Watch Nirvana troll a prime-time TV chat show host with a riotous performance of the most punk rock song on Nevermind

Nirvana, on Jonathan Ross
(Image credit: Channel 4 / YouTube)

Kicking off just six weeks after the release of their critically-acclaimed, and soon to be wildly successful, major label debut Nevermind, Nirvana's November/December 1991 UK tour was a blast for everyone concerned.

"In just a matter of weeks," Dave Grohl noted in his best-selling 2021 memoir The Storyteller, "the buzz surrounding the band had ramped up into a frenzy, all eyes focussed on the blurry mystery that was three disheveled freaks in their early twenties, armed with songs that your cool aunt and uncle could sing along to."

During the tour, the Aberdeen, Washington trio had the opportunity to showcase some of those songs on national television, taping memorable performances of Nevermind's first single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, for BBC TV's flagship music show Top Of The Pops and Channel 4's try-hard 'yoof' programme The Word.

On December 6, 1991, Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl were booked to perform the album's scheduled third single Lithium on a second popular Channel 4 programme, Tonight with Jonathan Ross, and having closed out their UK trek with a triumphant sold-out performance at London's Kilburn National the previous night, the trio were in a mischievous mood.

Introducing the group, Ross informed his studio audience and the millions watching at home, "And now with the song Lithium, probably the biggest band in the world right now, the pleasure is all yours, yes sir indeed, please welcome Nirvana."

Unbeknown to the host however, Nirvana had decided at the last minute, not to play the catchy, hooky Lithium, the song they'd soundchecked earlier, and instead decided that the British public might like to hear Territorial Pissings, the fastest, heaviest, most punk rock song on Nevermind, as the soundtrack to their dinner. As an additional bonus, they decided that the nation would be even more charmed if they ended their thrashing, unrehearsed take on the track by kicking over equipment and leaving Cobain's guitar and Novoselic's bass propped up against their amps.

As the show's director cut back to a bemused Jonathon Ross, with the amps still screeching with feedback, the host pretended to wring out his ears, and quipped, "Boy, hope we didn't wake the neighbours up..."

"Nirvana there," he continued above the studio audience's laughter, "doing the tune that we didn't actually expect, but they wanted me to tell you that they are available for children's birthday parties and bar mitzvahs."

Watch the footage below:

Released as the third single from Nevermind, Lithium reached number 11 on the UK singles' chart on July 25, 1992. Territorial Pissings was never released as a single.

Decades later, Jonathan Ross brought up the performance when Them Crooked Vultures appeared on his Friday Night with Jonathan Ross night chat show.

"We smashed the gear and ran out the back door," an unrepentant Dave Grohl cheerfully reminisced. "It was great."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.