10 Best Nirvana Songs
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The best Nirvana songs exemplify the band’s place in rock history, as the group changed the face of the music industry within a very short period. The iconic band embraced a sound that mixed hard rock’s power with punk’s attitude, leading the way in the “grunge” revolution. Led by the late Kurt Cobain and featuring the talents of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, Nirvana created a legacy that will continue to influence rock music for years to come. As you can guess with a band as legendary as Nirvana, creating a Top 10 list generated quite a heated debate among the Loudwire staff and it’s with all apologies that some very solid songs missed the cut. So here we are now, both in the clip above and the list below, counting down the 10 Best Nirvana Songs:
Nirvana had already broken through by the time ‘In Bloom’ was released as a single, but this poppy, “pretty song” turned on fans outside of the rock world. Ironically, Cobain penned the track about the fans that latched on to their band after their ‘Bleach’ album, yet the infectious quality of ‘In Bloom’ generated its own fanbase-growing movement.
‘About a Girl’
‘About a Girl’ was the accessible oddball on Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ album, but despite Kurt Cobain’s fear about including such a poppy song on the much hard-hitting disc, the tune endured to become one of their most beloved tracks. Cobain penned the track for his then girlfriend, using some of their disagreements for inspiration. Though it wasn’t a hit when included on ‘Bleach,’ ‘About a Girl’ got a second life when included on the band’s 1994 ‘MTV Unplugged’ collection.
‘Come As You Are’
When it comes to memorable riffs, Kurt Cobain’s unaccompanied darkly moody intro to ‘Come As You Are’ is as recognizable as they come, but that’s only part of the reason it makes the 10 Best Nirvana Songs list. Lyrically, the song is filled with contradictions throughout, leaving listeners with many interpretations over the years. However, the vocalist stated that it’s about human behavior and how people often act contradictory to what you might expect.
Simply put, this unheralded gem from the ‘Bleach’ album rocks. ‘School’ finds a killer groove in Cobain and Novoselic’s playing and makes the most of it until the unbridled fury of the song’s finale. The track is quite minimal lyrically, but Cobain has stated that it’s his take on the Seattle scene at the time, mirroring the cliques at a school. “Won’t you believe it / It’s just my luck,” repeatedly ponders the frontman, before unleashing his anguished screams of “No recess.”
After the abrasive, hard-hitting success of the ‘Nevermind’ album, Nirvana changed things up a bit, leading off their ‘In Utero’ album with the moody, introspective single ‘Heart-Shaped Box.’ The song has Grohl and Novoselic building the mood early on before joining Cobain in the chorus’ explosion. Lyrically, the track offers one of the most unlikely declarations of love, with the singer exclaiming, “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.” Now that’s dedication!
‘Sliver’ is the perfect blend of melody and aggression that Nirvana built their career on, yet sounds nothing like the rest of their catalog. The track, which was initially released as a non-album single in 1990, got some recognition on the band’s 1992′ ‘Incesticide’ rarities compilation. The song about a fussy youngster longing for his parents came together rather quickly with Cobain, Novoselic and Mudhoney’s Dan Peters coming up with it during a practice session and taking advantage of a one-hour break in the band TAD’s recording session to lay down the track.
Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ has it all. The track begins with some Cobain noodling and Grohl keeping a steady beat, but by the end its filled with the furious instrument-smashing glory that fans had come to love and it’s a must for the 10 Best Nirvana Songs list. Cobain stated that lyrically the song, inspired by a relative, is about a guy whose girlfriend has died and turns to religion to give him a reason to live.
‘You Know You’re Right’
‘You Know You’re Right’ may have arrived nearly a decade after Cobain’s death, but it holds up with some of Nirvana’s best music. The unique quality of Cobain’s voice is on full display, as he delivers the verses in full rasp, while unleashing his full angst by the chorus. The track, recorded just months prior to his death, once again tackles the relationship dynamic and the resignation felt after an argument. As a final document of Nirvana’s career, it fits right in with the passion and angst they captured so well over the years.
One of Nirvana’s more introspective tracks is easily one of their best. ‘All Apologies’ first appeared on the band’s ‘In Utero’ album, but took on even greater meaning after Cobain’s death when it appeared on Nirvana ‘MTV Unplugged’ album. Though lyrically the song had nothing to do with his family, Cobain was quoted as saying in ‘Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana’ that “peaceful, happy comfort” that the song’s sound provided was what he wished for Courtney Love and their daughter.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
It may seem like the obvious choice for No. 1, but it’s not just the musical genius of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that earns the track the top spot on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Songs. Never has a single rock song changed the face of music as instantly as this one did. With a contradicting soft-loud approach inspired by the Pixies and angst-ridden lyrics sung with unwavering conviction, Cobain hit upon something seemingly simple yet universally connective and the music world was never the same.