The rest of the band builds a bluesy, smoldering atmosphere — the ideal, unobtrusive framework for one of rock's most unforgettable vocal takes. 53. "Very Ape," In Utero (1993)At a succinct 1:55, "Very Ape" makes its case and gets out of the way. In one of his journal entries, Cobain explains this minute-and-a-half blast as a parable about old men being turned into birds “to scream at the top of their lungs in horrified hellish rage every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth … screaming bloody murder all over the world.” There’s a righteous amount of screaming here against a fun, if derivative, punk chord progression. Another entry for a comp on Seattle’s C/Z Records label. This early Nirvana number walks a fine line between Seattle’s latent redneck machismo, with its by-the-numbers riff, and the self-righteous vegetarians in Olympia, with the funny admission “Yes, I eat cow / I am not proud.”, 63, 62. 42. 46. Nevermind is largely a flab-free album. "Lithium," with its signature combo of grunge riffs and sugary pop melody, envisions a man who escapes grief via faith — a sly commentary on faith as a bandage, on its dual capacity to help and harm. At just under four minutes, "Milk It" revels in the band's ugliest side, full of screaming tantrums and murky, shadowy riffs. “Something in the Way,” Nevermind (1991). The “he” who likes to shoot his gun is not the millions of jocks the band would soon convert into fans, but rather Cobain’s good friend Dylan Carlson. If you’re into your older sister’s Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin records, Nirvana could open you up to Bikini Kill and Daniel Johnston. Political Punk Rock Black Flag guy,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad of this bass-propelled cut, which lashes out at a "slippery pessimist hypocrite master" and "conservative communist apocalyptic bastard." "Pen Cap Chew," With the Lights Out (2004)The pounding, metallic "Pen Cap Chew" dates back to Nirvana's first studio session from January 1988. A curious yet ultimately underwhelming In Utero B side seemingly built out of little more than Cobain clearing his throat and yowling, “Marijuana.” He winds down with a minute of croaking, yet the song somehow was covered by the likes of Sonic Youth and former Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante, though the keeper belongs to Yelawolf, who sampled that yell for his song “Marijuana.” But for those grimly combing over Kurt’s lyrics for omens of his demise, one could do worse than the original title for this song, which Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross noted was: “Moist vagina, and then she blew him like he’s never been blown, brains stuck all over the wall.”. In this list, I will be ranking every song by Nirvana from best to worst (#1 being the best). And aside from the unfulfilled promises and future sounds to be explored on their enchanting Unplugged set, I also left off their furious and messy live albums like From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and Live at Reading Festival, sets that have been released over the years. Watch Queue Queue. 9. Cobain openly cops to his heroin use, nonchalantly offers up a horror like “my mother died every night,” and then reveals that his art is “to write off lines that don’t make sense.” As the song creeps higher toward its glorious peak, Cobain regards its other lines and shrugs: “What the hell am I trying to say?” It’s by turns a confessional, self-obfuscating song, not to mention the only instance of self-love for Cobain — though “love myself better than you” may not mean much from someone who hates the world. That sentiment presented a conflict after Nevermind made Nirvana the coolest band of their era. In the wake of its ensuing scandal — the story claimed Love had used heroin while she was pregnant — Cobain’s new family had to deal with Child Protective Services and a legal minefield just to retain custody of their daughter, Frances Bean (who was named for the Vaselines’ Frances McKee, not the actress). Played live just once before, they nailed it after two run-throughs, then Cobain was out the door, the lines “Never speak a word again / I will crawl away for good” eerily capping his career. "It was a joke at first," Cobain told Michael Azerrad in 1993's Come As You Are. 9. The credits curiously only listed Love's name, though Novoselic confirmed to The Stranger in 1998 that "Old Age" was a Cobain composition. "Endless, Nameless," Nevermind (1991)Ah, hidden tracks: now an adorable relic, then a genuine bolt of lightning through your headphones. Make that a platinum bullet, as the song represented one last chance for, if not Nirvana, then Nirvana, LLC, to return to the top of the charts a decade after Cobain’s suicide. His shift from soft croon to gnarly scream is a time-capsule moment. "Plateau," MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)The least essential of Nirvana's three Meat Puppets covers, partly due to Cris Kirkwood's shaky harmony vocals. Log in or link your magazine subscription. As an Amazon Associate, we earn revenue from qualifying purchases. Its lyrics fit the album’s themes: disease, a search for recovery, finding a way to “distill” and preserve the redemptive qualities of life rather than fall victim to the squalid parts. All Nirvana ALBUM songs ranked. It’s a haunting, burdened, one-of-a-kind moment in their discography (and the doom-laden version they cut at the BBC is incredibly heavy). But sloppiness takes it down a few pegs: Channing, in particular, sounds unsure of the song's structure, rushing many of his snare fills. The frontman was probably attracted to the song's hybrid of pop hooks, punk energy, and experimental production (see: the atmospheric bridge full of pulverizing drums and random noises from squeaky toys and other found sounds). That utterance of “I like yewwww” is equal parts sweetheart crush and psychotic obsession. "Mr. Moustache," Bleach (1989)"Yes, I eat cow — I am not proud," Cobain admits over an angular, chromatic riff. In the nearly three decades since it was laid to tape, it feels like a gut punch and a blessing. "It’s a twisted song, almost like something that could have been on her record Rid of Me, which was also produced by Steve Albini. In Utero wasn't exactly a "screw you" to radio programmers, but "Tourette's" was the closest they came. But you can hear the seed of a Nevermind-level song here, which only amplifies the sadness. Sure, it’s a sound you can easily find on obscure Japanoize titles, on a Slayer album, or at the climax of a David Lynch film but in few other places in American pop culture. The track peaks with a furious instrumental climax and a blaring guitar solo that resembles a short-circuiting dial-up modem. It remains as furious as the first time I blasted it in high school, and it will be that cathartic for the next teenager who cues it up on her playlist. It’s an exquisite example of the band’s ability to whisper and combust in an instant. The lyrics were inspired by an Aberdeen family who imprisoned their kids in a dark room: "The lady whom I feel maternal love for / Cannot look me in the eyes," Cobain sings. "Mexican Seafood," Teriyaki Asthma, Volume I (1989)"Mexican Seafood" is the grossest song in a catalog that features many a queasy lyric. The band conveys the impotent rage almost any artist can feel in a marketing or business situation, but songs bemoaning “the industry” are, for me, a chore to listen to no matter the genre. 52. “I wrote that song in about 30 seconds,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad about “Pennyroyal Tea” during the winter of 1990 with Grohl and a four-track. Babies who smell like butter, images of frightened wet nurses, not to mention the stenches of gas fumes, mushrooms, and semen, all give this song a visceral bouquet. “Stay Away,” Nevermind (1991) /”Pay to Play,” DGC Rarities: Vol.1 (1994). "Stay Away," Nevermind (1991)"I'd rather be dead than cool," Cobain sings over barbed-wire guitars and pummeling tom-toms. covered no less than three Velvet Underground songs on Dead Letter Office, and while Cobain was a Michael Stipe stan, his band’s touchstone forever remains the Vaselines: Awkward, sincere, cloying, sassy, and endearing, the Scottish duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee seemed the band least likely to succeed, much less to get revived in a new century. But they lurched into the riff nonetheless — first instrumentally, then with Cobain wildly screaming the lyrics. 31. Sometimes I think religion is OK for certain people. So without further ado, here’s our ranking of every Nirvana song, from worst to best. 13. 68. It’s a high-energy if frivolous throwaway, and one wonders what a full song would have been like instead. Still, the way he howls the word nails conveys the absolute fear of being buried alive in a single agonized syllable. 12. And that laugh! 10 Easy Nirvana Songs For Beginners. Cobain told Azerrad it was a fantasy of sorts, “like if I was living under the bridge and I was dying of AIDS, if I was sick and I couldn’t move.” The song was rendered in the control room of Sound City Studios (where Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was recorded), with all phones and air-conditioning turned off so Butch Vig could capture Cobain’s hushed performance. "Downer" Bleach reissue (1989)“I was trying to be Mr. Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain, and Dave Grohl. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” In Utero (1993). I'm also including the songs on Incesticide and anything else I've heard. Is the frontman defending himself against hipster vegetarians, rolling his eyes at local elitism? Discarding the lyrics (and any real musical development), the bluesy riff just kinda plods on and on. “Now I vomit cum and diarrhea / On the tile floor like oatmeal pizza / With a toilet bowl full of a cloudy pus” is an early instance of a theme — the body and its attendant horrors — that would run through Cobain’s later lyrics. The song itself plays like the grimier cousin of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," riding another mammoth, distorted, four-chord garage-rock riff and a violent quiet-loud shift. 86. Over a decade later, Cobain went back to his teenage roots, dusting off the New Wave tune to open Nirvana's Munich, Germany gig on March 1, 1994 — in what became their final show. Slight as it is, it presents a far more prickly punk iteration of the band for those investigating beyond Nevermind. In much the same way that Cobain’s name-dropping an artist in any interview led his fans to seek out their work, when he happened upon Beat legend (and future collaborator) William S. Burroughs talking about Lead Belly, Cobain sought out his music. Cobain’s death squelched plans for the song as the album’s third single, but its quiet-loud-quiet dynamic on In Utero doesn’t do full justice to the song’s qualities. "Help Me I'm Hungry," With the Lights Out (2004)Nirvana, then with drummer Aaron Burckhard, unveiled this abrasive cut during a 1987 in-studio set for Olympia's KOAS community radio station. “It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves.” Originally kicked to The Beavis and Butt-head Experience comp (where Nirvana found itself alongside “peers” like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, and Megadeth), it’s as catchy as it is unmemorable. Nirvana Songs Ranked. Just compare it to the more intense version from Foo Fighters' 2006 live album, Skin and Bones. Seemingly overnight, the music industry was suddenly chasing down the likes of Royal Trux, Steel Pole Bath Tub, and the Jesus Lizard so as to hand them suitcases of cash. In Nirvana’s brooding take, you have some of the band’s standard tropes, from antisocial urges to queerness (“Not straight, not so straight / Reject, reject”), but you also have topics the band never again broaches, namely Greek philosophy and science fiction (with lines about “astro borders”) and the furious chorus about “Dimension Seven.”. K Records founder Calvin Johnson was the college town’s unofficial mayor, his band Beat Happening the champions of unlearned, awkward, and childlike twee-folk. Their take is effectively a disco edit, lopping off extra verses to emphasize the chorus and lengthening the instrumental break to give Cobain space to indulge in some Eastern-tinged guitar shredding. Here Nirvana rubbed elbows with such unmemorable late-’80s bands as the Hard-Ons, Smelly Tongues, and Chemical People, and this cover is just a sloppy, drunken goof. For a few years, corporate rock had to pretend to be college rock. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" In Utero (1993)Nothing radio-friendly about this growling behemoth. The squawking guitar solo is no consolation. 68. They play in several bands together, including Stiff Woodies. There were no real hard and fast rules for assembling the list, though the albums and singles are so formidable that I felt there was little need to comb through the demos, rehearsal tapes, and songs never officially released (if Cobain didn’t feel the urge to properly record “Pen Cap Chew” or finish “Opinion,” then I didn’t really see the need to rank them). “This is a great record; it’s just totally uncompromising,” Cobain raves. "D-7," With the Lights Out (2004)Cobain once again paid tribute to his favorite Portland punks on this droning Wipers cover, which appeared on the Hormoaning EP. Just two years prior, British pop sweeties Bananarama had taken another Shocking Blue cover, “Venus,” to the top of the charts in seven countries. Nirvana song list curated by Matthew Campbell. But it’s just withering and sarcastic enough to tuck in a sincerely devastating kiss-off to his father. Its punk velocity and heavy riffs anticipated grunge by almost a decade. Lounge Act. “That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet,” Bowie said of the track. When it came time for a clutch of PNW bands to pay tribute to Sage in the form of the 1992 four-by-seven-inch boxed-set comp Eight Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers, Nirvana was onboard (as were the likes of Poison Idea and Cobain’s new girlfriend’s band, Hole). But the image of blankets scarred with cigarette burns from Kurt and Courtney on the nod chills, that bridge is undeniable, and the wicked guitar noise still feels like a spool of razor wire running through the whole thing. At least the two were able to meet during Cobain's lifetime: "Iggy Pop is pretty much the only person that I've ever met that I really, really admire," Cobain told Much Music in 1993. "Aero Zeppelin," Incesticide (1992)Given that it's the first song Nirvana ever played live, "Aero Zeppelin" is fittingly tethered to their influences — most evident during a cocky, strutting guitar riff that borrows a hint of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." "Something in the Way," Nevermind (1991)According to legend, the acoustic-and-cello ballad "Something in the Way" chronicles a period of homelessness for a young Cobain. “I think we sound like the Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath,” Kurt Cobain once quipped about Nirvana’s mix of candied pop and acidic sludge. Holed up at Laundry Room Studio in West Seattle, they tossed off a few new ideas; one was “Curmudgeon,” which landed on the B side of “Lithium” three months later. "Pennyroyal Tea" addresses his fragile state plainly: "I'm on warm milk and laxatives / cherry-flavored antacids," he sings over a stark acoustic strum, building to a cathartic chorus that references an herbal abortifacient. And the arrangement is a master-class of the quiet-loud dynamic without ever feeling clichéd: Grohl's subdued drumming in the verses pays off with his bruising attack on the chorus, and Cobain's clean-to-fuzz pay-off could be the most satisfying moment of their career. 36. (Some fans have joked that the lyric "I've been looking for Day Glo" sounds like "I've been looking for Dave Grohl" — given how mumbly Cobain's lyrics were at this point, I guess we can't write it off for sure.). 44. Vertiginous feedback and ever-scaling dissonance from Cobain’s guitar, paired with a massive drum attack from Grohl as intense as the title suggests, makes for the most thrilling, visceral high imaginable, tourniquetting in tension until it explodes. Call it his version of original sin or the mark of Cain, but it’s a sign of worthlessness, failed potential, life as little more than a stigma — which is basically how most teenagers feel about themselves at some point, a nadir Cobain could put into words. It’s about Cobain’s girlfriend during the Nevermind recordings, Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail, but beyond that, it’s hard to say. The performance is ragged but charming, with Cobain attempting to ape Ric Ocasek's clipped vocal style before slipping back into grunge again on chorus. It's fun hearing the band's undervalued silly side, but it's also painful on the ears. In this case, the executive's instincts were spot-on. By Andy Beta. And as the penultimate song in the band’s Unplugged set, “All Apologies” finds Cobain hushed and attaining a state that feels like redemption. There are deeper, more depressing wallows to be found than this Blew B side, though, and the song is basically just one verse repeated three times. By the seventh verse, Cobain’s increasingly fraught voice finally breaks with a skin-freezing shriek at the word shiver. "Grey Goose," With the Lights Out (2004)The verdict is in on thissong by the Jury: It's kinda pointless, an awkward instrumental adaptation of a folk tune famously covered by Lead Belly in the 1930s. “Endless, Nameless,” Nevermind (1991). But the fidelity is so gross that it couldn't possibly be anything but their least essential recording. 30. Nevermind is a legendary album. And Cobain anchors that muscle to one of most fragrant pop hook, pointing the finger at fans who don't dig deep enough into their tunes: "He's the one who likes all our pretty songs / And he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun / But he don't know what it means.". “Heart-Shaped Box” gets to the, ahem, heart of the final Nirvana album. First called “Hitchhiker” and then “Cracker” before “Polly,” this harrowing song dates back to the Bleach era, though its minor-key folk melody was even more of a grunge outlier than “About a Girl.” It’s “ripped from the headlines” subject matter slots alongside “Paper Cuts”: Cobain took as inspiration the local story of a 14-year-old girl abducted after a punk-rock show at knifepoint by the serial rapist and kidnapper Gerald Friend. As the tour for 1993's In Utero wore on, you could tell that Kurt Cobain had fallen out of … Courtney Love was friends with Dave Grohl first, though she confessed to having a crush on Kurt and gave Dave a parcel to pass along to him like a furtive high-school note, which Come As You Are describes as containing “little seashells, pine cones, and a tiny doll … all packed into a small heart-shaped box.” Cobain never replied to the gift but soon found himself amid Love’s heart-shaped-box collection. 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