Releasing only three full-length albums, you'd think it'd be easy to narrow down the 10 best Nirvana songs, but it isn't. Nirvana left behind a slew of great songs in its wake as the biggest band of the 1990s and one of the best bands in the history of rock music.
- “In Bloom” Nirvana's massive success and mainstream acceptance contradicted Kurt Cobain's indie sensibilities and punk-rock roots. This lurching but insanely catchy single tricked the jocks in the band's audience into singing “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.” It sure tricked plenty of Brits: "In Bloom" hit number 28 on the UK charts and stands as one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “Heart-Shaped Box” This song’s nothing groundbreaking (the whole thing's three chords, verse and chorus), but it has some cool, twisted lyrics ("I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black”?) and the band hammers the melody into your skull with the help of an accompanying guitar riff. Cobain wrote this song, originally titled “Heart-Shaped Coffin,” in five minutes; quite a feat for one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “Negative Creep” Try listening to this chunky throat-shredder and not throwing yourself around the room and knocking stuff off the walls. “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more,” whatever it means, doesn’t matter. The song’s one of the best songs off the band's debut album, "Bleach," and one of the 10 best Nirvana songs ever. Check out the performance on 1991’s “The Year Punk Broke” for the ultimate version.
- “About a Girl” Long before Courtney Love inspired her husband to write the lyrics “married / buried” in “All Apologies,” another inspired Cobain to write the classic Nirvana song “About a Girl.” Written after listening to The Beatles all night (and it shows), "About A Girl" is a response to Cobain’s ex-girlfriend Tracy Marander's question as to why Kurt hadn’t written a song about her. This song spotlighted Cobain’s pop brilliance amongst the dankness of "Bleach" and is certainly one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “All Apologies” Another Beatles-esque single (the band members were all big fans), “All Apologies“ is hypnotic, melodic and full of weird lyrics (what does “Aqua seafoam shame“ really mean?). The band’s performance on "MTV Unplugged" cemented its place as a Gen-X classic and this song's place as one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Overplayed and overpraised, its hard to listen to this song objectively nowadays, but the truth is it’s actually super catchy and expertly crafted pop. The riff alone, a play on Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,“ would make it a classic, but Andy Wallace’s mix made it sound arena-ready, and the single’s success sure lived up to it. It’s 1990’s “Freebird," in a good way.
- “Drain You” After the chaos of “Territorial Pissings” on "Nevermind," “Drain You” seems like a light-hearted romp. The A section’s playful and clever wordplay (“With eyes so dilated I've become your pupil”) contrasts nicely with the darker and repetitious B section and makes it one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “School” Cobain may have come from the underground and detested the band’s mainstream audience, but the holier-than-thou indie crowd bugged him just as well. This sludgy Sabbath-inspired gem finds Cobain howling at his best. Apparently being judged as a band is like being “in high school again.”
- “On a Plain” A bright moment in the catchy-yet-bleak 43 minutes of "Nevermind," this song finds the band channeling The Beatles yet again in the verse’s melody and Cobain making references to his mom. The bridge melody sounds eerily familiar, and Cobain commented on this in the lyric “Somewhere I have heard this before.” Easily one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
- “Sliver” How rock and roll is it to sing lyrics like “Mashed potatoes and stuff like that?” With "Sliver," Nirvana bashed out a fun punk-rock sing-along, a prelude to the full embracing of pop that would come with “Nevermind.” This is the most playful song on the list and one of the 10 best Nirvana songs.
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