Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Album: Best Of Leadbelly (1933)

Songfacts®:

  • This blues number is about a man who finds out his wife has been cheating on him. He goes out into the cold night and is killed in an accident.
  • Nirvana covered this on their 1993 Unplugged In New York album. Kurt Cobain introduced it by saying, "This song is by my favorite performer." Earlier that year, Cobain had been offered one of Leadbelly's guitars for $50,000, although Cobain exaggerated the cost when introducing the song. Neil Young was deeply affected by Cobain's singing at this performance. He said the tortured final vocals sounded "unearthly, like a werewolf, unbelievable."

    MTV wanted Nirvana to do an encore after "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" was over, but Cobain refused, saying that he sucked and that the whole band sounded terrible. He'd thought the performance was a bomb because the audience was so quiet, not realizing that it was so quiet because they were blown away.

    "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" was also one of the few songs Cobain played in public with his wife, Courtney Love. They performed it on September 8, 1993 at Club Lingerie in Los Angeles. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matt - Millbrae, CA, for above 2
  • The first rock era cover to make an impact was by The Four Pennies under the title "Black Girl." It made the UK charts in October 1964 and rose to #20, but got nowhere in the USA. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Michael - Villereau, France

Comments: 16

  • Jake from UsaRead the lyrics she was cheating and the husband murdered the hard working man she was cheating with.
  • Papa Jacque from SwitzerlandWho is asking the black girl these questions. Her husband....no, he's dead. Who else is interested in where she sleeped last night?
  • Vivienne from AustraliaHaving said that now I wonder if his head got caught in the driving wheel and his body got mashed up on the railroad tracks.......

    What a great song with so many ways to interpret it's meaning
  • Vivienne from AustraliaHmm as I learn this song I can't help feeling that the husband was murdered in a race killing, perhaps at work and consequently she is hiding out so as not to be next. OR perhaps as some surmise he was killed by her lover if she had one? But that's not the feeling I get. I can't help feeling she is hiding out from the killers out of fear, loss and grief.

    After all, his work is mentioned followed immediately by "his head was found in a driving wheel* and his body was never found". Implies a work place killing. Where's the body if it was an accident? And why mention his work? And why a Driving wheel? Sounds like murder to me.

    Definition for Driving wheel below.
    *definition: (driving wheel- 1.any of the large wheels of a locomotive, to which power is applied either directly or via coupling rods.
    2.a wheel transmitting motive power in machinery.
  • Troy from VaA lot of people here seem to think Leadbelly wrote this song, but that is not the case. It's a folk song with an unknown author thought to originate in the 1870's. Cobain was referencing the fact that they are covering Leadbelly's interpretation of the song during the MTV Unplugged shoot. The earliest written version of the lyrics - only 4 lines - do reference a black girl appearing to have been lynched but the earliest known recording of the song does not. There were countless recordings around this same time and most of them vary as to who is killed and why.
  • Juve from California In 2012 the rock/alternative duo WZRD sang "Where did you sleep last night?". it's in their self titled album WZRD. The song is sung by the lead vocalist and rapper Kid Cudi.
  • Jay from PaMy girl, my girl, don't you lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night... if that doesn't clearly indicate that she was cheating or at least that he suspected her of just that, I don't know what more to say... The fact that Leadbelly is black, his (not her) body was found, and that another version uses "black" as attribute, doesn't make it a lynch song. Come on, people.
  • Derek from Who Cares?, DcNo matter how many times I hear it, Cobain's screaming "shiver" sends chills down my back.
  • Michael from Skokie, IlThis song is absolutely NOT about cheating. Nothing to do with it. It is about a black woman getting lynched.
  • Alexandria from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emiratesi cant believe no one has brought up the fact that robert plant has covered this song!
    but,of course,nirvana's version more than amazing
    Kurt Cobain-the greatest of the greats!
  • Scott from Boston, MaNirvana's version was by far Kurt's greatest vocal performance IMO. His screaming at the end still gives me goosebumps.
  • Lalah from Wasilla, AkIn the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter" young Loretta Lynne sings this on her daddy's front porch as her future husband "Dew" is bringing back the body of his former moonshine-running partner.
    I always thought the song was a jealous man who drove his woman from the house in a fit of rage. He's found dead and all she can say is she spent the night in the hills afraid to go home.
  • Dan from Parsippany, NjHad anyone been in the room with me when I watched Nirvana's performance of this on the day I found out Kurt was dead, they would've seen a 19-year-old male cry. More than a decade later, I still get choked up. It's that powerful.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIf you want you can find Leadbelly's version on a website called www.publicdomain4u.com. You have the option of listening to it or downloading it. Either way it's great.
  • Rocco from Naples, ItalyPlayed nirvana's version at a birthday party in 1997 with an extemporary blues band formed by three guitarists:i played acoustic guitar and was the lead singer...memories of a time when i could have been a musician and not a lawyer as i am today...
  • Jolene from Melbourne, AustraliaI've never heard the original but Cobain's version was heartbreaking to listen to. Probably my fav song from the unplugged album.
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