of music research/analysis (and Chart Beat founder) Paul Grein when the band's second album and major-label debut, Nevermind, knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous from No. 1 on the Billboard 200 dated Jan. 11, 1992.

The Seattle-based trio — Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic — were 24, 22 and 26, respectively, when Nevermind crowned the chart with the help of its hit single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which reached No. 1 on the Alternative Songs airplay chart the previous November, and a surreal video that earned heavy-rotation status on MTV.

The track crossed over from rock to pop, and to a No. 6 Billboard Hot 100 peak (also on Jan. 11), and even inspired a parody by "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Smells Like Nirvana," that became a No. 35 Hot 100 hit in its own right later in 1992.

The success of Nevermind ushered in the so-called grunge-rock era, which trained a spotlight on the Pacific Northwest music scene and helped pave the way for No. 1 albums from groups like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

Nirvana would reach No. 1 again with its 1993 follow-up, In Utero, but the band's career was cut short by the suicide of the charismatic but tortured Cobain on April 5, 1994. Since then, Nirvana has topped the Billboard 200 twice more, with two live albums recorded before its frontman's death: MTV Unplugged in New York and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. Novoselic pursued a stint in politics, and Grohl formed eventual rock cornerstone band Foo Fighters.

Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, where at the ceremony Cobain's mother, Wendy Cobain, accepted the honor on her late son's behalf. "He'd be so proud," she told the crowd. "He'd say he wasn't, but he would be."

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