25 Things You Should Know About Nirvana

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Getty Images

Though he died tragically at the age of 27, today marks what would have been Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's 50th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, here are 25 things you should know about the alternative rock icon and his legendary band.

1. KURT COBAIN DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, THEN WORKED THERE AS A JANITOR.

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Even though he was by all accounts a slob, Kurt Cobain worked as a janitor at Weatherwax High School, not long after dropping out of that very school. The dancing janitor in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video was an inside joke for those who knew of Cobain's old job.

2. THE TITLE FOR "ABOUT A GIRL" CAME ABOUT VERY QUICKLY.

Chad Channing, one of Nirvana's drummers before Dave Grohl, claimed that one day he asked Cobain what the song was about. "About a girl," was Cobain's reply. "Why don't you just call it that?"

The girl in question was Cobain's girlfriend, Tracy Marander, who asked why he wrote about everything—including Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show—but her. Marander didn't even realize that she was the "girl" until she read the official biography of the band, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, four years later.

3. THERE WERE AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT DRUMMERS IN THE BAND BEFORE DAVE GROHL.

Cobain and Novoselic were always members of Nirvana—formerly known as Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, Bliss, and Ted Ed Fred—but finding a permanent drummer proved to be even harder than coming up with a decent band name. In the beginning, there was trivia answer Aaron Burckhard, who pissed off Cobain by getting Kurt's car impounded after being arrested for fighting with a police officer. Then there was Melvins drummer Dale Crover, who pounded the skins for Cobain and Novoselic on their first demo tape before moving to San Francisco. Next came Dave Foster, who got arrested for assaulting the son of the mayor of Cosmopolis, Washington. Burckhard briefly returned before announcing he was too hungover to practice one day. Then a mutual friend introduced Cobain and Novoselic to Chad Channing, who hung around for two years before the group's co-founders decided he wasn't cutting it anymore. Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters played on the "Sliver" single.

Back in Washington, Crover performed with Cobain and Novoselic on a seven date tour with Sonic Youth in August 1990, before Dave Grohl's band Scream broke up and Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne introduced Grohl to Cobain and Novoselic, ending the vicious cycle of rotating drummers.

4. NIRVANA'S FIRST SINGLE WAS A COVER.

Nirvana's first official release was a cover of "Love Buzz" by the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue. You know Shocking Blue not by "Love Buzz" but by their classic song "Venus," which reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970 and sold 7.5 million copies. A 1986 Bananarama cover also topped the charts. "Love Buzz" however did neither of those things, for either Shocking Blue or Nirvana.

5. NIRVANA'S FIRST ALBUM COST $606.17 TO MAKE.

Guitarist Jason Everman didn't play on Bleach, Nirvana's first album, but was added to the band to add a second guitar to the mix soon after. He was a leading candidate to foot the bill—which came to $606.17—because he was the only person in the band to have an actual paying job. Unfortunately for Everman, his withdrawn attitude clashed with Cobain's similar disposition while on tour, resulting in a lot of long, silent driving and a severe lack of band chemistry

Everman failed upward, becoming the bass player for Soundgarden. He would be canned from that gig after one tour, before Soundgarden made it big. Everman's life after near-stardom was profiled in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, where it was reported that he joined the Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion and then the Special Forces, serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Columbia University. 

6. "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT" WAS INSPIRED BY COBAIN'S GIRLFRIEND'S DEODORANT. AND ALCOHOL.

After a night of drinking, Kurt Cobain and then-roommate Dave Grohl were joined by Bikini Kill songwriter/vocalist Kathleen Hanna and drummer Tobi Vail at their humble pre-fame abode. The party continued, and eventually Hanna spray painted "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on Cobain's wall, a reference to the deodorant Vail—Cobain's girlfriend at the time—used to smell pleasant without any white residue. As the rest of the legend goes, Cobain loved the phrasing and wrote the song without knowing of the Teen Spirit deodorant's existence until after it was recorded.

7. THE SONG'S RIFF WAS A "RIP OFF" OF THE PIXIES. AND "MORE THAN A FEELING."

The Pixies are universally credited with inventing the loud-quiet dynamic in 1987 with their debut EP Come on Pilgrim. It wouldn't be until 1990—one year after Nirvana's debut album Bleach—that Cobain's affection for the band would heavily influence his songwriting, and through that lens, "Spirit" pretty much sounds like a Pixies parody. Cobain admitted to trying to rip off the group, and at a big 1992 concert in Reading, he also acknowledged the song's passing resemblance to Boston's "More Than A Feeling."

8. WHEN COBAIN SAW HIMSELF ON TV FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE CALLED HIS MOTHER.

The music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" premiered on MTV's alternative music show 120 Minutes on Sunday, September 29, 1991. Cobain watched himself in a hotel room at The Roger Smith Hotel in New York City and called his mother to tell her, "There's me."

9. THE BAND WAS ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM.

It all began in 1989, when Nirvana's "Negative Creep" featured the chorus "Daddy's little girl ain't a girl no more," which reminded a lot of the band's early listeners of Mudhoney's "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More." Nothing came of it, but years later Cobain might have had that in mind when he warned Nirvana's co-manager Danny Goldberg about making "Come As You Are" the next single after "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"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 better song to go with," Goldberg told Rolling Stone. "And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it." But that's all they did—complain.

Killing Joke never actually took the band to court over the similarities to their 1984 song due to "personal and financial reasons," and possibly because "Eighties" itself sounds an awful lot like The Damned's 1982 song "Life Goes On." Shrugging and muttering to themselves that good artists borrow and great artists steal, Killing Joke welcomed Dave Grohl behind the drum kit to play on their 2003 album.

The only time that someone actually sued Nirvana was director Kevin Kerslake, who alleged that Cobain used some of his ideas for the "Heart Shaped Box" music video. The case was settled out of court.

10. THE ORIGINAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR "IN BLOOM" IS FROM 1990 AND SET IN NEW YORK CITY.

"In Bloom"—along with other Nevermind songs "Breed," "Lithium," and "Polly"—was a song intended for a 1990 album with Sub Pop, the band's initial record label. At first, Sub Pop seemed to be up to the task, paying for a recording session and releasing a music video showing the band performing the intended first single at a couple of different shows, traversing around David Dinkins-era lower Manhattan. Because nobody told Novoselic about continuity, he appears in parts of the video completely bald—the bassist thought his playing was so bad at one gig that he shaved his head to appease the bass gods. 

Sub Pop, however, would prove to be on the verge of bankruptcy, and would only be saved by the deal they made with Geffen Records to receive some royalties from Nevermind. Helping to keep the cash flowing was "In Bloom," the album's fourth single, promoted by a much more professional looking and thought out video with the band performing on an old Ed Sullivan Show type of program.

11. THE ORIGINAL "LITHIUM" VIDEO CONCEPT WAS A CARTOON.

Initially, Cobain and director Kevin Kerslake agreed on Cobain's idea for the "Lithium" video: an animated story about a girl named Prego who discovers some eggs that hatch. Unfortunately, the two discovered—a bit too late—that the animation would take four months to produce and decided to just use footage from a couple of live performances. Kerslake did his best to make things interesting by using video of the band at its most vibrant, manic moments during the quiet parts of the song, and vice versa.

12. NEVERMIND'S "CANDY-ASS" SOUND WAS THANKS IN PART TO JOHN LENNON.

Nevermind

producer Butch Vig really wanted Cobain to double track his vocals to make the songs sound "fuller," "richer," and not have the record label spend a lot of money to purposely sound lo-fi. Cobain thought that would just be another indication of the band losing its indie, punk credibility (even though he was already recording a major label album). Vig knew that Cobain was a big John Lennon fan, so whenever Kurt would initially not agree to sing along with himself, Vig would tell him, "John Lennon did it." It worked, every time.

Cobain would later claim to resent the mainstream, radio-friendly production of the hugely successful album, poetically and timelessly describing it in 1993 as "candy-ass."

13. "DRAIN YOU," "LOUNGE ACT," AND SEVERAL SONGS ON NEVERMIND ARE REPORTEDLY ABOUT TOBI VAIL.

Author Charles R. Cross—backed with access to Cobain's private journals and pages of unrecorded lyrics—theorized in his 2001 Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven that Nevermind is full of references to Tobi Vail, who broke up with Cobain months before the album's recording. The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" lyric that talks about a woman being over-bored and self-assured was likely to be about Cobain's ex. "Drain You" begins with the line, "One baby to another said 'I'm lucky to have met you,'" quoting what Vail had once told Cobain. "Lounge Act" in particular was unequivocally about the Bikini Kill drummer, confirmed by Novoselic and by Cobain himself in an unwritten letter to Vail that Cross read. Cobain wrote: "Every song on this record [In Utero] is not about you. No, I am not your boyfriend. No, I don't write songs about you, except for 'Lounge Act,' which I do not play, except when my wife is not around." 

14. "POLLY" WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Kurt Cobain wrote "Polly" in 1987 after reading an article about the torture and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Cobain chose to write the song from the perspective of the girl, inventing the name "Polly" to aid in a consistent, innocent-sounding bird metaphor. After hearing the song, Bob Dylan said of Cobain, "That kid has heart."

15. THE BAND WAS THROWN OUT OF THEIR OWN RECORD RELEASE PARTY.

On a Friday the 13th, Geffen threw the band a record release party with invitations that read, "Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia, Here's Nirvana." Cobain started a full-fledged food fight when he threw ranch dressing at Novoselic, and a bouncer responded by grabbing the two and Grohl and throwing them out. The band then stood in the alley behind the club and talked to their friends through the window, before moving the party to a friend's place, where Cobain shot a fire extinguisher and the place had to be evacuated. At the next venue, Cobain completed the destruction trifecta by tossing a gold record plaque by the group Nelson into a microwave after proclaiming it an "affront to humankind."

16. "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC ASKED FOR NIRVANA'S PERMISSION TO WRITE "SMELLS LIKE NIRVANA" IN THEIR SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE DRESSING ROOM.

Three events on January 11, 1992 proved that Nirvana had completely made the unprecedented transition from underground punk band to universally beloved supergroup: Nevermind was #1 for the first time on that day's Billboard 200 albums chart; the band made their SNL debut performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings" on the Rob Morrow-hosted late night show. To the joy of Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl, they got a phone call from "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"That was the craziest weekend because we get there, and the first time you see the SNL studio, it's tiny," Grohl recalled in 2011. "You imagine it being this big thing but honestly it's tiny, it's so small. The energy is crazy and people are running around and it goes so quickly, and one of the cast members comes up and says, 'Hey I'm friends with Weird Al Yankovic and he wants to talk to you about doing one of your songs.' And so I think we talked to him in the dressing room of SNL. He called the phone. You know you've arrived when Weird Al ... it was pretty huge. And he did a good job."

17. IN UTERO WAS INITIALLY GOING TO BE TITLED I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE.

DGC

Nirvana's album titles tended to evolve over time: Nirvana's first album was recorded under the operating title Too Many Humans, until Cobain saw a sign in San Francisco that said to "Bleach Your Works"; Nevermind started out as Sheep, married to artwork of rows and rows of identical houses. Even though it was intended as a joke, Novoselic pointed out to Cobain that he was opening himself up to tons of potential lawsuits, and the idea was dropped.

18. THE SONG "I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE" FEATURES A JACK HANDEY "DEEP THOUGHT."

Even though the threat of lawsuits stopped the band from naming an album "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," it didn't stop them from recording a song with the title "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," although it might be the reason that it was left off of the In Utero album. Instead, the song with the misunderstood title (it was supposed to be a joke) found a home as the opening track on The Beavis and Butt-head Experience compilation album. But in the middle of the song, after helping to promote one television show, Cobain acknowledged a different, more mainstream show when he mumbled, "Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted brown and attached to the skull by common wood screws, can make a child look like a deer," an SNL "Deep Thought" from Jack Handey.

19. ELTON JOHN SUFFERED COLLATERAL DAMAGE DUE TO NIRVANA'S WAR WITH GUNS N' ROSES.

Kurt Cobain considered Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose to be a homophobe and a racist, an opinion that other people agreed with thanks to the lyrics of the GNR song "One in a Million." At the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, two pianos were set up on stage for an epic performance of "November Rain." Thinking Axl was going to play on it, Cobain spit on the keys of one of the pianos. To his horror, Kurt later found out that he had given a coat of saliva on the piano played by special guest Elton John.

20. MTV REALLY DID NOT WANT NIRVANA TO PLAY "RAPE ME" AT THE VMAS.

Nirvana was causing nothing but trouble at the '92 VMAs, and naturally their choice of song was one big issue. MTV told the band that they would like to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band responded by saying that they were respectfully going to remember the clout they had earned over the past year and premiere a brand new song called "Rape Me" instead (a song that actually made its premier at a Santa Cruz concert one year earlier).

The network was not only scared by the title, but somewhat correctly surmised that the song was somewhat about them. The network countered that if the band played "Rape Me" on the live telecast that they would fire Amy Finnerty, an employee Cobain was close friends with, and would stop playing the band's videos. Although both parties agreed on "Lithium," MTV didn't trust Cobain, and for the second consecutive time, their paranoia proved to be well founded: When the band launched into the first few chords of "Rape Me," the control room was ready to go directly to commercial. At the last possible moment, Nirvana stopped the sneak preview to play the memorable version of "Lithium" which ended with Novoselic hitting himself in the head with his bass and Cobain and Grohl sarcastically saying hello to Axl Rose.

21. NOVOSELIC PLAYED A NIRVANA GIG AT THE SEATTLE CENTER COLISEUM, EVEN THOUGH HE WAS BANNED FROM THE PREMISES.

Before performing at a Washington Music Industry Coalition Benefit on September 11, 1992 (two days after the VMAs), Nirvana couldn't help but notice that a photo of Novoselic was on the wall backstage, indicating that he was banned for life due to his behavior at a Sonic Youth concert one year before. They opened the show discussing it. Novoselic has yet to be punished for the crime.

22. "HEART SHAPED BOX" WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED "HEART SHAPED COFFIN."

Even though the song was inspired by an actual heart shaped box sent by Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain during the early days of their relationship, the initial lyrics read that the narrator was "buried" in the box (as opposed to "locked"), with the "Heart Shaped Coffin" title.

23. "ALL APOLOGIES" ORIGINALLY SOUNDED LIKE A BEATLES SONG.

The group wrote one third of 1993's In Utero in 1990. During an informal recording session on New Year's Day 1991, Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl put down an early, jangly version of "All Apologies." Some of the verses didn't have words yet, but the refrain "Married/Buried" was more or less set, a little over one year before Cobain's wedding to Love.

24. DAVE GROHL WROTE THE RIFF TO "SCENTLESS APPRENTICE."

Grohl had been writing songs on his own since he joined Nirvana, even releasing a cassette album of his work in 1992 called Pocketwatch, under the pseudonym Late! It was understood that Cobain was the lone songwriter of Nirvana, but Grohl couldn't help himself and presented the group with the guitar riff and drum parts of what would turn out to be "Scentless Apprentice." Cobain said in an interview that he initially thought Grohl's riff wasn't very good but tried it out to not hurt his feelings (which of course was a nice thing to do until he revealed his thought to a reporter for Grohl to later read). Aside from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Scentless Apprentice" was the only song from a Nirvana album that was given a "Cobain/Novoselic/Grohl" writing credit instead of Cobain receiving sole recognition.

Possibly as a reward, "Color Pictures of a Marigold," one of the songs from Pocketwatch, was recorded by Grohl and Novoselic toward the end of the In Utero sessions, and was released as "Marigold," a B-side to the "Heart Shaped Box" single. It would end up being the only Nirvana song that had no input from Cobain.

25. COBAIN EMBELLISHED THE LEADBELLY GUITAR STORY BY ABOUT $445,000.

Before his classic cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" on MTV Unplugged, Cobain was provoked by Novoselic to talk about Leadbelly's guitar. "This guy representing the Leadbelly estate wants to sell me Leadbelly's guitar for $500,000," Cobain said. "I even asked David Geffen personally if he would buy it for me. Wouldn't do it." It's possible that Cobain was trying to pull a fast one on the CEO of his label, because a few months earlier he wondered to a New York Times reporter if buying the guitar for $55,000 was a "punk move" or an "anti-punk move." Separating $445,000 from David Geffen would of course be both.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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25 Facts About John Lennon For His 80th Birthday

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon—who was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940—was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at some facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles.

1. John Lennon grew up near Strawberry Field.

By the time he was 5 years old, John Lennon had been all but abandoned by his parents, so instead went to live with Mimi and George Smith, his aunt and uncle, in Woolton, England. He lived near a local Salvation Army orphanage, and loved to explore its garden, which was known as Strawberry Fields. In Barry Miles’ book Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney recalled how it was "a secret garden. John's memory of it [was] … There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn't manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in.”

2. John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout.

Yes, John Lennon—the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast—was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

3. John Lennon’s first instrument was the banjo.

Getty Images

The first song John Lennon learned to play as a teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan was Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” But he didn’t master the tune on any instrument you might pose with in front of the mirror. “My mother Julia taught it to me on the banjo, sitting there with endless patience until I managed to work out all the chords,” Lennon once said. The infamous banjo went missing after Julia’s death in 1958 and became the subject of the 2012 novel Julia’s Banjo, which spawned the stage adaptation Lennon’s Banjo.

4. John Lennon hated his own voice.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

5. Songwriting was “torture” to John Lennon.

Lennon wrote some of the most indelible pop songs of the 20th century—and he apparently hated every minute of it. Speaking with Rolling Stone just days before his death, Lennon revealed that songwriting was “absolute torture” for him. “I always think there’s nothing there, it’s sh*t, it’s no good, it’s not coming out, this is garbage ... and even if it does come out, I think, 'What the hell is it anyway?'" he said. The only exceptions, he added, were the “10 or so songs the gods give you and that come out of nowhere.”

6. "Twist and Shout" was not kind to John Lennon's vocal cords.

On February 11, 1963, The Beatles spent one very long day recording 10 songs that would appear on their debut album, Please Please Me. At the end of the 12-hour session, they tackled “Twist and Shout,” a song that required Lennon—who was already hoarse—to shred what remained of his voice.

“The last song nearly killed me,” Lennon said of “Twist and Shout” in 1976. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”

7. John Lennon was dissatisfied with all of The Beatles' records.

While dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

8. John Lennon was the only Beatle who didn't become a full-time vegetarian.

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

9. John Lennon’s signature eyeglasses were far from trendy.

While filming the 1967 black comedy How I Won the War, John Lennon took a liking to the round spectacles that were part of his soldier character’s wardrobe. These weren’t designer glasses, but rather the utilitarian handiwork of the UK's National Health Service. Lennon loved the ugly “granny” frames so much that he made them his signature look for the rest of his life.

10. John Lennon loved to play Monopoly.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

11. John Lennon was the first Beatle to get married.

Lennon wed Cynthia Powell, whom he’d met in art school, on August 23, 1962. The reason for their union: Cynthia was pregnant, and on April 8, 1963, she gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son named Julian. Beatles manager Brian Epstein worked to keep John’s marriage a secret, but his efforts were futile. When the Fab Four performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, a caption reading “Sorry girls, he’s married” appeared on screen when Lennon got his closeup during “’Till There Was You.”

12. John Lennon was the last Beatle to learn how to drive.

John Lennon at a press conference on September 11, 1964.Vern Barchard, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

13. There’s only one Beatles song featuring just John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

In 1969, while honeymooning in Paris with Yoko Ono, Lennon began writing a song about the controversy surrounding their recent marriage. When he got back to London, Lennon went over to McCartney’s house to finish the composition, which he had already titled “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Lennon and McCartney then quickly booked a session at Abbey Road and recorded the song as a duo (Starr was filming The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers and Harrison was on vacation).

“John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help,” McCartney said. “It’s quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles."

14. John Lennon reportedly used to sleep in a coffin.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

15. John Lennon recorded one of pop’s first diss tracks.

Everyone remembers Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine for the utopian title track. But the LP also features “How Do You Sleep,” a rather nasty attack on Paul McCartney. “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,” Lennon sings in the opening verse, referencing the infamous “Paul Is Dead” myth. Lennon later sings, “The only thing you done was yesterday,” referring to the Paul-penned Beatle favorite “Yesterday.” In fairness, Lennon was responding to a handful of subtler lyrical jabs on McCartney’s 1971 album Ram.

16. The last time John Lennon saw Paul McCartney was on April 24, 1976.

William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

17. John Lennon was supposed to sing lead on The Beatles' first single, 1962's "Love Me Do."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

18. John Lennon stole the harmonica heard on “Love Me Do.”

Lennon is known as the bad boy of The Beatles, and true to form, he added a bit of delinquency to the group’s 1962 debut single, “Love Me Do.” The song is notable for John’s use of harmonica, and he reportedly played the signature riff on a mouth organ he swiped from a music shop in Arnhem, The Netherlands, in 1960. In terms of musicianship, Lennon didn’t exactly commit thievery, but he based his harmonica lick on the one heard in Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby

19. "All You Need Is Love" was the best lyric John Lennon ever wrote.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

20. John Lennon wanted Jesus and Hitler for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

After British pop artist Peter Blake came up with the cover concept for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—the band surrounded by cardboard cutouts of famous figures from throughout history—he asked all four Beatles to make lists of people to include. One of Lennon’s picks was Jesus Christ, even though he’d recently gotten into a heap of trouble for saying The Beatles were “more popular” than the Christian messiah. Blake’s team never actually made up a Jesus cutout, but they did create one for another of John’s controversial selections: Adolf Hitler. The Führer apparently made the final cover, but he’s behind the band, so you can’t see him.

21. John Lennon was the final Beatle to have a #1 solo hit in America.

By the time John Lennon released 1974’s Walls and Bridges, Paul McCartney had topped the Billboard Hot 100 three times. George Harrison and Ringo Starr (yes, Ringo) had each reached the summit twice. Among ex-Beatles, only Lennon had yet to notch a #1 single. That finally changed with “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” a jaunty dance number featuring Elton John on piano and backup vocals. It reached #1 on November 16, 1974, giving Lennon his first—and only—U.S. chart-topper.

22. John Lennon had a deep and abiding love of cats.

Though Lennon did have a couple of dogs, he was absolutely crazy for cats. He had many of them over the years, each one holding a very special place in his heart. As a kid, he had a cat named Elvis—named after Elvis Presley—but discovered that Elvis was a female when she gave birth to a litter of kittens. Still, the name stuck. More than a dozen feline friends would follow over the years.

23. John Lennon made his final concert appearance after losing a bet.

After helping Lennon record “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” Elton John bet the former Beatle that the single would reach #1 in America. A doubtful Lennon took the wager, agreeing to perform with John at Madison Square Garden if he lost. Sure enough, the song topped the Hot 100 on November 16, 1974, and 12 days later—on Thanksgiving night—Lennon joined John for three songs, including the Beatles classics “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It would be Lennon’s final proper concert appearance.

24. John Lennon was into new wave and punk.

John Lennon seen in 1966.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On December 6, 1980, two days before he was murdered, John Lennon sat for an interview with Andy Peebles of the BBC. During the chat, Lennon professed his admiration for punk provocateurs the Sex Pistols, English ska revivalists Madness, and American new-wave party-starters The B-52’s, among others. Lennon credited his assistant Fred Seaman with hipping him to these new artists, even though he was initially reluctant to listen.

25. The last photographer to snap John Lennon’s picture was Paul Goresh.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post has been updated for 2020.