Cobain's estate closely guarded "You Know You're Right," making it one of the most legendary unreleased tracks in rock history. The band, which launched the early 1990s "grunge" movement, recorded it in late January 1994, less than three months before Cobain's death.
"It may not be the best song they ever did, but it's probably in the top 10," Cobain biographer Charles Cross said Thursday. "At the time, people were saying Kurt was over, and that's what's so significant about this song — it's the last great Nirvana song."
It's unclear how the track finally aired. Several radio stations said it first surfaced on the Internet, which was where they obtained it.
One station, KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, reported receiving a one-day cease-and-desist order earlier this week, but said it had permission to play the song Thursday.
The release — whether official or not — followed comments last week from Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, indicating that lawsuits involving the song had been settled for "a lot of money" and that "You Know You're Right" would come out before the holidays.
Love and surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic have long fought over "You Know You're Right" and the rest of Nirvana's legacy. She sued them in May 2001 to block the release of a boxed set including the song, which she wanted released later. They countersued for breach of contract, calling Love "irrational, mercurial, self-centered, unmanageable, inconsistent and unpredictable."
Neither Love's Seattle lawyer, O. Yale Lewis, nor Grohl and Novoselic's lawyers would confirm that the case had been settled or discuss the song's release. A spokesman for Interscope Geffen A&M, Nirvana's label, did not return a phone message, and lawyers for Universal Music Group, which includes the label, declined to comment.
The case still was set to go to trial in King County Superior Court beginning Monday, though a bailiff for Judge Robert Alsdorf noted that a hearing set for about two weeks ago had been canceled without being rescheduled.
"You Know You're Right" is chilling, especially given its proximity to Cobain's death. It opens with the lines "I would never bother you/ I would never promise to/ If I say that word again/ I would move away from here," and descends into Cobain's elongated, tormented wail. "Pain," he cries, stretching the word out for nearly 10 seconds.
Other lines appear sarcastic: "Things have never been so swell/ And I have never been so well."
Cross cautioned that the version released on the Internet may not be the one the record label planned to release. He said he heard a substantially better version while researching his Cobain biography, "Heavier than Heaven," which came out last year.
The song shows what more Cobain could have done, had he not committed suicide at 27, Cross Said.
"When I first heard it, my jaw just dropped," he said. "You get the sense that you're never going to hear this voice again."