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The 15 Best Nirvana Songs

Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl were prolific enough to produce some of the greatest rock songs ever put to tape.




Photo: Sub Pop

5. “Come As You Are”

Both a statement of unconditional friendship and a veiled declaration of hostility, “Come As You Are” thrives off that conflicted confusion. Progressing from a rare moment of pure ambience, that opening guitar line, like a reflection shimmering in water, gradually gets submerged under more and more distortion and noise, culminating with a disruptive solo, which breaks the entire song open, leaving everything upended in disarray. Cataldo

4. “Something in the Way”

Questionably tuned acoustic guitar and two identical verses give Nevermind’s closing track an unfinished, demo quality, but Cobain’s double-tracked vocals and Kirk Channing’s cello make it the album’s most accessible offering. Despite a silly lyric or two (“It’s okay to eat fish/’Cause they don’t have any feelings”), the song possesses a stark beauty and despondency in its mumbled ruminations of a homeless man. Cinquemani

3. “Lithium”

Perhaps more than any other song, “Lithium” typifies the divisions that define Nirvana—the innate tension between quiet and loud, pop and noise, weakness and fury, pleasure and pain, belief and doubt—with a chorus that arches up from the muck, stretching for transcendence, but unable to escape the nagging distress that keeps all their music fixedly earthbound. Cataldo

2. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Though they tried, Nirvana was never able to escape their quintessential anthem of Gen-X ennui, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Blame Kurt. He set out to write “the ultimate pop song,” and while he didn’t quite succeed at that lofty goal, he and his bandmates did invent the quintessential alt-rock template for the ‘90s and beyond, drawing on the Pixies’ patented juxtaposition of hard and soft and an indelible, double-tracked riff that’s hard to imagine never existed before (don’t say it sounds like Boston). Cinquemani

1. “All Apologies”

Krist Novoselic called “All Apologies” a “gateway” to In Utero’s harder, less pop-friendly material. Even before the iconic MTV Unplugged version, the song hinted at the band’s future beyond grunge. But it was also a gateway into the soul of a rock god who didn’t believe he was worthy of his seat, a fitting swan song and, perhaps, the saddest—and least warranted—mea culpa of all time. Cinquemani

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