Kurt Cobain usually wrote melodies first. Once he had those out of the way, he focused on lyrics. But for many Nirvana fans, it was Cobain's words that defined the band, its music and their generation. Before teenage angst became a hot commodity in the '90s, Cobain was penning songs about restlessness, disillusionment and hopelessness. 'Nevermind' is basically a guidebook on the subject. He occasionally wrote about other subjects, too -- like family and relationships -- but his anxieties dominate our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Lyrics.
"I don't care what you think unless it is about me / It is now my duty to completely drain you / I travel through a tube and end up in your infection."
No surprise that Cobain's outlook on love was as bleak as just about everything else in his life. The first of several 'Nevermind' cuts on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Lyrics is all about the soul-consuming -- or is that soul-sucking? -- nature of relationships.
"Polly wants a cracker / I think I should get off her first / I think she wants some water to put out the blowtorch."
Cobain didn't write narratives or songs from other people's perspectives all that often. He hits both in this 'Nevermind' favorite about a sicko who's kidnapped, tortured and raped a young girl. The song's stark acoustic tone helps set the desolate mood.
"I'll take advantage while you hang me out to dry / But I can't see you every night for free."
Another dysfunctional-relationship song by Cobain (see No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Lyrics), 'About a Girl' comes from the band's debut album and details a period when he was jobless and not particularly motivated to do much. Unsurprisingly, his girlfriend, whom he was living with and who was paying the rent, wasn't too thrilled about it.
"I'm not like them, but I can pretend / ... The day is done and I'm havin' fun / I think I'm dumb / Maybe just happy."
Nothing came without some sort of baggage for Cobain. Not even kicking back and taking it easy once in a while. Dude just couldn't enjoy himself. In this popular cut from 'In Utero,' he equates any semblance of happiness with stupidity. Is it any wonder why things ended so tragically?
"What else could I say? Everyone is gay / What else could I write? I don't have the right / What else should I be? All apologies."
In a way, the final song on Nirvana's last album reads like Cobain's self-penned requiem. He said he wrote it for wife Courtney Love and their daughter, but the song's mournful tone and words ("everything is my fault") don't exactly paint a picture of domestic bliss.
"I'm so happy 'cause today I found my friends, they're in my head / I'm so ugly, but that's OK 'cause so are you."
Like 'Polly' (see No. 9 on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Lyrics), 'Lithium' is told from the point of view of someone other than Cobain. But he drew the story -- about a man turning to religion after his girlfriend's suicide -- from bits and pieces of his own fractured life.
"Hey! Wait! I got a new complaint."
Following the success of 'Nevermind,' Cobain became a spokesman for a generation of disillusioned kids -- a role he neither courted nor adapted to. Nirvana's follow-up album, the brutally abrasive 'In Utero,' was, in many ways, a reaction to their popularity. Cobain pokes fun at his reputation on the album's first single, but he isn't smiling.
"He's the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun / But he knows not what it means."
The gun reference seems unfortunate now, but the rest of the lines still ring true in this 'Nevermind' song that pits the band against its casual fans. And this was before 'Nevermind' was even released. Imagine how he felt after it reached No. 1.
"Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I'm bored and old."
Like 'Heart-Shaped Box' (see No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Nirvana Lyrics), 'Serve the Servants' was written after 'Nevermind' made Nirvana stars and saviors of everything rock 'n' roll. And like in 'Heart-Shaped Box,' Cobain stabs at his own gloomy rep here. He knew what he was selling and how it was being consumed. 'Serve the Servants' drips with cynicism.
'Smells Like Teen Spirit'
"With the lights out, it's less dangerous / Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us."
Really, you could grab just about any line from 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' and it would fit. The song instantly became an anthem for an entire generation of bored, pissed-off and disappointed kids, and it still resonates today as a rallying cry for albinos, mosquitoes and other outcasts.
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