In the 1980s the music industry migrated away from vinyl toward cassettes, which caused 45 records to be replaced with cassette singles. Like 45s, cassette singles usually contained two or three songs, with one of the songs being a radio single and the other(s) being something not on the album — live versions of songs, cover tunes, extended remixes or sometimes instrumental versions.
When Nirvana’s album Nevermind hit store shelves, teens everywhere shouted in unison… “What did he just say?” I actually wore out my first Nevermind cassette by listening to the songs over and over, trying to discern what exactly Kurt Cobain was mumbling about. Even more frustrating was the fact that the album did not contain any lyrics to the songs inside! The inability to decipher Cobain’s words was so widespread that Weird Al did a song about it.
In the summer of 1992, Nirvana released their third single from the album, “Lithium” (after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are”). Normally I wouldn’t expect a single released nine months after an album to fly off store shelves, but the front of Lithium contained one small line of text that helped it sell: “Includes Complete Lyrics To every Song On NEVERMIND!” Sure enough, inside, in plain text, was the code to the lyrics I had spent 9 months trying to figure out. I’m not even sure I listened to that Lithium cassette single, but having those lyrics was definitely worth the price.