Aside from maybe Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles themselves, there are few bands that are universally beloved more than Nirvana. Credited with catapulting grunge rock into the mainstream spotlight, the classic trio of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl helped bring unique sound, image, and aggression to a rock world desperately in need of a kick in the pants. Sadly, the band was short-lived, as Cobain tragically took his own life not long after the release of band’s third album, “In Utero.”
There’s no question that Nirvana had a lot of memorable and iconic songs. In most cases, the band’s mega-hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” easily tops any and all top-whatever lists due to its massive pop culture impact and chart-smashing success. But that’s no fun. So, in honor of Mr. Cobain’s birthday, here are what I believe to be Nirvana’s ten best songs that aren’t “Teen Spirit:”
1. “All Apologies”– “All Apologies” was released in a manner that made its lyrics and melody all the more haunting: not only was it the concluding track to Nirvana’s final album prior to Cobain’s suicide, it was also the band’s last official radio single. Nevertheless, if looked at as the band’s swan song, “All Apologies” is a perfect fit- blending beautiful verse melody with an angsty chorus and ending on a final bar that epitomizes the band’s chaotic, hazy lifespan.
2. “Pennyroyal Tea”– When comparing it to major Nirvana singles such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart-Shaped Box,” it’s easy to over-look or under-appreciate “Pennyroyal Tea.” The song was originally planned as “In Utero’s” third single, but was canceled after Cobain’s suicide. According to statements made by Cobain, the song is about someone who “is beyond depressed” and “is on their death bed.” Furthermore, the song’s title is a reference to an herbal remedy that Cobain used for his own personal health issues, all to no avail. The song initially seems like a typical, satisfying loud/quiet Nirvana track, but its overall themes of depression, hopelessness, and acceptance of death pack quite an emotional punch when considering the band’s fate.
3. “Heart-Shaped Box”– When modern grunge-inspired bands aspire to write a perfect song, “Heart-Shaped Box” almost definitely comes to mind as a reference point. A diminishing Cobain paints a perfect portrait of moody tone and haunting imagery. The song was also accompanied by the best music video of Nirvana’s career.
4. “In Bloom”– One of Nirvana’s slickest songs, “In Bloom” was released as an ode to fans who didn’t actually understand the band’s lyrics or overall meaning. The song’s catchy chorus and crunchy guitar parts have allowed it to remain a classic staple of rock radio. However, with fake Nirvana fans on the rise now more than ever, the song’s meaning has barely aged and remains relevant and humorous.
5. “Paper Cuts”– While Alice in Chains and Soundgarden had almost complete control of the metal/grunge market, Nirvana’s “Paper Cuts” proved that the band could be just as affective by means of sheer intensity. The song is one of Nirvana’s heaviest and makes use of some truly brutal feedback.
6. “Lithium”- “Lithium” was given the near-impossible task of following up the massively successful “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as you Are.” However, it held its own and quickly went down as one of Nirvana’s most well-known songs. Never before had a band constructed such a memorable chorus based on a single word (“yeah.”)
7. “Something in the Way”– It’s almost a shame that “Something in the Way” was included as a hidden track on “Nevermind;” the song is one of Nirvana’s most beautiful, with an uncharacteristically calm mood and an ear-catching string backdrop. The song should have been given a proper spot on the band’s sophomore marvel, but perhaps its melodic nature would have disrupted the album’s flow.
8. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”– As if its massive title doesn’t already command enough attention, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” loudly sputters up and down and rings on even past its conclusion. The song finds Nirvana channeling their aggression in a stand-out manner.
9. “Come as you Are”– Nearly every person educated in proper rock music history can quickly recognize “Come as you Are’s” monotone main riff. The song’s dreary melody practically embodies the ripples of the water featured on “Nevermind’s” cover. It is a grunge classic.
10. “Negative Creep”– “Negative Creep” is a monster of a track. The song really helps establish “Bleach’s” dark undertones by means of static distortion. Cobain’s vocals grow increasingly frantic and harsh as the song builds momentum.