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Musicians Talk About Their Favorite Nirvana Song

Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

On the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain‘s death, Nirvana‘s influence is stronger today than it was back in the early ’90s, when the band’s milestone album ‘Nevermnd’ changed the course of rock history. From indie rock to hard rock to metal and more, Cobain and his band have served as inspiration for countless artists. To mark his death on April 5, 1994, we asked some musicians what their favorite Nirvana songs are.


Better-Than-Ezra

Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin

 
 

'Come As You Are' -- there's just something sonically about the way Kurt's voice sounds in the first verse when he sings "come."  It's always given me shivers. You could call it sublime or menacing, but the best description is that it's just badass. Butch Vig's production just clicked with the band.

 
dandy

The Dandy Warhols' Courtney Taylor-Taylor

 
 

I don't have [a favorite Nirvana song], but I guess 'Teen Spirit' sends me the hardest.

 
hank3

Hank 3

 
 

It's not really fair to just pick one Nirvana song, but I can go with the idea of 'Sappy,' the acoustic versions off of 'Outcesticide' or 'Endless Nameless' for the thrill of on-the-spot creativity and marching to your own beat, no matter what the engineer is thinking.

 
Hiatus-Kaiyote

Hiatus Kaiyote's Paul Bender

 
 

I would probably have to say 'Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.' The shrieking feedback, the driving urgency, the pure, raw sludge of everything on 'In Utero' is in such contrast to the clean and shiny sound of 'Nevermind.' The title is also excellent, such brilliant sarcasm in the face of a bloated, pre-packaged music industry. I'm sure Kurt would be dismayed to see that things have got seemingly worse since then.

 
Mainland

Mainland's Jordan Topf

 
 
My favorite two songs are 'About a Girl' off their album 'Bleach' and the live cut of 'Polly' from 'MTV Unplugged.'
Both are love songs. The attitude on 'About a Girl' is so blunt and pissed off while having restraint. You hear it especially in the laid-back drum parts and how Kurt's voice is on the chorus when he sings " ... you hang me up to dry" -- it's a lullaby while being sarcastic. It's nonchalant brilliance. I like 'Polly' because the name he chooses to sing about reminds me of a coming-of-age movie where the protagonist is some burnout blonde debutante. The idea of comparing his sex partner to a pet bird also caught me off guard when I heard the song for the first time. It's a dark subject that makes you question roles. It's got Kurt Cobain written all over it.
 
JESSICA-LEA-MAYFIELD

Jessica Lea Mayfield

 
 

My favorite Nirvana album is 'In Utero.' It's really hard to choose a favorite song, but the one that I always go back to first is usually 'Rape Me.' I don't think there has been anyone since Cobain who has put such sincere art in their lyricism.

 
NOMADS

NOMADS' Nathan Lithgow

 
 

I think my favorite Nirvana song is 'Heart-Shaped Box.' The first time I read the lyrics to that song, I don't think I truly understood the darkness in them. I was young and had not lived through real pain in my life yet. I read a phrase like "I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black" without an understanding of the depth of the emotion in those words. I read "Broken hymen of your highness I'm left back, throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back," without a picture of just how black and how tortured that language is. I think his suicide in a way forever cemented him as a legend, in the same way that we now build our heroes up in order to watch them crash back to earth. If you think about where our pop icons operate now, artists like Kanye and Miley Cyrus and the rest of that ilk, there is not even a comparison to be made. Kurt Cobain's sense of language and power in song makes most big-time music personalities seem completely foolish.

 
Photo-by-Odonis-Odonis

Odonis Odonis' Denholm Whale

 
 

Favorite song is 'Sappy.' It epitomizes dirty high school torture. F--- everything!

 
One-Hundred-Percent2

One Hundred Percent's Matt Habegger

 
 

'School' from 'Bleach' is amazing. There are only like 10 words in the whole song, but they are all highly shoutable and still manage to communicate so much. Plus it's got a ripping solo, which they didn't do very often. It was like, "Hey, we may think shredding is for a--holes, but just so you know, we could do it if we wanted." I would have loved to have heard this live. My voice would be completely gone by the end.

 
123

1, 2, 3

 
 

I grew up in an evangelical household where the Beatles' White Album was considered the devil's music. So when Nirvana happened, I told my mom they were a religious band so I wouldn't catch hell for listening. She already found my copy of 'The Chronic' and it was difficult to explain away songs like 'Bitches Ain't S---' and 'The Day the N----- Took Over' as gospel tracks. One day she caught the 'Heart-Shaped Box' video with Kurt on a cross and that cover was pretty much blown. I've always preferred 'In Utero' to 'Nevermind.' 'All Apologies' is as gorgeous and aching of an album finale one could hope for and holds up as my favorite Nirvana jam.

 
survivalknife

Survival Knife and Unwound's Justin Trosper

 
 

My favorite Nirvana song is 'Spank Thru' because it contains all the elements of a classic Nirvana song: perversion, depression, weird humor, strained but melodic vocals and awesome noisy heaviness.

 
Unicycle-Loves-You

Unicycle Loves You's Jim Carroll

 
 

I really wish I could pick the entire 'Bleach' album, but alas, I will go with 'School' because it is actually still just the best. Period.

 

Next: More Musicians' Favorite Nirvana Songs

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