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25 Years Ago: Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ Tops the Chart

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It’s hard to imagine a moment in time when Nirvana’s Nevermind wasn’t as iconic as it is today. Yet it was, debuting on the Billboard 200 Albums chart at a lowly No. 144, and then rising steadily before finally hitting the top spot Jan. 11, 1992.

The sophomore effort from the Seattle band is credited with changing the music scene, but it wasn’t overnight by any stretch. When Nevermind entered the charts, titles by Steelheart, Warrant and Ratt were ahead of it. Three and a half months later, none of them existed anywhere in the Top 200. Albums by Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails did however, and they were all rising.

Both the exodus of hair metal and upsurge of alternative rock can be attributed to the success of Nirvana, which began in the second week of the September prior with the release of the single for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The video for the song went into heavy rotation on MTV the following month, at which point the single had been deleted, forcing people to purchase Nevermind. The problem with that was DGC Records had shipped less than 50,000 copies of the album, leaving many stores out of stock, some resorting to waiting list signup sheets as the label scrambled to meet the demand.

Once the inventory caught up to the need, Nevermind began to steamroll up the charts. It was certified both gold and platinum in November of 1991 and, according to Billboard, had its best-selling period in the final week of December, which was what counted toward the chart topping performance.

Much has been made over the years about how Nevermind not only landed at No. 1, but also displaced Michael Jackson en route to doing so. It’s a bit misleading though, as the King of Pop’s album Dangerous had been on the charts for a few weeks by then, and the newness factor was starting to wear off, resulting in it beginning to yo-yo in the Top 10. It had actually dropped to No. 5 that week, rose to No. 2 the next and bounced around until April when it began to freefall.

Nevermind lost its ranking the following week to Garth BrooksRopin’ the Wind, but reclaimed it Feb. 1 and then did its own seesawing. Ultimately, it would spend an impressive 252 weeks on the charts, including an almost uninterrupted two-year run from when it first appeared. To date, it’s certified to have sold nearly 17 million copies.

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