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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

nirvana kurt cobain dave grohl krist novoselic

Paul Bergen/Redferns

We’ve dug deep into the catalog of the chaos-embracing sludge-pop titans who changed the world and tackled a massive task: ranking 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. (Listen to the full playlist on YouTube here.)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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