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Parker Thomas
Parker Thomas

Best Songs Of Nirvana Nirvana Greatest

Nirvana's debut album is kinda spotty -- a handful of cuts are little more than punk throwaways -- but hints of Cobain's genius surface in the select songs that turn down the fury. 'About a Girl' is the best of them. The track was also the opening number in the band's great 'Unplugged' set (see Nos. 9 and 2 on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Songs), where it gained even more resonance.

Best Songs Of Nirvana Nirvana Greatest


Nirvana's debut album is kinda spotty -- a handful of cuts are little more than punk throwaways -- but hints of Cobain's genius surface in the select songs that turn down the fury. 'About a Girl' is the best of them. The track was also the opening number in the band's great 'Unplugged' set (see Nos. 9 and 2 on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Songs), where it gained even more resonance.

Ignore the legal wrangling, bad blood, feuds, even Kurt Cobain's suicide, behind the release of this long-awaited single-disc anthology of Nirvana's work, simply titled Nirvana, and focus on one simple thing: does it do its job well? Does it capture the essence of the most influential band of the '90s, the most storied band since the Beatles? Does it have all their best songs on one disc? The answer: kinda. The inherent problem with the disc is that it's difficult to compile Nirvana's best material by any chart-based yardstick, the way that the Beatles 1 -- Cobain's widow made no bones about the fact that she wanted this collection patterned after that hit, and to be as successful a catalog item -- did, since they didn't have that many singles, nor did their career need to be condensed like the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks since they only recorded for five years. Nirvana's best tracks -- not necessarily the same thing as Cobain's best songs, although they frequently overlapped -- were buried on album tracks, B-sides, stray singles, so there's no good criteria for why, say, "Dumb" makes the cut and "Aneurysm" doesn't. Even more problematic, Nirvana's three proper albums, along with the rarities compilation Incesticide and the acoustic MTV Unplugged, all have different personalities and sonic characteristics that don't necessarily fit well together, whether it's the gleaming Nevermind, the ragged indie pop band on Incesticide, or the stark despair of In Utero. So, what you wind up with is a record that has all the hits and many of the radio favorites, plus the very good previously unreleased final recording, "You Know You're Right," in a collection that is less than the sum of its parts. At 50 minutes, it's all too easy to concentrate on what's missing: "Something in the Way," "Polly," "Serve the Servants," "Verse Chorus Verse," "Dive," "Negative Creep," "Love Buzz," "Territorial Pissings," "Drain You," "School," "Lake of Fire," "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," and, most egregiously, the aforementioned "Aneurysm" are all prime candidates to fill out the remainder of the disc. Not all could have fit, but the presence of a few more tracks, along with placing "You Know You're Right" at the end where it belongs, would have made this collection not just stronger, but possibly definitive. As it stands, it feels like a bit of a cheap compromise and a wasted opportunity.

We recently posted a list of Nirvana's 15 best non-album songs. Continuing right along, we now present their 10 best cover songs. As good as Kurt Cobain was at songwriting, he was also a master of interpreting the work of others. His covers were rarely straightforward renditions -- they almost always brought something new to the song and were sometimes even better than the originals. Their choice in cover songs were also always as crucial as the performances themselves. Save for a few Zeppelin covers, Nirvana rarely covered songs that were already very popular, and in the rare cases that they did (like one Beatles cover included below), they would change it up significantly.

Their covers were often a way Nirvana used their status as a huge mainstream band to shine a light on the punk and indie bands who influenced them, who hadn't fully gotten the attention they deserved, like The Vaselines, Meat Puppets, and Wipers. They also covered lesser known deep cuts by David Bowie and Devo, unsung blues legend Lead Belly, obscure proto-metal like Thunder and Roses, and more. A lot of these songs and/or artists got significant boosts after Nirvana covered them, and -- with all due respect to the original songwriters -- some of these songs are now inseparable from Nirvana. Nirvana's covers were as crucial to the overall Nirvana story and discography as the band's best original songs, and it'd be impossible to discuss their legacy without mentioning these songs. The Nirvana recordings of them are truly iconic.

As much as Kurt loved punk, he was possibly the biggest cheerleader for Scottish indie pop band The Vaselines, who broke up before Nirvana hit it big but have been reunited for a while and probably have Nirvana to thank for tons of their fans. Nirvana covered The Vaselines a few times, and one of their most moving covers was the version of "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" (retitled "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam") that they performed on MTV Unplugged In New York in 1993. As the story has been told time and time again, most artists used MTV Unplugged as an opportunity to play stripped-down versions of their biggest hits, but Nirvana turned the corporate television show into a piece of art, constructing a setlist of only the songs that they thought would sound best acoustic (no "Teen Spirit") and playing covers that were mostly obscure to much of MTV's audience. The first cover in the set was this gorgeous rendition of this Vaselines classic. The original is among The Vaselines' slower songs, but Nirvana really leaned into treating this one as a ballad, and the results continue to be stunning today. As with all of the covers Nirvana did on unplugged, Kurt sang it like he wrote it, filling his voice with as much genuine emotion as possible. It's just different enough from the original that you need both versions in your life, but it's similar enough that it would have been immediately obvious to Nirvana fans how much they would also love The Vaselines. It's the perfect mix of doing a song justice while also rivaling the original.

Of all the daring moves that Nirvana made during their MTV Unplugged performance, bringing on the Meat Puppets was perhaps the most daring. Legend has it that MTV were really hoping Nirvana would bring out Pearl Jam or another more famous guest, but Nirvana insisted on bringing out Cris and Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets, whose 1984 sophomore LP Meat Puppets II (released on Black Flag's SST Records) was a clear influence on Nirvana and grunge in general, but who had yet to receive any real mainstream attention. (The following year, Meat Puppets scored their sole hit with "Backwater," and Nirvana are almost definitely to thank.) Meat Puppets were punk in spirit, but they had a psychedelic, country-inspired sound and it's easy to see how that impacted the shaggy, tattered sound (and image) of grunge. So many of the popular grunge bands leaned more towards metal and stadium rock, but the rawer, weirder side can be traced right back to the Meat Puppets, so it couldn't have been more perfect when Nirvana helped introduce them to the mainstream world. They played three songs off Meat Puppets II with Cris and Curt, and the very best of those performances was "Lake Of Fire." It's among Nirvana's more straightforward covers (part of that likely due to 2/3 of the Meat Puppets playing on the song), but in this case, that was the way to go. Nirvana had to make the Bowie, Lead Belly, and Vaselines covers their own, but the "Lake of Fire" performance proved that the original song should've been a grunge hit in the first place. Since the song had some country/blues influence to begin with, it was no surprise that it sounded perfect with acoustic guitars. And vocally, Kurt killed it. Just like Curt Kirkwood did on the Meat Puppets original, Kurt almost struggled to reach those high notes, and hearing him strain his voice to hit them makes it all the more charming. People talk about Kurt not being a properly trained singer but still being a powerful one who could win over the hearts of millions, and this song captures how his flaws ended up working to his benefit. 041b061a72


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