A look at the top 10 tracks from one of my all time favourites.
I’ve made it no mystery that Nirvana are one of my favourite bands of all time, you just have to look at my top 10 albums and my ‘In Utero’ review to see that. They truly were special, the greatest grunge band and one of the best bands of the 1990’s. The tragic death of Kurt Cobain will forever be etched into the mind of music fans for the rest of time. Nirvana was a counter culture, saying a huge ‘fuck you’ to the overproduced, overly glitzy rock of the 80s (although I am quite partial to a bit of 80s rock). Nirvana though paved the way for a renaissance in simplistic, yet, gritty, loud and brash rock. And their legacy has gone onto inspire countless bands from Radiohead with their grunge debut ‘Pablo Honey’ to Stone Temple pilots and even had a heavy influence on their contemporaries at the time Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Nirvana has a huge catalogue of tracks from 3 main albums, 2 EPs and various other bits and pieces making it a difficult task to pick 10 songs.
10 RAPE ME: You’ll find that the majority of this list comprises of tracks from ‘In Utero’ (Spoiler) and that’s because ‘In Utero’ happens to be one of my favourite albums of all time. To avoid retreading old ground and repeating myself ‘In Utero’ as a whole is a masterpiece and one of the reasons was the albums almost dirty production giving it such an incredibly authentic feel. Rape Me’s lyrics are as blunt as the title, at its core its an anti-rape song and that was it written intention. Essentially, that was the bands goal to raise awareness about sexism by being as blunt as humanly possible and it pays off, sometimes the best way to approach a topic is to be straight up about it, instead of beating around the fucking bush and Kurt achieved this here.
9 LITHIUM: Probably one of Nirvana’s more accessible tracks and a fairly predictable one in the field of top 10 Nirvana songs, but, that certainly isn’t a bad thing, not in this songs case anyway. Despite it being, arguably, one of the more poppy tracks on the Nevermind it’s a deeply depressing track a theme that almost certainly carried over on to their next album In Utero. There a lot of stark contrasts here from the relatively pleasant verses with this sweet melody, but, it transforms in the chorus to have an almost sense of ugliness to it, brimming with rage particularly toward the end of the track. It’s almost everything you come to not expect from a track that opens with such a pleasant melody, its quintessential Nirvana and easily one of the best tracks from Nevermind. It’s loud, its aggressive and it subverts expectations.
8 ABOUT A GIRL: This track is one of the more understated Nirvana tracks, but, truly is a testament to Kurts songwriting capabilities. The underlying songwriting is very pop centric, it has quite a blissful melody and the lyrics are sweet, the song was about his girlfriend at the time, perhaps given away slightly by the songs title. Despite the underlying pop sound its a heavy track and that truly showcases Kurt’s talent and is something he went onto perfect in later songs in the Nirvana discography.
7 SERVE THE SERVANTS: The opening track on 1993’s In Utero is a blinder and is actually one of Kurts most autobiographical tracks making reference to his Father, his wife Courtney Love, as well as, his own success as a musician and as a person. It’s incredibly self reflective and mixes the elements of Nirvana’s brand of heavy alternative rock with this sense of self reflection and contemplation. Where Nevermind was perhaps a little more middle of the road in terms alternative rock, a notion admitted to by bassist Krist Novoselic. This opening track set this record apart from its predecessor, it told us that In Utero was going to be more daring, more visceral and more raw and oh boy did it all pay off in the end.
6 IN BLOOM: Another blistering track off of Nevermind, Kurt made it not secret that he had a disdain for abusive people and overly macho men and this song encompasses that very disdain. One of the loudest and most abrasive tracks on Nevermind bar one other that’s arriving on this list later and the song essentially is built around the idea of its sing-a-long chorus. Thematically its incredibly clever in the verse Kurt is attacking the people he hates i.e. the homophobes, the abusers, the assholes of society but in the chorus gives them something they can sing along to. He did this because he knew the songs meaning would fly over their head and he makes this clearly apparent in the chorus with “He’s the one who likes all the pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, but he knows not what it means.” Essentially, the person his describing likes to sing along but they don’t even know what the song truly means, which is something Kurt hated about his band shooting to stardom, that these posers and people he hated were listening to the music that was directly attacking them.
5 SLIVER: The only non-album track to feature on this list, released as a 7″ single and later found on the excellent compilation album “Insecticide”. It’s really a testament to how good this track is that a non-album single landed in my top 10. At its core its a fairly simplistic song, but, the melodies are truly excellent and you blend that with the groups grungey guitar playing and you’re onto a winner. It merged pop sensibilities with blistering, guitar rock that just has this aura of destructiveness about it.
4 ALL APOLOGIES: The last track on Nirvana’s 1993 “In Utero” and what a way to finish an album. One of the slower Nirvana tracks, made even more beautiful by its performance on MTV unplugged. Whilst, Kurt very rarely spoke about this song he alluded that it was dedicated to Courtney and Frances-Bean. The very fact he rarely spoke about shows how deeply personal this one was to him and that comes across very much so in the songs performance and delivery. It feels deeply contemplative and is an incredibly moving track, easily slotting into their top 10.
3 FRANCES FARMER WILL HAVE HER REVENGE OF SEATTLE: Truth be told my top 3 Nirvana songs slip and slide their way around these 3 spots depending on my mood and penitent for anger at the time. Compared to the 2 top spots this track is less angry than those, but, don’t worry anger is still very much channeled here in the chorus with abrasive guitar licks and Kurt’s vocal delivery, of course its what you’d expect from a Nirvana song. The track opens with an explosion and winds down for the verse until it explodes again for the chorus, one word can describe this track and its explosive (you couldn’t of guessed I was going to say that). I guess in that sense its in a similar vein to “Lithium” with relatively pleasant verses with these loud, rip-roaring choruses. Lyrically its taking aim at the very record labels that tried to stifle his creativity and make him release more radio friendly unit shifters (see what I did there).
2 TERRITORIAL PISSINGS: Another track pointing to Kurt’s feminist outlook. Previously I said Kurt had a disdain for overly abusive people and macho man. This time again the band takes on the idea of the stereotypical ‘macho man’ and again is essentially a track about toxic masculinity, a theme modern band Idles tackles today in similar fashion. The song is aimed at those overly macho, toxic man and the songs opening gargle is a contrast to the connotations of a macho man, it is about being positive and wanting to cause positive change to society. In the second verse the lyrics “Never met a wise man/If so, it’s a woman” again display Kurt’s feminist side, the band here were tackling topics that many other bands at the time were not and is one of the reasons they are so special and still are to this very day. The track as a whole though is just this abrasive, mess of guitars, bass, vocals and drums, its pure insanity but at the same time its purely excellent.
1 SCENTLESS APPRENTICE: Truly a grunge masterpiece. I know before I said Territorial Pissings is insanity, well this is that but x100. No other Nirvana song quite captures and displays their raw aggression and anger than this song does here and a lot of their songs portray these emotions. Built on wave after wave of crashing guitar riffs and Kurt’s incessant screeching of the lyrics, this song captures the bands spirit and identity to the highest degree (to me anyway). It’s a strange one, especially considering how when Grohl first proposed the track to Kurt he didn’t like it very much at first. The true shame about this track though is that it was one of the bands only collaborative efforts in terms of them all chipping into the writing of it and therefore sadly mad it one of their last.
If you were surprised to see a lack of “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit”, don’t be. It’s easily not their best track by quite a large margin, most popular doesn’t equal most best and that goes for many other bands i.e. Radiohead and “Creep”. That’t not going to say I completely dislike the song, its good, just not their best by any stretch of the imagination. Some honourable mentions quickly before the end that very nearly made it into the top 10, although I won’t really go into much detail on the track. The honourable mentions are: “Something in the way”, “Aneurysm”, “Heart Shaped Box” “Floyd the Barber” and “Breed”. Also a quick shoutout to “Where did you sleep last night” off of the MTV Unplugged album which unfortunately could not make the list as it is a cover by Leadbelly. Cheers for reading.