Nirvana is easily one of the best and most important band of the 90’s Alternative wave. The sound inspired millions and helped to shape music in a way that only a handful of bands are capable of. Today we discuss the band’s top ten songs. As a warning I feel like you should be aware that almost no hits make this list. I just don’t want people expecting “Lithium,” “heart Shaped Box,” or that other well known song about “Teen Spirit.” Enjoy!
10. Negative Creep, Bleach
The drums are the first thing you hear, but soon the dissonance of the crunch guitar are there to overtake the track, but Cobain’s voice is right there with the rest of the elements to make it a song worth rocking out to. The overall tone of the track speaks to the alienation that’s prevalent in many of the bands works, but here it’s almost less evolved than what would come next. You could list production quality among the reasons for that, but i think the real cause is that the band matured to the darker side with subsequent releases. Even so, “Negative Creep” is probably their best track from Bleach.
9. Pennyroyal Tea, In Utero
One of the tracks that I always considered high water marks on their studio swan song, “Pennyroyal Tea” hums like a haze over a gorgeous day, but it’s lyrics are surprisingly off kilter and rambling. Usually Nirvana’s lyrics speak to depression and uncomfortable situations, but this song has always struck me as being outside of that box. I have no idea what the title means, but the song is a wonderful track that sees all of the musicians working in force to provide a great overall song.
8. Scentless Apprentice, In Utero
The number two track on the band’s last studio recording, doesn’t exactly surprise you with it’s intensity, but rather pummels you even you probably expected a rough song. “Scentless Apprentice” opens with a solid drum beat, but swiftly after that a sorta lo fi guitar and bass come in. Cobain’s muffled, sometimes hard to translate lyrics reflect the pain and state of chaos he was in, and honestly, i feel bad him. His death was probably the earliest thought I had of what mental illness and addiction can do to a person, and I’m reminded of that whenever I hear the song.
7. Something in the Way, Nevermind
Another incredibly dark recording finds us at Number seven on the Top Ten Nirvana songs. “Something in the Way,” which closes the breakout juggernaut that was “Nevermind” fills the void in which heavy, rough songs just don’t fit into it. It’s one of the only instances where you get genuine singing, and it’s quite breathtaking. It’s also genuine and honest in a way that not all music can be. For me, it’s always more terrifying when someone is calming expressing their disapproval rather than screaming and reacting. It’s more detached, and ultimately more terrifying. “Something in the Way” is the musical example of that to me.
6. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, In Utero
When I was thirteen or so my dad brought me to Nirvana live. This was the opening song of their headlining set, and since then it’s been one of my favorite tracks from the band. Once again, the song has plenty of self loathing and resentment, but the real majesty of the song is Kurt’s wordplay. It’s utterly brilliant and poetic, even in an unsettling way. Gems like “Bipolar opposites attract” and “afterbirth of our nation” are just a few of the references made, but all in all, it’s a distorted chaos fueled ride that really deserves more attention.
5. Breed, Nevermind
If ever they had a song that made someone want to just bounce up and dance and thrash about, it would easily be the underrated “Breed.” Every instrument is used exquisitely, and on top of everything, the chorus is one of my favorite’s in the band’s entire catalog. “We could plant a house, we could build a tree,” is just randomly awesome in a way that no other band could be. The number five track on Nirvana’s top ten songs, “Breed,” matches the vocal intensity with musical courage that truly makes the song whole and rocking.
4. Territorial Pissings, Nevermind
When they performed this crazy, intense, gut wrenchingly awesome song on MTV, I think it was one of the earliest memories of me simply falling in love with a band. The entire room was going crazy, and the band, along with a purple haired Kurt, really stole the moment for me. It’s still one of my favorite songs( as you should be able to tell by it’s placing on the list). At the end of the day though, it’s the wild nature and quick delivery that really makes the song stand out among their angriest songs.
3. Drain You, From the Muddy Banks of the Whiskah
While this song really is great on “Nevermind,” for some reason the live version has always hit me in a much more profound way. Perhaps it’s picturing the song in a live setting, or maybe it’s something about the unbridled passion the band seems to be delivering. Everything presented on the track pummels into submission, but it’s the drums by Grohl and Cobain’s screeching and howling voice that make the song so potent. Let’s also not neglect to mention the buildup and eventual onslaught that takes us over the bridge into the climactic explosion of this unbelievable track.
2. All Apologies, In Utero
Easily one of the bands best known songs, and for fucking good reason, “All Apologies” lands at number two. The Unplugged version is great of course, but the album version really shines through as the best part of “In Utero.” The song has always struck me as a glass half full song. He’s broken because of his views towards the world, and he can’t shake them, but “in the sun he feels as one” speaks to me as being somewhat comfortable in the position. Again, the word play is next level brilliant, and really showcase just how special he was as a lyricist. But, then again, he wasn’t the only important part of Nirvana. Grohl and Novoselic both inspire musicians to push the limits, and at the end of the day, the three of them stand as an incredibly important.
1.Where did you Sleep last Night, Unplugged
Of all the time’s I’ve done top ten lists, this is the very first time I’ve ever included a cover as a selection, and wouldn’t you know it, said cover lands at number one. Beyond the reflective, and utterly sad reminder of what came next, “Unplugged in New york” stands as one of the most prominent pieces the band ever took part in. All the songs were picked very methodically, but it’s this song, the set’s last, which has the most impact. “Where did you Sleep last Night,” which began and has gone by several different names, is a song so rich in texture and depth that you’d be surprised to find out this isn’t an original track by the band. It really just flows with their entire catalog, and the rendition performed on the live recording is hauntingly beautiful and distant. The girl, sick of life, sick of trying, is going to a place where “the sun don’t ever shine.” Perhaps she’ll never find the peace she craves, but at least she’ll be alone, away from the burdens of the world, and maybe one day she’ll return to us as a full being, and not the person who wanted to go “where the cold wind blows.”
Thanks for reading.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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