The 10 best Nirvana songs

18 November 2021, 18:00

NIrvana in 1991: Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic
NIrvana in 1991: Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. Picture: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Celebrate the genius of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl with the ultimate Nirvana playlist.

Radio X

By Radio X

Before Kurt Cobain's death on 5 April 1994, Nirvana had already amassed a significant back catalogue of songs from three albums: Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero. Radio X picks the 10 best Nirvana tracks - including one classic cover - that you need for your playlist.

  1. Heart-Shaped Box

    The lead track from Nirvana’s final album In Utero. Bleak and uncommercial, and coupled with a disturbing Anton Corbijn-directed video, this was a bold choice for a single, but showed that the band still believed in themselves and their music.

  2. Sliver

    Released as a single in September 1990, between the albums Bleach and Nevermind, this marks the midway point between Nirvana's indie grunge roots and the big league with Geffen Records. The lyrics are a story about an infant Kurt Cobain throwing a tantrum when his grandparents baby-sat him.

  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit

    Of course this has to be on the ultimate Nirvana playlist. You’ve heard it a million times - but go back an listen again with fresh ears, because it still has the power to thrill. The dynamics between the choruses and verses, Grohl’s bludgeoning performance, the interplay between Cobain and Novoselic’s guitars and Kurt’s generation-defining vocal. Pure perfection.

  4. Come As You Are

    A more reflective moment from the Nevermind album, propelled by that ponderous riff and Cobain’s intriguing lyrics. A call to outsiders, the line "I don't have a gun" took on an omnious aspect following Kurt's suicide.

  5. All Apologies

    “All in all is all we are.” The final song on the final Nirvana album, this plaintive song was released as a single in December 1993, but became more famous thanks to its performance on the band's MTV Unplugged session that November. It makes you wonder how Nirvana would have developed beyond their third album.

  6. In Bloom

    When this song was written, the lyrics of In Bloom were an affectionate look at the early Nirvana fans, but by the time the track appearaed on Nevermind, they were taken as an ironic view of the group's new fans. The humorous video, in which the trio appear on an uptight 1960s TV show, shows how uncomfortable they were with their new-found fame.

  7. About A Girl

    Originally recorded for their debut album Bleach, Nirvana exhumed this track for their iconic MTV Unplugged performance in November 1993. The acoustic arrangement suits the song perfectly.

  8. Lithium

    Written before Dave Grohl joined the band, the song apparently caused a rift between Cobain and drummer Chad Channing, leading to the future Foo Fighters frontman getting the gig in the autumn of 1990. The subject of the title is a drug used as a treatment for depression and bipolar disorder and the song compares this to the effects of organised religion.

  9. The Man Who Sold The World

    Not a Nrvana song, of course, but they made it their own. The title track of David Bowie's breakthrough 1970 album, this song was pressed into service during Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged session. The performance was flashed on TV around the world following the death of Kurt Cobain on 5 April 1994.

  10. Something In The Way

    The final track on the Nevermind album (not counting the "hidden" track Endless Nameless), this is supposedly a story about Cobain's time spent living homeless under a bridge "on the banks of the muddy Wishkah" river. While his family and friends claim he'd exaggerated the story of his destitute years, Kurt's catatonic vocals are a reflection of a bad period in his life.

Need more playlists? Check out Global Player's playlist sections - there's something for every mood!