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No Apologies: All 102 Nirvana Songs Ranked

RS tackles the complete catalog of the band that defined the Nineties and made the world a lot noisier.

In honour of the forthcoming release of the Montage Of Heck documentary, we’ve dug deep into the catalog of the chaos-embracing sludge-pop titans who changed the world. We’ve ranked all 102 album cuts, B-sides, bonus tracks, officially released covers, bootlegger-traded originals, home demos, Peel Sessions, and 4-track experiments we could find, from Nirvana’s formation in 1987 to their McCartney-assisted reunion in 2013. It’s no secret that the 38 songs on Nirvana’s three classic albums blurred the lines between punk’s most subterranean muck and pop’s highest reaches. But they also left behind a wealth of other material from the shaggy to sublime, from combustible to calm, from coulda-been hits to unfinished sketches. Here it is, from Aero to Zeppelin, and everything in between.

102. “Heartbreaker”

After playing their own “Aero Zeppelin” as the opener at their first-ever concert – a March 1987 house party – Nirvana went straight to the source for two impromptu Led Zep jams. “Heartbreaker,” yells a concertgoer. “We don’t know how to play it!” replies someone, but they figured out the riff to the 1969 classic, as well as the one for “How Many More Times.” That fast-and-loose version (easily the earliest recording on this list) made it onto With the Lights Out box, possibly to show how loose and heavy Nirvana were right out of the gate. After trudging through some Jimmy Page steamrollers, Cobain offers up a ragged-throated “Hey fellas, have you heard the news?” and even attempts Page’s trilly showboat solo. And they said they didn’t know it. KORY GROW

101. “My Best Friend’s Girl”

According to the 1993 Nirvana bio Come as You Are, the Cars’ 1978 new wave hit “My Best Friend’s Girl” was among the very first tunes a young Kurt Cobain learned to play after his Uncle Chuck bought him his first guitar for his 14th birthday. It now also stands as one of the last songs Cobain performed in his lifetime, after he had achieved a level of fame his teenage self couldn’t have fathomed. When Nirvana opened their show at Terminal 1 in Munich, Germany with a ragged-yet-faithful take of the power-pop gem, it represented something of a tragic full circle: The gig, on March 1, 1994, would prove to be Nirvana’s last. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

100. “Raunchola”/”Moby Dick”

Described by Krist Novoselic as “really raunchy,” “Erectum” (or “Raunchola” as it was variously titled) was an early Nirvana composition that bound together a wobbly bass line, a few mimeographed Seventies punk riffs, some chunky metal guitar and one atonal Greg Ginn-style avant-garde solo. The band revisited their Led Zep love toward the end of a 1988 show, giving then-drummer Dale Crover a license to go Double-Live Bonzo on John Bonham’s signature showstopper (with a little added wooze courtesy of Novoselic). KORY GROW

99. “The Other Improv”

Among the tracks recorded in January 1993’s pre-In Utero sessions in Brazil was a loose, six-minute-plus jam that has come to be known as “The Other Improv.” The song, which consists largely of Cobain improvising lyrics over a lurching, mid-tempo instrumental groove, remained unheard until 2002, when it was discovered by online MP3 traders. Though the sketch is not much of a song, “The Other Improv” features Cobain repeatedly singing the phrase “My milk is your shit,” which would be reworked for “Milk It.” RICHARD BIENSTOCK

98. “Don’t Want It All”

Recorded on 4-track at Cobain’s Olympia, Washington residence around 1988, this eerie, oft-bootlegged track was known to collectors as “Misery Loves Company” before given its official title of “Don’t Want It All.” (Even though evidence suggests its real title is “Seed.”) Although it was recorded in the same home demos that produced the ridiculous “Beans” and the inpentrable “Montage of Heck,” these same tapes – featuring early versions of “About a Girl,” “Sappy,” “Polly” – signified the maturation in Cobain’s work. The song’s bluesy mood and atmosphere, similar to the Lead Belly works Cobain would soon discover, is taut while the tuning is so loose: The string rattles with every pluck. However, this song never made it out of the home demo phase, with its lone recording appearing on With the Lights Out. DANIEL KREPS

97. “Mrs. Butterworth”

Things that remain unknown about “Mrs. Butterworth”: when it was recorded, who actually played drums on it, its actual title, and pretty much anything beyond “It has Kurt and Krist on it.” Jack Endino describes it as one of the last songs found during the assembly of With the Lights Out, coming from Courtney Love’s collection of “Kurt cassettes.” Lights labels it a 1988 rehearsal with Dale Crover; but Endino disagrees, believing it to be 1987 with Aaron Burckhard. (Of the title, Endino writes: “Someone at the [management] office just made it up, as Krist couldn’t remember it, and the tape was unlabeled.”) Cobain doesn’t get a lot of credit for his guitar abilities, but he demonstrates a surprising capacity for Slayer-worthy thrash riffing here – only minus the evil, and plus weirdoes who collect Mrs. Butterworth jars and sell crafts made of out of burlap and driftwood. TOM MALLON

96. “If You Must”

For enthusiasts, “If You Must” was often the entry point into the fruitful, maddening, mislabeled world of Nirvana bootlegs – it was the first track on the well-circulated Outcesticide. Despite its impact on Nirvana fans, Cobain apparently hated the track, calling “If You Must” “sickening and dumb” in a letter to Crover. After being recorded for Nirvana’s January 1988 demo tape, the song disappeared entirely from future studio sessions and live performances until it was dug out for With the Lights Out. DANIEL KREPS

95. “Cut Me Some Slack”

“We walked in; we jammed the song,” Grohl told KROQ about this 2013 rager, the only song that Grohl, Novoselic and touring guitarist Pat Smear have recorded together since Nirvana ended in 1994. “It just came out of nowhere. The best songs happen that way. We recorded it live and put a vocal over it and that was it. It was three hours and it was perfect.” The vocals on this raucous jam for the Sound City soundtrack featured a little-known guest singer named Paul McCartney, whose Sixties-era recordings are said to have inspired the melody of Nirvana’s “About a Girl.” What the three-hour session yielded was honestly not much of a song, but it did win the Best Rock Song Grammy earlier this year, beating Black Sabbath the Rolling Stones and Muse. DOUGLAS WOLK

94. “Help Me, I’m Hungry”

Nirvana’s midnight in-studio performance for Olympia’s KAOS Community Radio in May of 1987, marked the band’s very first official on-air session – though at the time the band, featuring Aaron Burckhard on drums, was going by the name “Skid Row.” They closed their set with this Pixies-gone-Black-Flag moaner that is commonly known as “Vendetaganist,” but which was later rechristened – no doubt due to Cobain’s repeated moans of “I’m fucking hungry” —with a new title when this performance was issued on the With the Lights Out box. Though “Hungry” is among the deeper of Nirvana cuts, the band actually continued to play it onstage as late as September 28, 1991 – four days after the release of Nevermind. To add to its convoluted history, bootlegs from this gig, at New York City’s now-defunct Marquee, show additional names for the song, including “Come on Death” and “Death Jam” – all fine names for such a negative, anguished churn. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

93. “Immigrant Song”

Kurt Cobain doesn’t bother to intone Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant’s Viking wail on this two-minute rehearsal room larf. As seen a video shot at a strobe-lit basement show in Krist Novoselic’s mom’s house, new-hire drummer Chad Channing just launched into the song’s trademark gallop and Cobain let loose a monotonous scream. But for all the hoopla in the years since Nevermind came out about grunge killing metal dead, let the record show that the frontman screamed Plant’s lyrics into the Novoselics’ wood-paneled wall with an accuracy that might get him a passing score on Rock Band. KORY GROW

92. “Black and White Blues”

Does Jack White know about this one? Kurt Cobain apparently recorded this brief acoustic guitar ragtime shuffle in the late Eighties, perhaps even before Fecal Matter morphed into Nirvana. It’s not elegant, but it is endearing, with the strings buzzing and a few notes erroneously muted as Cobain tries to untangle the intricate picking patterns and rhythms of the primitive American blues. Warped by the buzz of a tape machine and a cheap microphone, it could even slip into those Paramount Records boxsets White’s been building. Onetime punk rockers who turn toward folk – or, at the least, folk-rock – as they age are legion. That path has long seemed like an obvious one for Cobain, had he survived beyond 27. But “Black and White Blues,” which came long before the year that punk broke, makes his interests in rock & roll’s basics both clear and incredibly frustrating: Cobain might’ve made an incredible aging bluesman, and these two minutes excepted, we’ll never really know. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

91. “Bambi Slaughter”

Not to be confused with the crushing “Bambi Slaughter” from Cobain’s 1985 Fecal Matter demo, this early home recording (most commonly labeled as “Bambi Slaughter” or “Creation” or “Bambi Kill”) is little more than the singer and a plodding bass riff. More than any song in the Nirvana catalog, its minimalism brings to mind stripped-down Cobain favorites Young Marble Giants. “I’m heavily influenced by them, he said. “It doesn’t sound like it in our music. But just the emotions they evoked and the feeling, the sincerity and all that.” Never officially released, it remains one of the deepest cuts in the band’s catalog, but recently got a second life via a blissgaze cover by Nirvana acolytes DIIV. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

90. “Anorexorcist”

This growly, Melvins-y grinder has been around since Cobain’s 1985 Fecal Matter demos, but didn’t live too much longer. Cobain reconfigured the riffs and lyrics, sped up the tempo, and began performing it as “Anorexorcist” at some of Nirvana’s earliest gigs and the well-circulated 1987 KAOS session (whose recording ended up on With the Lights Out). Despite its engaging fast-verse/slow-chorus vibe, it met its demise around a 1988 show where the band, billed as Ted Ed Fred, were joined by Cobain’s old Fecal Matter bandmate Dale Crover on drums. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

89. “Token Eastern Song”

“Token Eastern Song” held a mysterious mythos with Nirvana bootleggers thanks to its inclusion on the track list for Sheep, which Cobain planned as the Sub Pop follow-up to Bleach before DGC came calling. It wasn’t until years later that it was revealed that a live recording erroneously dubbed “Junkyard” was actually the tune; the chorus “Hold it in your gut” hilariously mistaken for “Born in a junkyard.” The track was also recorded on New Year’s Day 1991, Dave Grohl’s first studio session as Nirvana’s drummer. That version has not been officially released; but the Bleach-ier version on With the Lights Out, culled from a September 1989 session with Chad Channing on drums, is a gloriously crunchy Hüskers-via-Sabbath gem. DANIEL KREPS

88. “Here She Comes Now”

Nirvana’s cover of this Velvet Underground track from 1968’s White Light/White Heatwas more than twice as long as the original, appearing on the Velvets tribute album, Heaven and Hell Volume 1 and as a split single with the Melvins doing “Venus in Furs.” Though they tackle White Light‘ s quietest track, Nirvana’s version rises in action like the album’s noisiest, “Sister Ray” – a fitting tribute to the original architects of pop and feedback. DOUGLAS WOLK

87. “Escalator to Hell”

Recorded in the summer of 1988, in the same studio sessions where Kurt killed time attempting to affix a snippet of his homemade “Montage of Heck” collage to the beginning of debut single “Love Buzz,” “Escalator to Hell” seems to find the frontman playing guitar in Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge – his parts recorded backwards and then the tape reversed. The outtake is experimental to the point of being unreleasable, and as indebted to the Beatles as anything short of “About a Girl.” Once found on various Outcesticide bootlegs, YouTube is now the song’s most reliable home, with videos of the 89-second squall totaling nearly 5,000 plays and a homemade edit that sets the song back to it’s normal direction netting 47. NICK MURRAY

86. “D-7”

“We learnt everything from the Wipers,” Kurt told an English fanzine in 1990. “They were playing a mixture of punk and hard rock at a time when nobody cared.” Indeed, it’s pretty easy to hear Nirvana’s power-chords-by-a-power-trio roots in this dark tune originally off of the seminal Portland punks’ 1980 LP Is this Real?. As future In Utero producer Steve Albini wrote in Forced Exposure in 1987, “The Wipers’ music is so simple, but so cool, it makes you wonder why anybody thinks doing stuff with tricks is a valid approach at all.” JOE GROSS

85. “Montage of Heck”

This half-hour collage is unquestionably the most avant-garde moment to emerge from a band that ended their major label debut with five minutes of squealing feedback. The 1988 track emerged from the same era of “culture-jamming” copyright criminality like Negativland. Cobain went ballistic on his 4-track, mixing scratchy records, Nirvana demos and screams. The mucky tangle connects dots between John Cage’s tape-splice symphony “Williams Mix” to the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” to Public Enemy’s sample slaughter It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (one of Cobain’s favorite records, and – if bootleggers can be trusted – released the same month that “Montage of Heck” was recorded). Jarring, unsettling, and darkly nostalgic, it’s pure distillation of the obsessions that would follow Cobain for a career: Childhood (crackly kids records), meta-commentary on music (the repeating word “disco”), KISS (the opening of Alive), homophobia (Archie Bunker) and the human body (puerile toilet noises). CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

84. “Beans”

“He thought it was stupid,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad, explaining why this 93-second quirk-pop gem didn’t end up on Bleach. “[Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman] thought we were retarded.” As far removed from the sewer-scraping sludge of “Blew” as possible, this goofy little song (“Beans, beans, beans / Japhy ate some beans”) was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s beat novel The Dharma Bums and the childlike simplicity of the Vaselines. Cobain, hoping to show off his more avant-garde tendencies, got giddy with the pitch shifter. His chipmunk chirp here look back to voice-altered weirdos like the Residents and Butthole Surfers; and looks forward to voice-altered weirdos like Ween. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

83. “Old Age”

“Old Age” made its first public appearance in 1993 as the B-side to Hole’s “Beautiful Son” single and re-appeared on the “Violet” single two years later – credited to Courtney Love as its sole author. But the song was persistently rumored to have Cobain’s hand in it somewhere. “That’s a Nirvana song. Kurt wrote that song,” Novoselic told The Stranger in 1998, and indeed, With the Lights Out included Nirvana’s Nevermind-era recording of the song (albeit with almost entirely different words). Still, their version is half-formed – it’s the only known original song from that era that the band never played live, and Kurt seemed uncertain of the lyrics he was mumbling. DOUGLAS WOLK

82. “Beeswax”

Last year, Krist Novoselic discussed the thrill that Kurt Cobain got from collages of seeming non-sequiturs, particularly in visual art. “He would just laugh. He knew he’d made something cool, and he’d be happy about it,” Novoselic said. “He would think he was a blowhard if he explained stuff.” Such enthusiasm and attitude apply to “Beeswax,” one of the 10 cuts Nirvana recorded in January 1988, during their first session with Jack Endino. Like a song-length extension of Sonic Youth’s “confusion is sex” credo, the demented “Beeswax” explores daddy issues and vasectomies, masturbation and pubic hair, ovulation and anal sex, Cher’s breasts and expensive prostitution. This string of images runs the risk of turning into a string of 20-year-old nonsense, but Melvins drummer Dale Crover powers it into a philippic. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

81. “Seasons in the Sun”

“I cried to ‘Seasons in the Sun,'” wrote Kurt in his diary, recalling how the maudlin, chart-topping 1974 hit for Terry Jacks (itself a reworking of Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribund”) was the first record he’d ever bought. But while he no doubt felt an affinity for the song, the impromptu cover of it that he and his bandmates recorded during their January 1993 demo session in Brazil hides its existential pain behind a veneer of alt-rock indifference. By switching instruments (Cobain takes over the drums, Grohl grabs the bass, and Novoselic straps on the guitar) the band all but guaranteed that the results would be amateurish – which, in the early 90s, was the socially acceptable way to serve up ’70s cheese. DANIEL EPSTEIN

80. “Opinion”

When Kurt Cobain appeared on Calvin Johnson’s “Boy Meets Girl” show on Evergreen State College’s KAOS Community Radio, in September 1990, he brought along an acoustic guitar and a few new tunes. Just how new were they? As Cobain told the K Records founder during an on-air chat, he had written most of the lyrics that evening, adding, jokingly, “while I was driving…with one foot.” He kicked off the mini-set with “Opinion,” a tune that, in the tradition of future Nirvana prime cuts like “Teen Spirit” and “Rape Me,” is built around a repeating four-chord progression that carries through both the verses and choruses. But despite some pointed lyrics (Cobain takes aim at the media in lines like “a year’s subscription of bad puns”), “Opinion” comes off as little more than a sketch of a song. And unlike some of the other tunes Kurt played that evening – “Dumb,” “Polly,” “Lithium” – it was never developed further. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

79. “Blandest”

“When they recorded it,” wrote Jack Endino in 2005, “the band had just showed [drummer Chad Channing] the song, and they hadn’t even learned or really practiced it yet.” You can hear that instability throughout “Blandest,” a plodding number that the trio recorded in the late 1988 sessions that also yielded “Love Buzz.” They didn’t intend to use this early runthrough for anything, so, as instructed, Endino recorded over it. It survives only as a clipped, static-damaged copy of a copy of a copy, salvaged and bootlegged, Endino hypothesizes, from a band member’s own tape. It’s structurally rudimentary, with two verses falling up and down over a simple buzzsaw riff, a tune clearly in need of more arrangement. In fact, its most significant feature comes in quickly, during each turnaround before every reiterated second verse. “Hey!” Cobain shouts as an extemporaneous preamble, foreshadowing the iconic instant in which he’d do the same for the hit “Heart-Shaped Box.” It’s like a lost rehearsal, then, a forgotten worktape for a forthcoming classic. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

78. “They Hung Him On a Cross” (The Jury)

Although busy schedules interrupted the Jury’s attempt to form a blues supergroup that could be – in the words of drummer Mark Pickerel – a “modern day version of Cream or Led Zeppelin,” the somewhat awkward studio relationship between Kurt and Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan didn’t help. According to Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are, Kurt “kept worrying that he would come up with something that he’d want to use for Nirvana,” but Pickerel suggests otherwise, recalling that “it was as if both Mark and Kurt had too much respect for each other to tell the other what to do, or even make suggestions for what they should be doing.” In some ways the Jury’s most faithful of their four Lead Belly covers, “They Hung Him On a Cross” solves this problem by featuring only Kurt and his guitar, dropping the tempo of the version that appears on Lead Belly’s Last Sessions, Cobain’s preferred collection of his work. NICK MURRAY

77. “Grey Goose” (The Jury)

In August of 1989, Kurt and Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan told Sub Pop boss Jonathan Poneman that the two had written a handful of songs that they wanted to record. However, when they reached the studio – with Novoselic and Trees drummer Mark Pickerel – plans had changed. As producer Jack Endino remembers it, Kurt told him something like, “Well, we forgot all the songs, because we didn’t tape any of them. And I lost my lyric book. So we’re gonna do some Lead Belly songs instead.” Kurt later said of Lead Belly’s appeal, “While he was in prison, he started playing the guitar, and he sang so well that the governor started to like him and let him out of jail.” But here the group, calling themselves the Jury, goes instrumental, ignoring most of the lyrics that Lead Belly sang and locking into the tune of the “lord, lord, lord” refrain that closes each line. NICK MURRAY

76. “Clean Up Before She Comes”

Batches of early Nirvana home demos (listed as “undated” in the With the Lights Out box, but believed by collectors to be from 1987-1988) gave an alternate-universe glimpse of a Nirvana who went beyond grunge-metal, dabbling in lo-fi, 4-track weirdness. “Clean Up Before She Comes” is possibly the most compelling of all: three minutes of ticking, bone-dry guitar and wispy, interlocking harmonies that would’ve sat comfortably on PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. Fan legend has it that the song, which first surfaced on the Dressed for Success bootleg, and later the popular Outcesticide series, was rerecorded in 1994 shortly before Cobain’s death, but no tape has ever surfaced. TOM MALLON

75. “White Lace and Strange”

Captured on tape in April 1987 during their first-ever live radio session, the very young band performed a blistering cover of this heavy rocker by super-obscure late-Sixties power trio Thunder and Roses. Only months after Cobain and Novoselic formed the band with original drummer Aaron Burckhard, Nirvana’s far-reaching musical taste and scorching attack were already twin hallmarks. Raw though it may be, Cobain’s guitar solo might also be the shreddingest thing he ever recorded. DANIEL EPSTEIN

74. “Ain’t It a Shame” (The Jury)

Kurt discovering Lead Belly through the work of William S. Burroughs (“I remember him saying in an interview, ‘These new rock & roll kids should just throw away their guitars and listen to something with real soul like Lead Belly'”) and a copy of the singer’s final sessions borrowed from neighbor Slim Moon (who would found the Kill Rock Stars label). In turn, he played his music out nearly as much as he mentioned him in interviews. Where producer Jack Endino called this cut from the Nirvana/Screaming Trees four-song double-date session of Lead Belly covers a “throwaway,” Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman remembered it as “one of Kurt’s greatest vocal performances.” NICK MURRAY

73. “Do You Love Me?”

For Kiss, “Do You Love Me?” was a fairly immodest not-excatly-humble-brag in which Paul Stanley enumerates the accouterments of rock stardom to his sex partner: limos, fancy clothes, backstage passes and, at least for Kiss, seven-inch heels. It’s macho, sanguine, ostentatious and a whole heap of other adjectives that never applied to Nirvana. So it’s no surprise that Kurt Cobain and his bandmates sound insincere when they asked the song’s titular question in the chorus. The boasts were especially unbelievable coming from Cobain because it was recorded in 1989 (one of only two songs recorded with guitarist Jason Everman), months before their debut LP was released: well before “the concerts and studios, and all the money, honey.” KORY GROW

72. “Moist Vagina”

For a somewhat shapeless B-side, “Moist Vagina” has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife. After hearing an early version, Thurston Moore reportedly urged Nirvana to let it lead In Utero, rather than tacking it onto the “All Apologies” single. The band didn’t comply, but years later, Sonic Youth recorded and released “Moist Vagina” for a B-side of their own, with Kim Gordon whispering and then roaring the lyrics. Guitarist John Frusciante covered it, too, delivering his best frontman mimesis. Title aside, the song’s calling card comes in its one-word refrain, where Cobain – who starts the track only after coughing, as though recovering from a particularly fierce puff – simply howls “Marijuana!” on repeat. He stole so much pot from his mom as a kid that they once smoked oregano together. Years later, Yelawolf borrowed that scream for a toke-happy song of his own on his Interscope debut: “Marijuana / Makes you happy / Feelin stupid / Girls get horny,” raps the Alabama redneck, closing a strange circle with Aberdeen’s own white-trash hero. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

71. “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”

One of the weirder things Nirvana ever cut, “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip” is an odd mixture of Pavement-style archness and inebriated rage. A seven-and-a-half minute improvisation recorded during a January 1993 demo session in Brazil, “Gallons” was included as a bonus on some non-U.S. CD versions of In Utero, where it was labeled on the CD’s back cover as “Devalued American Dollar Purchase Incentive Track.” Repeated references to G.I.T. (the Hollywood-based Guitar Institute of Technology) would seem to indicate that the “Strip” in question is the one on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard, whose spandexed and poodle-haired denizens had just been handed their walking papers by the success of a certain Seattle band. DANIEL EPSTEIN

70. “Talk to Me”

Courtney Love has said that the jerky rhythm at the heart of this Cobain tune is a testament to Kurt’s love of new wavers like Devo and Oingo Boingo – and is there also a hint of the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” in the recurring drum fill? But while Nirvana occasionally pulled out “Talk to Me” on stage in 1991 and 1992, they never bothered to bring it into the studio. Which is not to say that the song wasn’t tagged for potential recording – just that it wasn’t necessarily considered by Nirvana. Love and her band Hole tackled it at Hanzek Audio in August, 1993, during early Live Through This sessions, but the track ultimately was left unfinished. It was later offered to Iggy Pop, who replied with a polite thanks, but no thanks. “I do my own music, and I like Kurt’s music,” he explained to The Big Takeover in 2002. “But I have no interest in doing Kurt’s music.” RICHARD BIENSTOCK

69. “Pen Cap Chew”

Nirvana’s first ever studio session – January 23, 1988 – was a particularly productive one: Ten songs, recorded and mixed in just over five hours. Known as the “Dale Demo” due to the participation of Melvins drummer Dale Crover, two from this batch found their way onto the original pressing of Bleach, while another five eventually wound up on Incesticide. One of the few that fell by the wayside was the hammering “Pen Cap Chew” – though not necessarily because it wasn’t up to snuff. Rather, it had the unfortunate luck of being the last song tracked during the session. Recalled producer Jack Endino, “It was incomplete; the master tape ran out halfway through it and the band didn’t want to buy another reel.” As a result, the producer had to find his own way to wrap things up, ultimately choosing to add “a fade ending that I did just for their amusement.” RICHARD BIENSTOCK

68. “Do Re Mi”

The last known composition by Kurt Cobain – also known as “Dough, Ray and Me” – was first mentioned in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview with Courtney Love, although it didn’t surface for another decade. Love’s commentary on the song is cryptic, but it may explain the line that sounds like “if I may, cold as ice”: “I had asked him after Rome” – where Cobain overdosed and fell into a coma a month before his suicide – “to freeze his sperm. So there’s this whole thing about freezing your uterus.” The song has only been heard as Kurt’s acoustic home recording as “Do Re Mi,” its title borrowed from the Sound of Music song about the musical scale (note that Kurt plays a descending scale after the chorus). DOUGLAS WOLK

67. “Verse Chorus Verse”

Kurt really wanted to call something “Verse Chorus Verse.” He wrote that phrase on the cover of at least one of his notebooks, constantly used it as a disparaging description of his songs, and briefly intended to use it as the title of the album that became In Utero. When “Sappy” appeared as an unlisted bonus track on the No Alternative compilation, it was referred to as “Verse Chorus Verse” as well. The first song to have that title, though – and the one that kept it – is the one that starts “neither side is sacred.” The band recorded a rough version of it during the Nevermind sessions, and it’s a lesser variation on other verse-chorus-verse songs they would come up with: To wit, its final live performance was immediately followed by the debut of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” DOUGLAS WOLK

66. “Sifting”

“Kurt began to attend Sunday service regularly, and even made appearances at the Wednesday night Christian Youth Group,” writes Charles R. Cross in his Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven. As a late teenager, Cobain – a troubled kid into drugs and out of school, arrested for purportedly pro-gay graffiti, booted from the house not long after his parents divorced – turned briefly to God for support, searching for anything to replace everything that had gone missing. He gave up drugs and got baptized, but he quickly recanted. “It was a transitory moment out of fear,” his former classmate and friend at the time later told Cross. Written only a few years after the spiritual crisis, “Sifting” extends a proud middle finger to teachers and preachers and every rule they’d ever given the budding bandleader – no bed wetting, no sinning, no skipping school. “Don’t have nothing for you,” Cobain yells a few dozen times, the song’s noose-like riff tightening around the drum’s own tantrum. “Sifting” is a heavy, menacing bit of Melvins obsession that, though not particularly remarkable for its music, serves as a vivid encapsulation of Cobain’s lifelong obduracy. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

65. “Hairspray Queen”

One of the oldest pieces of Nirvana’s catalog, this track’s bouncing bassline and gnarled guitars are a catchy mix of noise and pop: Cobain told Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad that he regretted not including it on Bleach. A 1988 rehearsal of the song collected on With The Lights Out puts the instruments front and center – and ends with Kurt running up to the camera to reveal that he’s been playing the guitar with his middle finger. But it would be best known for Cobain’s yowled-cat vocals on the version that made it to Incesticide. MAURA JOHNSTON

64. “Downer”

For a song that he recorded twice and put out three times, Cobain didn’t think much of it: “I was trying to be Mr. Political Punk Rock Black Flag guy,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad. “I really didn’t know what I was talking about. I was just throwing together words.” Cobain rarely left his own head (or Aberdeen’s city limits) when searching for lyrical material, so one of Nirvana’s only attempts at politics, “Downer” is a bit of a sore thumb – a remnant of Cobain’s early immersion in hardcore, raging against “conservative communist apocalyptic bastard[s].” “Downer” is the only song from his 1985 Fecal Matter demo to ever land on an official Nirvana album: It was tacked on to the CD version of Bleach, and later appeared again on Incesticide. The Melvins’ Dale Crover, bassist and drummer on the original, returns on drums, nearly doubling the tempo and turning a mechanical plod into a breakneck, Devo-esque blast. TOM MALLON

63. “Big Long Now”

Stylistically, “Big Long Now” is indebted to Black Flag’s My War and that LP’s polarizing, sludgy, glacially paced Side B. Recorded in one take for Bleach, “Big Long Now” didn’t make the track list – it probably lost out to the similarly plodding “Sifting” – but was rescued from the scrap heap when producer Jack Endino lobbied for its inclusion on B-side comp Incesticide. No live performances of the song have ever surfaced, but a video of the Nirvana rehearsing the track at Krist Novoselic’s mother’s house in 1988 appeared on the With the Lights Out DVD. DANIEL KREPS

62. “Return of the Rat”

As a tribute to the Portland punk pioneers, Nirvana were invited to take one side of the 7-inch box set Eight Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers, joining covers by Hole, Poison Idea, and Napalm Beach. According to Thor Lindsay, who founded the label that put out the comp, Cobain originally wanted to submit the band’s already recorded Wipers cover “D-7,” which they had done for John Peel, but Nirvana’s label complicated the licensing. So Cobain said, “Fuck it, I’ll record another track,” and, in Lindsay’s words, “basically a DAT tape turned up with ‘Return of the Rat’ on it.” Session engineer Barrett Jones said the group recorded the track along with “Oh, the Guilt” and “Curmudgeon” in one or two takes. More impressive is Jones’s claim that they had never even played it before. KORY GROW

61. “Marigold”

Few would have guessed that the member of Nirvana who’d go on to have six platinum records on his own would be the drummer, but “Marigold” is Nirvana’s most significant contribution to the Foo Fighters story. Shortly after Dave Grohl joined Nirvana, he recorded a solo voice-and-guitar version of this hovering, introverted song, then called “Color Pictures of a Marigold.” It eventually appeared on Pocketwatch, a cassette-only album Grohl released in 1992 under the name Late! The recording that became a “Heart-Shaped Box” B-side, recorded during the In Utero sessions, featured Grohl and Novoselic – but apparently not Cobain. “Marigold” wouldn’t be played live until Grohl resurrected it with the Foo Fighters in 2006. DOUGLAS WOLK

60. “Endless, Nameless”

Attempting to conclude Nevermind with the CD equivalent of a sound skipping in a run-out groove, Kurt and company instructed engineer Howie Weinberg to follow closer “Something In the Way” with ten minutes of silence and the noisy outtake “Endless, Nameless.” An extended jam that often closed concerts, the band recorded the track after the session for “Lithium” went south, the frontman bringing said session to a close by smashing the studio’s only left-handed guitar in the middle of the take. Thanks to Nevermind, these sort of hidden tracks would remain popular until WinAmp and its descendents revealed track lengths before the listener pressed play. But Kurt’s smashed guitar would hang around even longer, immortalized in a photograph reprinted in Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are and later in a Nirvana exhibition at Seattle’s EMP Museum. NICK MURRAY

59. “Oh, Me”

“Oh Me” was originally cut from MTV’s broadcast of Unplugged – hard to imagine given the album’s classic status now, but ad time is ad time. Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood – who along with his brother, Cris, wrote the song and joined Nirvana for the session – always said it was his favorite from 1984’s Meat Puppets II, and it’s easy to understand why: Nowhere else on the album does the band’s ragged psychedelia sound so sweet but so dangerous. “My whole expanse / I cannot see,” the lyric says – but it sure always sounded like “My hole expands / I cannot see.” And like all of Cobain’s most indelible songs, it seesaws between smart and dumb, leaving the listener to sort out whether to trust the singer or just let him babble his way into oblivion. MIKE POWELL

58. “Big Cheese”

If Nirvana had their way, the flipside of their debut 7-inch would have been whole lot blander. Engineer Jack Endino has said the group originally recorded “Blandest,” for their Sub Pop Singles Club B-side. “The song is called ‘Blandest’ for a reason,” the engineer said, because they were disgruntled with the fact that Sub Pop big cheese Jonathan Poneman wanted them to record a cover – Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” – for the A-side. When they were done with the “Blandest” session, they slugged out “Big Cheese,” a heavy, hate-filled invective about Poneman (“He was being so judgmental about what we recorded,” Cobain said), and the track wowed Endino because it was “livelier.” The engineer was able to convince the band to use that as their B-side instead. KORY GROW

57. “Aero Zeppelin”

Cobain proudly included Aerosmith’s Rocks in the famous list of his top 50 albums, and Cobain and Novoselic listed both Zeppelin and Aerosmith in an ad for a drummer they placed in Seattle rock mag The Rocket. But despite the fact that it often appeared in their early live sets right alongside Zep’s “Immigrant Song,” “Aero Zeppelin” is no mere metalhead homage. Instead it’s more an early example of Cobain’s hunger to find a middle ground between the thunderous swagger of hard rock and punk’s warped idea of catharsis. Its lyrics interrogate what musical fandom means, a central preoccupation of Cobain’s, while the music twists Seventies swagger into new, angrier forms. One of the earliest Nirvana songs, it would show up on Incesticide years after they’d stopped playing it. JON DOLAN

56. “Curmudgeon”

Nirvana’s April 7, 1992 session at Laundry Room Studio, located in a yellow house in West Seattle, marked the band’s very first post-Nevermind recording work. The date, with Laundry Room head Barrett Jones at the helm, yielded three Nirvana deep cuts: “Oh, the Guilt,” a cover of the Wipers’ “Return of the Rat” and this song (though demos of “Frances Farmer” and, possibly, “Very Ape,” were tracked as well). Of the songs, “Curmudgeon” – which is distinguished by the heavy, at times overwhelming, phasing effect added to Kurt’s guitar – was the first to see release, being issued just three months later as a B-side to “Lithium.” RICHARD BIENSTOCK

55. “Mexican Seafood”

“Mexican Seafood,” was part of Nirvana’s first-ever studio demo, recorded on January 23rd, 1988 with the Melvins’ Dale Crover on drums and producer Jack Endino behind the board. Originally released in 1989 on C/Z Records’ Teriyaki Asthma Vol. 1 (alongside Helios Creed, Coffin Break and Yeast), the song’s choppy guitar chords and Kurt’s pseudo-English accent point to a heavy British post-punk influence (Cobain’s 50 favorite records included Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd. and the Slits among others). The song’s gross-out lyrics, meanwhile, marked the first time that his enduring fascination with bodily functions at their most disgusting made it onto wax. DANIEL EPSTEIN

54. “Spank Thru”

A good argument can be made for “Spank Thru” as the song that started it all. Dating back to his 1985 Fecal Matter demo, it was the first Cobain-penned song that got Krist Novoselic’s attention, thus kick-starting the formation of Nirvana. “One of the songs on [the tape] was ‘Spank Thru,'” Novoselic recalled in a 1992 interview with WFNX music director Kurt St. Thomas. “He turned me on to it, and I really liked it, it kind of got me excited. So I go, ‘Hey man, let’s start a band.’ We scrounged up a drummer, and we started practicing. Took it very seriously too.” Once the band had mobilized, it became the third Nirvana song to find official release (finding its way on 1988’s Sub Pop 200 compilation) and has continued to make appearances on most of their official live albums. DANIEL EPSTEIN

53. “Paper Cuts”

Cobain bios overflow with stories of how much Kurt idolized the Melvins, and few songs telegraph that love more than the punishing, titanic “Paper Cuts.” Nirvana drafted then-and-current Melvins drummer Dale Crover to fill in on a 10-song demo while both bands recovered from lineup implosions; three songs from that demo ultimately ended up on Bleach after failed attempts to rerecord them with Chad Channing. “Paper Cuts” bears Crover’s influence the most, infused with his trademark, stop-start concrete thud. The lyrics – inspired by an Aberdeen family who imprisoned their children in a blacked-out room – touch on the suburban atrocities that Cobain would revisit in songs like “Polly,” but the band was never this heavy again. TOM MALLON

52. “Mr. Moustache”

A mustache might be a cool facial accessory in this day and age – but in 1988, when Nirvana recorded this hard-pounding track for Bleach, a moustache was considered (at least in the alt-rock crowd) to be an emblem of hopelessly regressive masculinity. But macho rednecks aren’t the only ones on blast here: Lines like “Help me trust your mighty wisdom / Yes I eat cow I am not proud” sarcastically dig at the hipper-than-thou Olympia scene that, while immensely attractive and inspiring to Kurt, also often made him feel like a hick from the sticks. DANIEL EPSTEIN

51. “Swap Meet”

This Bleach track is one of the most tempestuous and restless in Nirvana’s catalogue. The guitar playing is as anxious as sweaty hands, and Chad Channing’s drums race ahead of the action like he’s late for a meeting. The feeling fits the content, in which Cobain sets the scene of two hometown losers too busy exchanging “arts and crafts” to shut up and have sex already. Cobain wasn’t known as a storyteller, but he was known as a Seattle thrift-store fiend (see his guitars and amplifiers) years before Macklemore. This caustic snapshot of life back home, then, works like a snapshot jotted down from one such swap meet, the outsider judging the insiders from the periphery. As Nirvana’s reputation grew, this small-town send-up seemed to fall out of favor, with the band playing it less than almost any song released on an official studio album. Too bad: It’s a musical fistfight. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

50. “Turnaround”

“Out of all the bands who came from the underground and actually made it in the mainstream, Devo is the most subversive and challenging of all,” Kurt said in 1992. “They’re just awesome. I love them.” Originally the B-side of the Akron new wave band’s biggest hit, “Whip It” (as “Turn Around”), this headlong sneer was recorded for Nirvana’s 1990 Peel session, and reappeared as the opening track of their Hormoaning tour EP. Dave Grohl was clearly having a blast channeling Devo drummer Alan Myers’ “human metronome” technique, and Kurt gets to affect a clipped accent that’s not too far off from what Carrie Brownstein would later adopt as her singing voice in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. DOUGLAS WOLK

49. “Plateau”

“Plateau” was the first of three songs Nirvana covered from the Meat Puppets’ 1984 punk-country totem Meat Puppets II at their MTV Unplugged date – a major boost to a band that spent the entirety of career underground. “MTV didn’t really want it to happen, as I recall,” bassist Cris Kirkwood told Willamette Week “They were somewhat disappointed we were the guests they chose to take on TV with them.” But Nirvana was just returning a favor: “I owe so much to them,” Cobain once said – a quote that ended up on a sticker tacked to the Puppets’ 1994 breakthrough Too High to Die. Like a lot of II, “Plateau” is mystical but banal and ultimately a little vague – the kind of wisdom proffered by guys on porches at rural gas stations. Still, you can imagine how Cobain – who once wrote the line “All in all is all we all are” – would hear in a rambling, philosophical credo that ends in, “But those are all just guesses / Wouldn’t help you if they could”: The freedom of shrugging your shoulders and letting go. MIKE POWELL

48. “Scoff”

“I didn’t give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about,” Cobain told SPIN in 1993. If “Scoff” sounds like an afterthought next to Bleach‘s more iconic tracks, that’s because it was. In the oft-told “Kurt wrote 80 percent of Bleach‘s lyrics the night before recording” legend, “Scoff” and “Sifting” came dead last, when Cobain was already exhausted. The result was competent but unremarkable grunge-by-numbers: churning riff-rock; a listless fuck-you-parents verse repeated three times verbatim; and a frantic, non-sequitur chorus. Though “Scoff” does mark one of the rare early spots that showcased Kurt’s love of chart-topping pop, though: The drum intro is nearly a direct lift of the Knack’s “My Sharona,” an homage that made more sense when Kurt’s Top 50 albums list appeared in 2002’s Journals: Get the Knack sat comfortably alongside Sonic Youth, Scratch Acid, and Bad Brains. TOM MALLON

47. “Son of a Gun”

Kurt was famously obsessed with the little-known, short-lived, sex-crazed Glasgow duo the Vaselines. He called Eugene Kelly and Francis McKee “the Lennon and McCartney or the Boyce and Hart or the Ferrante and Teicher of the underworld.” They became so inseparable from Kurt’s fandom that when the Vaselines reunited in 2010, McKee started timing how long it took for interviewers to mention “the N-word.” For the most rocking of the three Vaselines covers they tackled in their career, Nirvana recorded “Son of a Gun,” the opening track from the first Vaselines EP – one verse, one chorus, repeat ad lib. In a letter he wrote to Kelly, Kurt explained that he wanted to release it on a record called Nirvana Sings The Vaselines, Wipers, Devo & Nirvana, which seems to have become 1992’s Hormoaning EP. DOUGLAS WOLK

46. “Very Ape”

Originally titled “Perky New Wave Number,” Kurt Cobain said he didn’t know what this punky, swinging In Utero hard rocker was about, but here are some clues. “It’s kind of an attack on men in a way and people that have flaws in their personality and they’re real manly and macho,” he said. The lyric, “If you ever need anything please don’t hesitate to ask someone else first,” might be the pinnacle of Nirvana’s alt-rock slackerism. And, according to Michael Azerrad’s Come as You Are, the bit about being the self-proclaimed “King of Illiterature” referred to how Courtney Love teased him about not being very well read. KORY GROW

45. “Oh, the Guilt”

Jesus Lizard singer David Yow recalled to the Village Voice in 2011 that he and Cobain discussing doing a single “first time I saw ’em, first time I met ’em,” at a 1990 Jesus Lizard/Nirvana show at New Jersey’s Maxwell’s. “I was just so impressed because I wasn’t that familiar with Nirvana and I knew it was Seattle and grunge and I don’t like Soundgarden, and I didn’t care much for Mudhoney… But I thought [Nirvana] were fuckin’ great.” While his band donated the careening “Puss” to the split single – which finally arrived three years later – Nirvana returned the volley with a mid-fi blast, emerging in the gulf between Nevermind and In Utero. In contrast to the slick sound on Nevermind, “Oh, the Guilt,” almost D.C.-punkish in its stop-start thud, was recorded in a Seattle basement studio by Barrett Jones. JOE GROSS

44. “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”

“We could write that song in our sleep,” Kurt Cobain once said of “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” Even if it were a throwaway, it looms large in Nirvana mythology mostly by virtue of its ill-omened title, Cobain’s original name for In Utero. Eventually surfacing on The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience comp (huh-huh), the band buried the lurching piece of infectious sludge-pop because they (rightly) feared that no one would get its black humor. “[It was] nothing more than a joke,” Cobain told Rolling Stone in late 1993. “We knew people wouldn’t get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves.” Even in hindsight, “I Hate Myself” doesn’t exactly sound confessional – the demo version on With the Lights Out shows how little the lyrics evolved from melodic grunts to a goofy sketch that Cobain could barely bother to finish with “one more quirky clichéd phrase” (and a nearly inaudible monologue from Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts”). One fan who definitely missed the joke was Noel Gallagher, who claimed that countering the “fucking rubbish” nihilism of the song was one of his motivations to write Oasis’s “Live Forever.” TOM MALLON

43. “Milk It”

“Well, let’s see, in 1993 I was listening to a lot of the Jesus Lizard,” Dave Grohl told NPR – noting the Austin band whose Steve Albini-produced albums (Head, Liar, Goat and Down) constituted some of the most cathartically feel-bad music of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Nowhere was Nirvana’s affection more evident than on “Milk It,” four minutes of neg-head rhythm riffs and screaming over what sounds like someone throwing a bag of rocks at a barn door. Cobain’s gift was always his ability to smuggle pretty melodies into otherwise ugly situations; while Jesus Lizard scaled back on melody in order to expose the bare power of rhythm: Here is one of the rare Nirvana moments when the ugliness wins. “Completely wicked,” Krist Novoselic called the song late last year – and the song that best embodies the toxic meanness of In Utero. MIKE POWELL

42. “Tourette’s”

A draft of the lyrics for “Tourette’s” contained just three words: “fuck,” “shit” and “piss.” Cobain’s singing voice, like vocal cords in a blender, yowls in a way that approximates similar frustration. When Cobain looked back on the song, he said, “I didn’t make any sentences or words, I just screamed.” But for all its unfocused acrimony, the song does have one coherent piece of commentary: The clearly spoken words “moderate rock” are a jab at the “modern rock” radio format that had made Nirvana megastars just a few years earlier, nipping at the hand that feeds. KORY GROW

41. “Lounge Act”

“Drain You” was the literal birth of a relationship and “Lounge Act” its slow erosion and breakup (by “Stay Away,” the restraining orders were being busted out). While the meaning behind Cobain’s songs were often opaque, it was no secret that “Lounge Act” – with its themes of jealously, insecurity, and overbearingness – was about Kurt’s ex-girlfriend, Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail. According to producer Butch Vig, “Lounge Act” earned its title because it sounds like a “lounge song” thanks to its jocular riffs and Cobain’s more-polished-than-usual delivery – but early lyrics for the song in Cobain’s Journals also featured a line about “lounging in the sea.” DANIEL KREPS

40. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”

“‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ started life as ‘Nine Month Media Blackout,'” wrote Charles R. Cross in the Nirvana bio Heavier Than Heaven,” the title a joking response to journalist Lynn Hirschberg’s magazine-unit-shifting article in Vanity Fair about the Cobain clan. The song’s final name, it is ironic: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is about as close as Nirvana got to the corrosive noise-rock of Big Black, In Utero producer Steve Albini’s brilliant mid-Eighties trio; and Killdozer, the Butch Vig-produced band whose heft Cobain wanted Nevermind to match. JOE GROSS

39. “Even in His Youth”

First recorded with producer Steve Fisk during the 1989 sessions for the Blew EP, “Even in His Youth” (and later re-recorded with Dave Grohl on drums for a “Teen Spirit” B-side) was one of a handful of songs that served as a bridge between the unrefined sludge-punk of the previous year’s Bleach and the brighter, more pop-tinged sound that would come to the fore on Nevermind. Lyrics like “Daddy was ashamed” reference Cobain’s adversarial relationship with his father, though the bile-filled words are contrasted by a buoyant buzzsaw riff. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

38. “The Man Who Sold the World”

“I was simply blown away when I found out that Kurt Cobain liked my work,” said David Bowie, “it would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking would have been real cool.” Though some thanks should be due to early Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, who introduced his bandmates to David Bowie’s 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World, and to guitarist Pat Smear whose enthusiasm for that album resulted in Nirvana doing an accordion-fueled cover on MTV Unplugged. DOUGLAS WOLK

37. “Stain”

“Stain” gives “Negative Creep” a run for its money in the self-loathing department, even if it’s not quite up to the same level of musicality. Lines like “He never leaves ’cause he’s got bad luck” and the insistently self-flagellating chorus reflect Kurt’s perpetual “outsider” state of mind, one that derived in part from being harassed by rednecks in his hometown of Aberdeen, while also never feeling quite cool enough to fit in with the Olympia crowd. DANIEL EPSTEIN

36. “Floyd the Barber”

The young Cobain’s idea of a joke shows that he definitely chose the right path by picking music instead of a comedy. “Floyd the Barber” is a sub-Beavis & Butt-head bit of couch-jockey surrealism, in which he imagines a sexually violent spoof of beloved TV classic The Andy Griffith Show. The Melvins’ Dale Crover played drums here, during their first recording session in January, 1988. “There was no way that I could predict those guys would have sold millions of records,” Crover said later. That’s certainly true here: The thudding, punishing “Floyd the Barber” is about as unfriendly as Nirvana got. JON DOLAN

35. “The Money Will Roll Right In”

The funny, slow-paced, apolitical Fang weren’t like the other Bay Area punks in 1982; and Nirvana weren’t like the other major label rock bands on the festival circuit in 1992. Feeling alienated by their new life of hopping from giant outdoor stage to outdoor stage on a European tour, the band snarkily added Fang’s venomous, sludgepunk eyeroll “The Money Will Roll Right In” as the opener of their set as they careened through Sweden and Spain. The money had actually rolled in for Cobain, the Nineties’ most accomplished “rich as shit” fame anthropologist, thus making their cover more pointed and hysterical than, say, Soundarden’s cover of Cheech and Chong’s similar “Earache My Eye.” According to James Washburn, the Green Day pal known as Brain Stew, Courtney Love sent all of Cobain’s Fang records to frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

34. “Stay Away”/”Pay to Play”

Somewhere in the muck of rock history, nostalgia and band psychoanalysis, Nirvana’s punk roots often get buried. But on “Pay to Play” (renamed “Stay Away” for its Nevermind inclusion), their pure fidgety energy is out front and you could riot to it. Beyond its mosh factor, Cobain’s screaming about a very specific code of ethics endemic to punk: “I’d rather be dead than cool” and “Fashion shits fashion style.” Too bad for them that they became both, but still a perfect song to slam your bedroom door to. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

33. “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”

“I’ll Be a Sunbeam” is the title of a children’s hymn from the early twentieth century, but the Vaselines’ “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” from their 1988 Dying For It EP, owes no more than its first line to it. When Nirvana covered the Vaselines song (with its title slightly altered) on MTV Unplugged, Kurt called it “a rendition of an old Christian song,” and it was generally mistaken for a gospel number, which it couldn’t be less like. In fact, it had been a staple of Nirvana’s live repertoire for years already: They first played it on stage the day Nevermind came out in America. DOUGLAS WOLK

32. “Sappy”

“Something just drove Kurt to keep busting it out,” Krist Novoselic told Gillian G. Gaar for her 2006 book about In Utero. “He had some kind of unattainable expectations for it.” The song in question, one of the few white whales of Nirvana’s catalogue, is “Sappy.” Cobain wrote and recorded the lament against the expectations of others in the late Eighties; he then re-recorded it in most every major studio session for the rest of his life, never to be completely satisfied. After nearly making Nevermind, “Sappy” was never released under Nirvana’s name. Various takes and demos bound around the Internet (including a muted and wonderful turn with Butch Vig), but the official version arrived as an uncredited hidden track at the end of No Alternative, the 1993 AIDS fundraiser. That take, with Dave Grohl on drums and Steve Albini behind the boards, is crisp and cutting, with a guitar solo that dips and climbs and vocals that suggest irritation morphing into emancipation. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

31. “Rape Me”

Far from its provocative title, “Rape Me” is a double-entendre from jump, as the opening chords are a bizarro-world inversion of those that open Nirvana’s mega-est mega-hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It seemed to refer to Cobain’s disdain for the anti-punk, corporate rock star lifestyle that squashed his spirit so completely that he referenced it in his suicide note. But it was also the closest to an actual Bikini Kill song that he would ever write, using the lyrics as a woman-empowering taunt to show would-be rapists that their victims’ spirits would not be tamped, a bit of riot grrrl infused into those dirty guitar chords that so many have come to associate with men in a vibrant era of tough women-led rock bands. It deserves extra points for its seriousness. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

30. “Aneurysm”

Dare to attempt a somewhat literal reading of this “Teen Spirit” B-side and the song appears to be about injecting heroin. Dare to take Kurt’s own account of it (as told to roommate Dylan Carlson) and the song is about his vomit-inducing love for Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail. The reality might wind up somewhere between the two: Per Charles R. Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven, Cobain wrote the song in the months following his break-up with Vail – also around the same time that he began experimenting with the new drug. NICK MURRAY

29. “Polly”/”(New Wave) Polly”

One of Nirvana’s first forays into the more sinister side of social commentary, “Polly” was based on a real-life case in which serial rapist Gerald Friend tortured and sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl, who then outsmarted and escaped him by convincing him that she enjoyed it. Written from the eerie perspective of the disturbed perpetrator, both versions convey the song’s ominous nature – whether soft and sludgy on Nevermind or, in “(New Wave) Polly,” frenetic and unforgiving. Though “Polly” is disturbing, it reflects Cobain’s dual fascination with the macabre and extremely sensitive nature, as well as his interest in feminism under the tutelage of his ex-girlfriend, Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail. Though it’s certainly not a protest song, it deftly delves into the mind of a sicko, like a succinct Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and is an example of the thoughtful depths Cobain was willing to plumb. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

28. “On a Plain”

For a band defined by angst and immortalized by suicide, Nirvana could be uncommonly funny. “Start this off without any words,” Cobain offers by way of an opening here, landing on one of his best refrains: “Love myself better than you/I know it’s wrong, but what can I do?” The riff is chipper, the melody delivered in the singsong of a nursery rhyme. In a lot of ways it parodies the person Cobain became: A junkie too lost in his own pain to realize he has control over it, the voice of a generation wondering what the hell he’s trying to say. Apparently he wrote the lyrics five minutes before recording them. MIKE POWELL

27. “Molly’s Lips”

The first of Nirvana’s three recorded Vaselines covers initially surfaced in a dodgy live recording on a split single with the Fluid, as part of the deal by which Nirvana were bought out of their Sub Pop contract. As with many of his versions of other people’s songs, Kurt changed the lyrics a little: “She’ll take me everywhere/She’ll take me anywhere/As long as I’m good and clean” became the druggier “She’d take me anywhere/She’d take me anywhere/As long as I stay clean,” for instance.) The title’s not a drug reference, though: The two-chord song is apparently about actress Molly Weir, and MDMA wasn’t known as “molly” until long after it was written. DOUGLAS WOLK

26. “Lake of Fire”

In a 2013 interview, MTV Unplugged producer Alex Coletti remembers Cobain purposely wanting to perform the Meat Puppets covers in keys slightly out of his range, so his voice would sound strained. See “Lake of Fire,” a surrealistic fantasy about the afterlife whose images are pinched straight from the Book of Revelation, where the pinch in Cobain’s voice makes him sound less like an ambassador of youth than some wizened pappy staring into middle-distance from his rocking chair. An especially canny choice when placed before “All Apologies” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” two songs that made the band sound in touch with evils much older and more mysterious than corporate rock. MIKE POWELL

25. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle”

Full of jabs at Vanity Fair writer Lynn Hirschberg, who wrote a negative story about Courtney Love, this In Utero rager also paid tribute to Seattle-born actress Frances Farmer, who was committed to an insane asylum against her will. “I guess that’s my way of letting the world know that bureaucracy is everywhere and it can happen to anybody and it’s a really evil thing,” Cobain said. “The story of Frances Farmer is so sad and it can happen to anybody and it almost felt at a time that it was happening to us.” But before Cobain had lyrics for it, it was an instrumental the trio jammed on in Dave Grohl’s basement sometime before In Utero. “When I heard ‘Frances Farmer,’ I thought, ‘Oh, my God, there’s going to be another record,'” Grohl has said. Full of anger and pathos (“I miss the comfort in being sad,” goes the chorus), the final song is one of In Utero‘s most primal – right down to the toy piano Cobain played in the bridge. KORY GROW

24. “Scentless Apprentice”

“It was such a cliché grunge Tad riff that I was reluctant to even jam on it,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad about the guitar part that drummer Dave Grohl had brought to the band. “But I just decided to write a song with that just to make him feel better, to tell you the truth, and it turned out really cool.” Easily the most rhythm-driven song in Nirvana’s catalog – and handily besting Alice in Chains’ “No Excuses” as having the best “grunge breakbeat” – this prickly, pummeling song is In Utero‘s best place to experience Nirvana as the sum of its parts. (To wit: It’s the only song on the album where all three members have a songwriting credit.) Of course, beyond Grohl’s fleet-footed bass drum pattern and Novoselic’s menacing low-end, Cobain lyrics are some of his most evocative. Inspired by one of his favorite novels, Peter Süskind’s 1985’s violent tale of a super-smeller, Perfume, Cobain pointed out that “Scentless,” like “Frances Farmer,” is a song where he sticks to a theme as opposed to constructing “cut-ups” of poems in his beatpunk style. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

23. “Been a Son”

A two-minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus concoction influenced by the Vaselines’ compact pop-punk template, “Been a Son” first roared to life on 1989’s Blew EP with Chad Channing on drums, appeared later in a Dave Grohl-assisted live performance on the CD single of “Lithium,” and most famously emerged on Incesticide via a BBC session – one of the rare Nirvana songs to be officially released in three different versions during the band’s lifetime. The song (later covered by the Manic Street Preachers) was clearly a favorite of Cobain’s, possibly inspired by his difficult relationship with his father, who would have preferred him to engage in more “manly” pursuits like sports and hunting rather than art or music. DANIEL EPSTEIN

22. “Blew”

The very first sound we hear on the very first Nirvana studio album – Krist Novoselic’s rumbling seven-note bass figure in “Blew” – is so low-toned as to be almost indecipherable. The reason? Nirvana, like many of their Seattle peers, favored “drop-D” tuning, which involves lowering the bottom E string on a guitar or bass one whole tone. But when Kurt and Krist dropped their lowest strings during the recording of Bleach, they didn’t realize their respective instruments were already tuned down a full step. The consequence was that they went “one lower,” to a positively leaden “drop-C.” Which, in the case of “Blew,” essentially plunged Kurt’s languid vocals and loping melodies into a tar pit. Novoselic later described the resultant sound as “doom pop,” and pointed to Bleach‘s leadoff track as the only C-tuned track to actually make it to the album without being recut. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also called “Blew” his favorite song on the record. “It has a groove,” he explained in Seattle Weekly, “and it’s the sole survivor of the Doom Pop experiment.” Luckily, contemporary bands like Torche seem to have continued his research. RICHARD BIENSTOCK

21. “You Know You’re Right”

“This is a song that Kurt wrote… last, last song almost,” Courtney Love said on a 1995 MTV Unplugged before launching into loose-limbed acoustic howl labeled “You’ve Got No Right.” Well, yes and no: Hers had different lyrics, aimed at Kurt’s mother. The real thing floated around on live boots, but the savage studio version – tracked at Nirvana’s final studio session January 30th, 1994, but not heard until 2002 – bombed us back to the alt age. Love sued the surviving Nirvanas over it – she thought it wasted on the “With the Lights Out” box, so they agreed to stick it on a hits collection as well. The whole thing seemed gross at first: How good could the song be? But everyone understood what the big deal was as soon as the unmastered leak started flying around servers. It was all guitar lava, enormous drums and that flinchingly violent chorus “I have never failed to feel pain!” In April 1994, he wasn’t close to done with us; not even a little. JOE GROSS

20. “Dumb”

“I’ve met a lot of dumb people,” Cobain told Melody Maker in 1993. “They have a shitty job, they may be totally lonely, they don’t have a girlfriend, they don’t have much of a social life, and yet, for some reason, they’re happy.” Coming from a guy who seemed to have everything and yet wasn’t happy himself, you can understand his fascination. Though not officially recorded until In Utero, “Dumb” was performed as early as 1990 – evidence that Cobain was ruminative long before it seemed like he had much to ruminate on. MIKE POWELL

19. “Territorial Pissings”

To achieve the otherworldly, jangle-crunch for the guitars on Nevermind‘s punkiest track, “Territorial Pissings,” Cobain defied producer Butch Vig’s protests and plugged his instrument right into the mixing desk. He recorded the song in one take. The guitar crackle sets the prickly tone for Cobain’s lyrics about paranoia and a hardly poetic jab at patriarchy (“Never met a wise man, if so it’s a woman”). It also contrasts the peachy-keen opening verses that Krist Novoselic swiped from the hippie-dippie Youngbloods tune “Get Together.” “It wasn’t really that thought into,” Novoselic said of his contribution. “I like that Youngbloods song.” But even though the song’s riff sounds particularly mean, not everything about it was so angsty. Regarding the first verse, “When I was an alien,” Cobain has said that, growing up, “I wanted to be from another planet really bad.” KORY GROW

18. “Love Buzz”

Krist Novoselic, who always had a penchant for psychedelia, brought this 1969 album cut by the Dutch band the Shocking Blue (best known for “Venus”) to the band’s repertoire. Nirvana’s version – which ditches one of the song’s two verses – was a staple of their early live shows, in which Kurt took advantage of its long instrumental break to execute some acrobatics in what Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are calls “a pair of outrageous silver-sparkle platform shoes.” Even though “Love Buzz” was a cover, Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt thought it was “an indicator of some of their direction in songwriting”; in 1988, it became the A-side of Nirvana’s first single and the first volume of Sub Pop’s original singles club, released in an edition of 1,000 hand-numbered copies – if you want a copy today, you better have $2,500. DOUGLAS WOLK

17. “Come As You Are”

Though the line “I swear that I don’t have a gun” is still held up as a moment of haunting prescience, it takes away from the initial intent of Nevermind‘s second single, a foreboding moment of artistry that summed up Nineties social anxiety maybe even better than “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – said Cobain, the lyrics are about “people and what they’re expected to act like.” It also puts the group’s old punk leanings on display, with a Killing Joke-esque riff and Banshees-style guitar tone, transforming disaffected anomie into an unlikely pop hit. In essence, it dismissed everyone as insipid and contradictory, something we could all relate to. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

16. “School”

Kurt’s feelings about phonies, jerks, and other unsavory types were well-known to even the most cursory Nirvana admirer, and this blitzkrieg Bleach track – which ends with him moaning “you’re in high school again” over and over, as if he’s recounting a lived nightmare – was a caustic reminder that even life in the seeming paradise of independent rock wasn’t completely free of cliquishness and bullshit. The song was very nearly called “The Seattle Scene,” and Cobain was blunt about its origins to Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad: “We wrote it about Sub Pop. If we could have thrown in Soundgarden’s name, we would have.” MAURA JOHNSTON

15. “Negative Creep”

“Negative Creep” is one of Cobain’s earliest, clearest statements of alienated purpose. “I’m a negative creep and I’m stoned,” he sings. “The early songs were really angry,” he said later. Indeed, here his vocal is a howl, his sense of abjection and self-hate all-encompassing. The song was unique in early Nirvana songs in that it contained a studio fade-out, rather than just ending when the band stopped playing. A highlight of Bleach, it’s also the album’s best example of textbook grunge – right down to its reference to the Mudhoney song “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.” JON DOLAN

14. “Serve the Servants”

The dissonant blast that opened In Utero’s first seconds answered anyone who wondered if Nirvana was going to soften up after conquering the world. The rest of the song is Kurt Cobain spitting in the face of his “self-appointed judges.” “That’s obviously the state I feel right now… not really, but I may as well make some sarcastic comment on the phenomenon of Nirvana,” Cobain told writer Michael Azerrad. In liner notes he wrote (and then crossed out) for “Serve the Servants,” he noted that the lyrics were directed toward his father: “I don’t hate him. I simply don’t have anything to say to him.” DOUGLAS WOLK

13. “All Apologies”

Steve Albini’s recording technique did wonders for the breadth of Nirvana as a band, cutting through the fuzz and guiding each element out onto its own mournful path. “All Apologies” is one of the best examples of the style, on which the rich, isolated sound of the guitar phrase conveys Cobain’s existential despair even more effectively than his voice. Factor in a resignedly weepy string section and some strategically placed vocal distortion – on the high, scratchy notes he sings at the beginning of every second bar on the verse, and it becomes an artifact of dread, even though he intended a warmer mood – “peaceful, happy, comfort,” as he summed up to Michael Azerrad – for wife Courtney Love and daughter Francis Bean. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

12. “Heart Shaped Box”

There was no shortage of dark songs in the Nirvana repertoire, even among the singles, but this late-stage entry was one of the heaviest, Cobain’s vocal tone reflecting his increasing weariness of the rock-star predicament he found himself in. On one hand, the imagery was classic Nineties. “Meat-eating orchids” and return-to-womb wishes, along with spiritual sister song “Doll Parts” by Hole, recall the interior decór of that decade’s punk apartments. But the gravity and drama in the guitars were very specific to this band, a roiling drama that reflected the Nirvana’s tenor at the time. Whether about Love or drugs, it’s not a happy song. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

11. “Pennyroyal Tea”

This haunting, surreal song named after an herbal abortifacient (“it doesn’t work, you hippie,” Cobain wrote of it in his journal) came about by accident: “[Dave] and Kurt were getting crazy some night down in that apartment with a multi-track cassette recorder, and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ came out of that,” Novoselic told NPR while reminiscing about the band’s past. The song was slated to be the third single from In Utero, but its release was canceled after Cobain committed suicide in April 1994. Plans for a video were scrapped as well, though Cobain’s stunning solo version from MTV Unplugged – just him and a guitar, his voice cracking on the chorus – ensured that the track got television airplay for quite a while nonetheless. MAURA JOHNSTON

10. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” b/k/a “In The Pines” is a century-old tune known by several names and played in seemingly infinite variations, but loosely concerning a mix of trains, murder, adultery, runaways and low-down depression. The tune had successfully passed beyond the oral tradition, becoming a staple for both bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe and blues great Lead Belly before its alternative life as a cello-abetted, shouted parting shot for a generation’s rock & roll icon. Kurt and Krist helped play it on Mark Lanegan’s 1990 solo album The Winding Sheet with a deliberate intensity that paralleled the doom of contemporaries such as Neurosis. But Nirvana’s definitive version was on MTV Unplugged, where the song builds from sentimental brood to implacable rage, aptly summarising Nirvana’s own arc. A perfect if tragic endpoint. GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN

9. “Drain You”

Kurt suggested that “Drain You” was about “two brat kids who are in the same hospital bed.” It’s a song full of medical references, and in some ways the most doctored-sounding thing on Nevermind: According to producer Butch Vig, it’s got more guitar tracks than any other song on the record. And after the second verse, in the place you’d expect a guitar solo, Cobain overdubbed a wide selection of noisemakers – squeaky toys and an aerosol can, among others. “It became an abstract part for 17 bars,” Vig noted. “We just left them all in on the mix.” It’s a section that Dave Grohl has called “the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of Nevermind.” DOUGLAS WOLK

8. “About a Girl”

“Even to put ‘About a Girl’ on Bleach was a risk.” Kurt Cobain told Rolling Stone in 1994. “I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old Sixties stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground – like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky.” Cobain’s legend status makes it easy to forget how young the man taking these risks was – just 21 during the recording of Bleach. And this song, with all its voice cracks and ginger pop chords, belies his inexperience, particularly in the woman-realm —he’s a mischievous paramour trying to get over, but his good intentions come through in the chords. Clearly he eventually got off the couch belonging to the girl in question, Tracy Marander, but deep beneath his sly pleas, you can tell he himself was unsure that he ever would. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

7. “Lithium”

At its heart, “Lithium” is a curled-lip condemnation of blind faith and the born-again Christians Cobain knew in his youth. According to biographer Everett True, Cobain said the character in the song “decided to find God before he kills himself.” The frontman went on to say, “It’s hard for me to understand the need for a vice like that, but I can appreciate it, too. People need vices.” With its soft and loud sections, the song exemplifies the bipolar pop that made Nevermind great. It’s unruly and unwieldy, and wasn’t easy to record: When Cobain couldn’t get his guitar to sound right in the studio, he threw it during a temper tantrum and began screaming. The cacophony became bonus track “Endless, Nameless.” KORY GROW

6. “Dive”

Nirvana’s final single on Sub Pop – a split 7-inch with the Fluid – is a tense and furtive pop song in spite of itself, its squawking guitars and strangled vocals pushing up against a smooth, almost buoyant bassline, Chad Channing’s steady drums, and the clean production of Nevermind producer Butch Vig, who the band was working with for the first time. In 1991 Sub Pop included the track on the label compilation The Grunge Years, which – in keeping with its penchant for in-jokes about “world domination” – had a pair of important businessmen doing something resembling a big deal on the cover. That compilation’s implied irony would come full circle a few months later, when the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would debut on MTV. MAURA JOHNSTON

5. “Something In The Way”

Kurt Cobain told Michael Azerrad that the lyrics to Nevermind‘s ominously brooding closer were written “like if I was living under the bridge and I was dying of A.I.D.S., if I was sick and I couldn’t move and I was a total street person. That was kind of the fantasy of it.” Not only reflecting Kurt’s fascination with utter debasement, the song also reflects his innate musicality: After attempts to record a full-band version of the song went nowhere, he successfully recorded the core of the track by himself, playing a half-strung, barely-tunable acoustic 12-string while he sang. Producer Butch Vig and the band built the track from there, finishing it off with a string part by cellist Kirk Canning, whom the band had met through their friends L7 while staying in Los Angeles. “We took [Canning] into the studio on the last day and said, ‘Here, play something,'” Cobain recalled to Kurt St. Thomas, “and he came up with something right away. It just fell like dominoes, it was really easy.” DANIEL EPSTEIN

4. “Breed”

In the grunge era, this is what passed for game: noncommittal gestures towards playing house as a prelude to just straight-up doing it. There’s so much late-night peacocking on “Breed” – the pelvic-thrust of a guitar intro, its mimicking by the bass, the aggressive tom rolls – you can practically smell the cigarette smoke in the bar where the slightly disheveled, greasy-haired couple is meeting before they go home together. It’s one of the most alive songs on Nevermind, purely for its deep lust – the band giving into their most animalistic impulses, channeled on distortion in free fall. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

3. “Sliver”

Cobain called it “the most ridiculous pop song that I had ever written… I wanted to write more songs like that.” (He also noted that he’d titled it “Sliver” just because he knew people would misspell it as “Silver.”) Childhood was the theme that Nirvana’s songs and graphics circled around most, and this was the song in which they tackled it head-on: lyrics that evokes the little indignities of youthful powerlessness (featuring possibly Kurt’s best line ever, “I fell asleep and watched TV”), and a monomaniacal tantrum of a chorus. Written and recorded very quickly, it features Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters, who was in Nirvana for exactly one show. DOUGLAS WOLK

2. “In Bloom”

That this paean to the type of mindless fan who “knows not what it means” appeared on the album that would eventually catapult Nirvana into the white-hot center of alternative rock is an almost too-delicious irony – especially since, as Novoselic told Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke in 2001, “it sounded like a Bad Brains song” in its earliest incarnations. But Cobain’s workshopping of the track led to its triumphant summing up of what made Nirvana so captivating – morose and surrealistic lyrics married to power chords and gleefully turned-out harmonies. MAURA JOHNSTON

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Almost immediately, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed the firmament of American culture like no song since Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Legend points to how it was nothing like the wheedle of Warrant or the macro-pop of Michael Jackson, but its sloppy, intensely human contortions were just as far removed from R.E.M. and U2. Dave Grohl’s drums were nuclear and refused to keep a steady tempo, Krist Novoselic’s bass was a zombie plod that would have felt cozy on a Flipper record, Kurt Cobain’s lyrics were incomprehensible and his guitar solo almost mocked the song it was attached to with a strangled simplicity. Whatever you interpreted punk’s promises to be (at that point, 27 years since the Velvet Underground), they were all realized. Art could be unpolished, violence and noise could be pop, weirdos could be heroes, the filthy lucre will roll right in.

Most of its impact can be tracked to passion and drive, but there were no shortage of happy accidents. The song inadvertently tweaked the name of a popular deodorant heavily marketed to teenagers — when Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna spraypainted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his wall he thought it was an uplifting phrase, not a snarky reference to his girlfriend’s antiperspirant. In addition, Cobain told Rolling Stone that a song, later deemed the anthem of a generation, had far more humble beginnings: “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies.” Regardless of its origin, it’s staggering to consider the list of icons that may not have reached critical mass without Cobain’s desiccated blasts of feedback blowing open the doors for alternative culture: Beck, Kevin Smith, Green Day, Quentin Tarantino, Radiohead, Mr. Show, Korn, Jon Stewart, Freaks and Geeks, Chris Ware, Patton Oswalt, Arcade Fire, Lena Dunham, Skrillex, and even Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

In This Article: Nirvana, Steve Albini