Nirvana is not only an icon of grunge, they are also rock legends, and one of the greatest bands to ever impact pop culture.
While the band released their debut album Bleach in 1989, it was 1991’s follow-up Nevermind that tossed Nirvana into the limelight. Featuring the lineup of drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, and late singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain, Nevermind proved to be an explosive success, critically and commercially. As of 2021, an estimated 30 million copies of the Nirvana album have been sold. Following Nevermind, Nirvana released the sonically ferocious In Utero, which happens to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.
With In Utero‘s anniversary in mind, and similar to what we’ve done with Mötley Crüe, Korn, and Avenged Sevenfold, we combed through the band’s catalog and have compiled a list of the 10 greatest Nirvana songs of all time. The following 10 tracks aren’t just amazing tunes, they are the songs that best highlight Nirvana’s artistry.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nevermind
Let alone that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is Nirvana’s biggest hit, it’s also one of the most iconic rock songs to ever ripple through pop culture. Accumulating 1.7 billion streams/views on both Spotify and YouTube, respectively, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is an incredible testament to how Nirvana was able to craft sonically and emotionally intense rock that continues to resonate with audiences beyond heavy music.
“Come As You Are” – Nevermind
Along with their ability to craft catchy rock and abrasive grunge, Nirvana also knew how to make immersive songs that came with a profound sense of serenity to them. One of the best examples of this is “Come As You Are,” Cobain’s voice and the band’s instrumentation working together to provide a resounding atmosphere that is both exciting and peaceful.
“About A Girl” – Bleach
“About A Girl” is a foundational stepping stone for what would come from future Nirvana releases. A track from the band’s debut album Bleach, “About A Girl” is a poppy-leaning rock song that features the band kicking it up at times with touches of sonic aggression. It’s the sort of musical duality that the band would greatly build upon with their follow-up album Nevermind.
“Heart-Shaped Box” – In Utero
Among their catalog, “Heart-Shaped Box” is one of the more unnerving songs Nirvana has crafted. Besides the punchy hook, the rhythm sections provide an eerie atmosphere, Cobain further fueling that air with his visceral lyrics. It’s also a stellar example that shows off Nirvana’s stylistic range, proving that they could make anthemic rock bangers alongside chilling atmospheric tunes.
“Scentless Apprentice” – In Utero
Compared to Nevermind, In Utero features a more abrasive form of sonic presentation, the band providing an array of gritty-sounding and kickass tunes. Among the tracks on the album, “Scentless Apprentice” involves a rush of hard rock guitar riffage, pounding bass and drums, and a raw punk air. While some Nirvana songs may get one to move about and dance, “Scentless Apprentice” is a tune that’ll get you headbanging.
“Blew” – Bleach
Packing an electric rhythm and exuding a palpable sense of attitude, “Blew” is an early look at how Nirvana combined catchy riffs with heavy grunge tones. As one of the more sonically crushing cuts on Bleach, “Blew” shows off how Nirvana was able to masterfully blend contrasting musical qualities together.
“Something In The Way” – Nevermind
Along with their amazing instrumental skills, another one of Nirvana’s profound qualities is Cobain’s lyricism. While there are so many Nirvana songs that feature heartfelt and poetic lyrics, one of the most emotionally gripping experiences Cobain and the band have ever put together is “Something In The Way.” A deeply haunting and captivating track, “Something In The Way” has continued to resonate with audiences in the decades following its release.
“Tourette’s” – In Utero
The crushing punk sound of In Utero is an absolute blast, and one of our favorite songs from this album is “Tourette’s.” After a brief build-up, the band quickly shifts into an all-out speedy and riveting cut, the instrumentation pounding and thrashing, Cobain screaming with all he’s got. It’s a hell of a thrilling track and one of the most aggressive tunes Nirvana has made.
“Downer” – Bleach
While In Utero does provide a great selection of heavy cuts, Bleach is also full of many riveting punk rock songs. In contrast to “About A Girl,” “Downer” also serves as a great example of the style and sound Nirvana would end up expanding upon throughout their career. Whereas “About A Girl” provides an early look at Nirvana’s ability to compose catchy rock with a heavy touch, “Downer” is a prime look at their more abrasive sonic tendencies.
“Lithium” – Nevermind
While it’s awesome to hear Nirvana play aggressive grunge and moodier atmospheric cuts, their catchier rock tunes are also a blast. Among such tracks, “Lithium” is one of the most vibrant songs to come out of Nirvana. Alternating between the more laid-back verses and the more explosive hooks makes for a stellar combo and cements the song as a truly riveting musical experience.