There are random taboos in the world of rock and roll that don’t make much sense.
Of these, possibly the least productive was the idea that it was faux pas for a drummer to play to a metronome. The dreaded “click” was a staple of dance music, and keeping that kind of precise time was considered inorganic. Because of some convoluted notion about authenticity, countless bands shot themselves in the foot.
In a recent interview with Rick Beato, producer Butch Vig opened up about the one song on Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind that he got them to play to a click (as transcribed by Ultimate Guitar):
“The only song that was done to a click was ‘Lithium’… The day we tracked it, they started playing, [and] as soon as they kicked in, it sped up. Speeding up is okay in rock ‘n’ roll, but it was the only time I noticed [them] really kind of lurching, and Kurt noticed that too.
“And he said, ‘What do we do? I just don’t like the way this is feeling.’ And we did three or four takes; we got to the end of one of the takes. [We] didn’t even finish, [and] Kurt said, ‘Stop, stop, stop. This doesn’t feel right to me.'”
“And then he launched into ‘Endless, Nameless.’ I’ve never seen so much rage on a person’s face — it was scary. In the end, Kurt completely smashed his guitar and blew his voice out.”
“I pulled Dave aside before they went out the door and said, ‘Have you ever played to a click? And he said, ‘No. Why?’ ‘Because I think maybe we should try it. Might be worth it in the song, to keep a really steady groove.’ I always carried this tiny little Roland drum machine with me… And he said, ‘I’ll go try it tonight.’
“And he came in the next day. I asked how it went with the click, and he said, ‘I think it’s okay. I don’t like playing too much. But I think it’ll be okay. So we roll a click, ‘Lithium’, first take — boom, done. Perfect. I didn’t have to do any drum editing. I was just like, ‘Oh my god, Dave Grohl is a machine.’ He told me years later doing [2011 Foo Fighters album] ‘Wasting Light’ that when I asked him to play with a click track, I broke his heart… but only for one day [laughs].”