Top Ten Songs by Nirvana

The grunge era has been over for 10 years, but I could still listen to Nirvana every day of the week. It’s the only band I love enough to compose a decent top ten list. Put on a flannel shirt, fire up your Sony Walkman, and here we go.

10 – Dive is on the live disc From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, but its best version is on the first track on the band’s disc of B-sides. In many ways, it is similar to “Blew” in that it kicks off the album with big dose of grungy bass guitar. Cobain seesaws from a Beatles-like voice to his regular voice on the verses. Sample lyric: “Everyone speaks German.”

9 – School is one of the best songs on “Wishkah.” Cobain’s voice goes soaring off into crazy-land as he wails “you’re in that school again!” This song features some of the best rhythm guitar on a Nirvana song. Sample lyric: “Just my luck: no recess.”

8 – Heart-Shaped Box is the biggest hit and best song on In Utero. The live version on Wishkah is almost identical to the studio version, but that’s not a bad thing. Although Nirvana had tasted artistic and commercial success, its follow-up hit song didn’t sell out in any way. Sample lyric: “Throw down your umbilical noose, so I can come right back.”

7 – Lithium is easily the funniest Nirvana song ever. Cobain’s self-deprecation is on full display, but he invites everyone to the pity party, saying “I’m so ugly; that’s OK, ’cause so are you.” The bass guitar provides a good segue from the “Yeaaaaah Yeah” chorus to the lithum-addled verses. Sample lyric: “Today I found my friends They’re in my head.”

6 – Blew is the first song on the group’s first album, Bleach. The bass line gets the song going before the guitars kick in. This song establishes what Nirvana is all about with its moody tone and energetic guitars and vocals. Sample lyric: “Is there another word that rhymes with shame?”

5 – All Apologies is a slow, introspective song, but it still evolves into a full-blown rock-out before it winds down. I think Nirvana was always at its best in its fastest, most out-of-control songs. That’s why “Polly” ranks as my least favorite Nirvana song. “All Apologies” is best found on the MTV Unplugged album, but it’s quite good on In Utero as well. Sample lyric: “I wish I was like you – easily amused.”

4 – Aneurysm is an epic rocker that is the best song on the live Wishkah CD. Everyone in the band is just going nuts on this song, and it makes me wish I could have seen the band live. Sample lyric: “Beat me out of me!”

3 – Negative Creep is the fastest, most machine-gun like speed metal song in the entire Nirvana catalog. There is a wilder vocal version on Wishkah, but this song moves so fast, that it’s best for the lyrics to be under control like they are on Bleach. Sample (often-repeated) lyric: “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more.”

2 – Smells Like Teen Spirit is Nirvana’s biggest hit and the opener of its classic album, Nevermind. The song keeps bouncing between calm verses and a wild chorus. Basically this song is a barely controlled freak-out by Kurt Cobain with driving guitars. Sample lyric, which sums up the entire grunge era: “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.”

1 – Come As You Are is my favorite song of all time, barely beating “No Rain” by Blind Melon. I guess I dig ’90s bands whose lead singers didn’t survive the decade. Anyway, the bass guitar at the beginning indicates that this will not be a barely controlled freak out. It’s just a perfectly crafted rock song. Sample lyric: “And I swear that I don’t have a gun.”

As much as I miss Nirvana and wish I could hear new material from the band, I’m glad they never went into a downslide and produced songs that couldn’t crack this top 10 list.

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