On Monday, Kurt Cobain would have turned 50 years old. Even though his career and life were short, the music he made as Nirvana‘s frontman as well as his attitude have proven to be some of the most influential on modern rock and even pop and rap, with many young artists naming him as their primary influence. In honor of his career, we asked our readers to name the best Nirvana deep cuts. Here are the results.
Though not officially released until 1993, “Sappy” had been stewing with Nirvana since 1987, having been recorded several times and even played live. Though also recorded with Butch Vig for Nevermind, the final version was produced by Steve Albini and released as a hidden track on the compilation No Alternative. Its final performance was in February 1994 at a concert in Milan by request of the fans who had found bootleg versions. Various versions of the track have been released on the deluxe editions of Nirvana’s major label LPs as well as the rarities box set With the Lights Out.
The growling, visceral “Aneurysm” was inspired by Cobain’s ex-girlfriend and Bikini Kill member Tobi Vail and has the singer recalling the first time they ever hung out. It was a B-Side to the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and was later released as part of the compilation Incesticide. The live version of the song was the promotional single for the album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. During Nirvana’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Kim Gordon performed the song with the surviving members.
The rough and brooding “Dive” was released officially on Incesticide thought it was previously the B-Side to the single “Sliver.” Courtney Love has reportedly named it as her favorite Nirvana song, calling its smooth, bass-heavy style “sexy.”
Like several other early songs by the band, “Lounge Act” was inspired by Cobain’s relationship with Tobi Vail and his desire to impress her and keep her in his life. The line “I’ll arrest myself/I’ll wear a shield” refers to the K Records tattoo he got on his arm to impress his ex.
One of Nirvana’s more blatantly humorous moments was the ironically named “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” which begins with screeching feedback, the polar opposite of the earworm of a guitar riff that began the band’s biggest hit and source of inspiration for “Radio Friendly,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The song itself, off In Utero, was just poetry lines written by Cobain thrown together for the track, which was originally titled “Four Month Media Blackout” in reference to the amount of time “Teen Spirit” was on the charts.
The childish “Sliver” recalls a time when Cobain had been abandoned at his grandparents’ house as a kid, much to his dismay. The song was originally released as a non-album single in 1990 by Sub-Pop but re-released in 1993 as a promotional single for the B-side compilation Incesticide with a video that starred Frances Bean Cobain through home footage shot by Cobain and his wife Courtney Love.
Exploring his fraught relationship with his father, Kurt Cobain channels some of his rawest anger into the 1989 track which wasn’t released until the 2004 With the Lights Out box set was debuted. The song explores his personal feelings of inadequacy due to lack of acceptance from his dad.
Nirvana was originally planning to title their final studio album I Hate Myself and Want to Die but decided to change course when Krist Novoselic expressed fear of lawsuits due to the negative connotations of the name. The song ended up not making it on In Utero but served as the B-side to “Pennyroyal Tea” and featured in the The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience album. During his final interview with Rolling Stone before his suicide, Cobain told David Fricke that the name of the song was just a “joke” playing on public perception of his brooding personality.
One of the noisiest songs of the more generally pristine Nevermind, “Territorial Pissings” was shockingly – though also appropriately cheekily – chosen by the band as one of the tracks they performed at Saturday Night Live. Immediately after powering through the track, they destroyed all their instruments on set.
Nirvana covered the Wipers’ “D-7” as a B-side for their “Lithium” single and it was later re-released as part of the With the Lights Out box set. Cobain had noted how influential the Wipers’ combination of punk and hard-rock had been on Nirvana’s sound during early interviews done by the band.