Polly (Nirvana song)

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Promo CD for the MTV Unplugged in New York album
Song by Nirvana
from the album Nevermind
Released September 24, 1991
Recorded April 1990 at Smart Studios, Madison, Wisconsin
Genre Acoustic rock, alternative rock
Length 2:57
Label DGC
Songwriter(s) Kurt Cobain
Producer(s) Butch Vig
Nevermind track listing

"Polly" is a song by American grunge band Nirvana. It is the sixth song on their 1991 album, Nevermind.


Dating back to at least 1988, "Polly" stands alongside "About a Girl" as one of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain's earliest forays into unfiltered pop songwriting. It was originally titled "Hitchhiker", and later "Cracker", but was renamed "Polly" sometime in 1989, it was left off Nirvana's 1989 debut album, Bleach, because Cobain believed it was not consistent with the band's heavy grunge sound of the time. However, it found its way onto the band's second album, Nevermind, two years later, and remained a part of the band's regular setlist until Cobain's death (and Nirvana's dissolution) in April 1994.

It also stands as drummer Chad Channing's only contribution to Nevermind, having been asked to leave the band before the recording of the album in Los Angeles. Channing's cymbal crashes remained on the final Nevermind version of the song as it was recorded at producer Butch Vig's Wisconsin studios before Channing was replaced by Dave Grohl. The tracks from those Wisconsin sessions, which included soon to be Nirvana classics "In Bloom" and "Lithium", would be used by the band as a demo in effort to attract major label attention. Those sessions also served to make the band comfortable enough with Vig's production style that they would select him to produce Nevermind. "Polly" is a distinct song in that it is entirely acoustic (as originally recorded for Nevermind), which contrasts the more "clean-guitar-for-verses, distorted-guitar-for-choruses, quiet-loud-quiet" pattern Nirvana is famous for employing. The song has the least significant drum part of all of Nirvana's catalogue of songs; only cymbals at the start of each chorus section.


In the VH1 Classic Albums documentary about Nevermind, bass player Krist Novoselic remembers Cobain writing "Polly" after reading a newspaper article about the abduction, torture and rape in August 1987 of a 14-year-old girl by Gerald Arthur Friend; Friend had picked her up near the Tacoma Dome in his car after she had attended a rock concert. She managed to escape when he stopped for gas; she got out of the vehicle and made a scene, attracting attention from surrounding people.[1][2][3]


"Polly" was recorded in the key of E minor with the chords E5-G5-D5-C5 for all verses and then the chords D5-C5-G5-B♭5 for all choruses. The song starts with Cobain playing the verse progression on an acoustic guitar and singing the vocals until the first chorus when bass enters and a cymbal crash is played, this is done for all verses and choruses. After the second chorus the guitar stops playing and a bass break starts. According to Nevermind producer Butch Vig on Classic Albums: Nevermind, Cobain sang the line "Polly said" too early, but they decided to leave it in.[4] However, that statement is erroneous, considering there are demos and performances of the song dating back to 1989 with the premature interjection included, the song ends with a final cymbal crash after the third chorus.

Recording and release history[edit]

Studio versions[edit]

The acoustic rendition of "Polly" which appears on Nevermind was the first version of the song to be officially released, however there are several more studio versions of the song, some of them faster and more punk-influenced. The following table lists Nirvana's studio versions of "Polly" in order of recording date.

Date recorded Studio Producer/recorder Releases Personnel
1987/1988 Cobain residence, Olympia, WA, US Kurt Cobain With the Lights Out (2004)
September, 1989 The Music Source, Seattle, WA, US Steve Fisk With the Lights Out (2004)
October 26, 1989 Maida Vale Studios John Peel Unreleased
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar, backing vocals
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Chad Channing - drums
April, 1990 Smart Studios Butch Vig Nevermind (1991)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Chad Channing - cymbal
November, 1991 Maida Vale Studios Mark Goodier Incesticide (1992)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar, backing vocals
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - drums

Live versions[edit]

The following table lists live performances of "Polly" that have appeared on official Nirvana releases.

Date recorded Venue Releases Personnel
December 3, 1989 London Astoria From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (1996)
October 31, 1991 Paramount Theatre, Seattle Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! (1994/2006)
Live at the Paramount (2011)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - cymbal, backing vocals
December 28, 1991 Del Mar Fairgrounds In Bloom (1992)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - cymbal, backing vocals
August 30, 1992 Reading Festival Live at Reading (2009)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - cymbal, backing vocals
November 18, 1993 Sony Music Studios MTV Unplugged in New York (1994/2007)
  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - acoustic bass
  • Dave Grohl - cymbal, backing vocals
  • Pat Smear - acoustic guitar
  • Lori Goldston - cello

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song appears as a downloadable song in the video games Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Rock Band 3. As the Expert drum part only has eight notes (the second least of any Expert chart in the series), it is one of only three songs in the entire series (the others being "Silver" by Pixies and "Her Majesty" by The Beatles) that can be cleared without touching the controller.


  • Ranked #18 in NME's "Top 20 Nirvana Songs" (2004)


  • Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Doubleday, New York: 1993, ISBN 0-86369-746-1
  • Nirvana Nevermind. Dir. Bob Smeaton. Isis Production, 2004. DVD.
  • Appendix A – “Polly” Lyrics by Nirvana, 1994
  1. ^ "GUILTY VERDICT IN RAPE CASE". Seattle Post-Intelligencer: D1. August 19, 1987. 
  2. ^ Rocco, John (1998). The Nirvana companion: two decades of commentary: a chronicle of the end of punk. Schirmer Books. p. 243. ISBN 0-02-864930-3. 
  3. ^ Klosterman, Chuck; A.V. Club (2009). "Shoot the whole day down". Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists. Simon and Schuster. p. 71. ISBN 1-4165-9473-6. 
  4. ^ Vig, Classic Albums: Nevermind