Essential Tracks – Nirvana

“Essential Tracks” is a new Music section at the Virtual Hot Tub.  In this ongoing series, I’ll be picking my favourite tracks from a particular artist.  Here’s the very first instalment.

Nirvana – the Top 20 Songs

Sadly, 5th April marks twenty years since the death of Kurt Cobain.  It seems somewhat unreal that so much time has passed.  I remember buying Nevermind as soon as it came out in 1991.  I remember hearing about Kurt’s death when it was announced.  Such a great artist and unique, complex music.  This is a list of my favourite Nirvana songs.

20. Come As You Are

A great song, over familiarity has probably knocked this track down the table.  Find it on Nevermind.  As a point of interest, my old band used to cover this.  We performed it live on the second anniversary of Kurt’s death; it received a warm response.  At that point (in the pre-internet) we hadn’t realised the significance of the date, it had been a coincidence.

19. You Know You’re Right

From the Nirvana compilation.  Awesome song – classic Nirvana soft/heavy dynamic.

18. Been A Son

My version of this song is from the Incesticide album.  Fast paced, a catchy melody – and lyrics worth the time to listen to.

17. Lithium

One of the classic Nevermind songs, this has a fantastic sing a long chorus that shows Kurt’s ear for a fine tune.

16. Serve the Servants

Opening track from the superb In Utero album, I’ve surprised myself that I haven’t placed this song higher in my own list.  Love it.  “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old”.

15. Negative Creep

Absolutely brutal riff.  One of the heaviest, punkiest songs in the Nirvana catalogue.  Perhaps something of an early Melvins influence here, probably some Black Flag too.  You can find it on Bleach.

14. Molly’s Lips

Out-standing cover version of a Vaselines song, on the Incesticide album.  Unbelievably  poppy despite buzzing guitars, it’s a blueprint that Cobain adopted and mastered.

13. Territorial Pissings

Another hardcore punk attack, though Territorial Pissings still retains a melody despite the speed and fury.  Awesome instrumental break and reliably quotable lyrics.  Nevermind again.

12. On A Plain

It’s really hard to select the best songs from an album as indispensible as Nevermind, but I remember this track always stood out for me.

11. All Apologies

This gem doesn’t get in the Top Ten?  I know, ridiculous, right?  It’s on In Utero and there’s a pretty cool version on the MTV Unplugged set, too.

10. Sliver

We start the Top Ten with a great pop tune that, incredibly, wasn’t on the major releases.  You can pick it up though, on Incesticide – and I suggest you do.

9. Something In The Way

This song and Polly offer some quieter, haunting moments on Nevermind.  When we get to the chorus and the cello comes in, it’s heart break time.

8. Pennyroyal Tea

Like quite a few of Kurt’s songs, Pennyroyal Tea sneaks in quietly before launching into different territory.  Brilliant song from In Utero that demonstrates perfectly the melding of melody and mayhem in the best Nirvana tunes.

7. About A Girl

An early hint of Kurt Cobain’s ability to create a beautiful pop song; it’s no surprise that he was a huge Beatles fan.  Find it on Bleach, there’s also a killer version on MTV Unplugged.

6. Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle

“I miss the comfort in being sad”, quiet/loud/quiet/loud; great riff.  Wonderful track from In Utero, complete with scathing lyrics.

5. Scentless Apprentice

Dun-dun-der-der! D-der der d-der d-der!  Do I really need to say more?  So heavy.  It must have scared the Indie scenesters to death.  Run for the hills, Indie scenesters!

4. Where Did You Sleep Last Night

A cover of the Leadbelly song, found on the MTV Unplugged album.  Kurt sounds truly agonised on this exceptional song, though it retains it’s beauty.

3. Dive

Apparently written as a Soundgarden style song, in an effort to appeal to their label Sub Pop and get signed.  It should come as no surprise, however, that Kurt – a huge Black Sabbath fan – would be able to create a riff as heavy as this.  Heavy like a brontosaurus breaking rocks.  With a big fucking hammer.

2. Smells Like Teen Spirit

This is the big one.  Iconic, revolutionary – but Nirvana’s best song?  I don’t think so.  Not to deny it’s power, maybe I’ve just heard it a little too much.  Still great though.  It’s on Nevermind, but you knew that, right?

1. Heart Shaped Box

Allegedly, Courtney Love heard Kurt writing this song, loved the immortal riff, and asked if he would donate it to her.  Kurt declined, and apparently locked himself in a cupboard to finish it off.  The quintessential quiet/loud dynamic.  Utterly unforgettable.  This, for me, is Nirvana’s best song.

So there you go – my Top 20 Essential Nirvana songs.  And I didn’t mention the word “grunge” once.

Compiling this list was much more difficult than I anticipated.  I was forced to leave out some absolutely classic songs; like In Bloom, Rape Me, Aneurysm and Nirvana’s amazing cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World.  There are others, too.

I reserve the right, in all Essential Tracks posts, to revise my thoughts at a later date.  Already, I’m thinking that Scentless Apprentice should’ve been number 1.

Dun-dun-der-der! D-der der d-der d-der!

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