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Heavy-music fans have a different relationship with Nirvana than the average rock enjoyer. While the grunge fixtures will always be remembered as world-conquering voices of an entire generation who produced some of the most popular rock songs of all time, the Seattle band began as a noise-rock act and carried that aggressive, subversive spirit with them up until Kurt Cobain tragically died.
Therefore, despite their titanic popularity, listeners with an ear for music on the aggressive side of the spectrum were able to stick around for their entire ride. When we asked our readers to pick their favorite Nirvana song to be assembled into a ranked top five, the usual suspects — "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and
"Come As You Are," namely — didn't even make the cut. See which ones did below.
"Heart Shaped Box," the lead single from Nirvana's confrontational swan song, In Utero, remains such a devastating portrait of where Cobain was at the time. The song sees him expressing his tortured psyche with a slurry vocal delivery, a short yet gnarled guitar solo and a general sense of fatigue that emanates from the song's desperate, weary trudge. It's noticeably different than the other angry and/or emerged songs on this list, and unarguably one of their finest musical and emotional achievements.
Kicking off with an engine-revving drum roll from Dave Grohl, "Breed" is one of the punkest, rawest and most urgent songs on Nevermind — and a clear highlight within their catalog. Cobain's flippant "I don't care" refrain is as hummable as anything he's ever written, but it's the fat-ass bass line and scorching guitar solo — which slides between the left and right channels to create a dizzying effect — that really make it pop.
Leave it to Nirvana to write a song that poetically explores how faith can keep someone from the brink of suicide, and then have a chorus that's just variations of the word "yeah." Nevermind's third single, "Lithium" (which was originally intended to be the album's first), exemplifies Cobain's genius as a pop songwriter who could simultaneously tackle heavy topics and play with hot-blooded energy. It's an undeniable banger.
Arriving solidly in the record's second half, "Lounge Act" is a deep cut from Nevermind that's one of the album's shortest tracks. Its front end is built on a jangly guitar riff and somewhat chipper bass line, but it really comes into its own when Cobain unloads during the bridge with a crackling howl that carries over into its gravelly final verse. It's not a song that most people rank among the LP's standouts, so it's cool to see it get such a high placement in this poll.
Cobain yawped, "Come on over and do the twist," and our readers followed suit. Rather than going with the obvious pick here, the voters chose the B-side to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which was also included on the band's 1992 compilation, Incesticide. It's hard to argue that "Aneurysm" isn't a perfect Nirvana song — from the snotty hook and explosive chorus to the clever pop-cultural references and noisy outro. A great, contrarian choice for No. 1.