Formed in Aberdeen, Washington State, in 1987, Nirvana was the ultimate grunge band. Iconic singer Kurt Cobain and bass player Krist Novoselic founded the band, with several different drummers coming and going over the years. Dave Grohl, who joined up in 1990, was the most successful of all, eventually going on to become a frontman in his own right as leader of the Foo Fighters. A relatively short-lived band that tragically ended with the suicide of Cobain in 1994, Nirvana created a sound entirely of their own, with Cobain’s emotive vocals and the band’s powerful lyrics resonating with an entire generation. Here are five of their best ever hits.
Written by Cobain, Something In The Way was the last song on the band’s greatest album: Nevermind. Believed to be based on a period of Cobain’s life in which he’d been living on the streets, Something In The Way, like so many of Nirvana’s hits, had distinctly overbearing and negative connotations, delivered with raw, brutal frankness, but is also blessed with a melodious nature that makes it the sort of song fans listened to again and again.
Interestingly, initial attempts to record the song with the whole band were unsuccessful, so Cobain simply sat down in the studio and played the whole thing with an acoustic guitar, with the other parts being added in later.
Also part of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, Breed was written by Cobain too and recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. The song was originally known under the name ‘Imodium,’ in relation to anti-diarrhea medicine used by TAD lead singer Tad Doyle while touring Europe with Nirvana.
An alternative rock classic with deep social and political overtones, the song’s lyrics speak of the innate apathy and emotions of teenagers among America’s middle-class societies. It’s one of Nirvana’s livelier and more vibrant songs, with its feisty guitar intro and aggressive riffs really allowing each member of the band to lose their inhibitions.
Written by Kobain and released as a solo single in 1990 by Sub Pop, Sliver was later added to the Insecticide compilation album, released in 1992. Blending elements of grunge and pop-punk, Sliver was allegedly written during a rehearsal session with temporary Nirvana drummer Dan Peters.
Kurt Cobain claimed he “decided I wanted to write the most ridiculous pop song I had ever written” when penning the lyrics for Sliver, and the whole track was recorded in under an hour. It follows the story of a boy spending time with his grandparents and features quite simply and straightforward lyrics, but it was a smash hit, performing well in charts around the world.
Once again written by Kurt Cobain, In Bloom was released in 1992 but had been around since 1990, with the band’s first-ever music video being created for an initial version of In Bloom. It eventually appeared in an altered state on Nevermind and proved to be one of the album’s most popular tracks, reaching number 5 on the Mainstream Rock chart and doing well internationally too.
Like a lot of Nirvana songs, In Bloom takes listeners on a rollercoaster of emotions and auditory experiences, suddenly jolting back and forth between hushed verses and a rampant chorus.
There’s only one song that could possibly top this list. The track most associated with Nirvana, the song that got the most radio airplay and continues to be replayed again and again on stations far and wide, Smells Like Teen Spirit was Nirvana’s most successful hit and served as the opening track for Nevermind.
It won a couple of MTV Video Music Awards and went down in history as the embodiment of what Nirvana were all about and an identifiable anthem for Gen X. Bridging the gap from the grunge scene into the world of rock and roll, Smells Like Teen Spirit has consistently featured in lists of the best rock songs ever.