Incredibly talented, forever missed but never forgotten.
It’s very difficult to summarise, express or articulate just how important Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain was for music fans of a certain age.
It’s testament to him and the bands talent that Nirvana continue to find new legions of fans with each passing generation because their raw, energetic and instantly memorable sound is as timeless now as it was when the grunge scene first exploded out of Seattle’s underground and into the worldwide mainstream.
Even if you’re not a fan of the band, it’s almost impossible to gauge Cobain’s impact and influence on musical culture as Nirvana helped inspire upcoming artists while simultaneously helping to re-energise what was a stale, generic and uninspired musical landscape.
The talented but troubled singer would have been 48 today and to mark the occasion each JOE has decided to write a few words on their favourite Nirvana track.
Kurt Cobain’s music will never burn out, nor will his legacy fade away.
Paul Moore – On A Plain
While this track isn’t Nirvana’s most popular or frequently played song from their iconic album Nevermind, I always loved it because to me it represents the best example of Cobain’s wonderful ear for melody and harmony.
Haters frequently accused the band of just being a few ‘garage musicians who made lots of noise’, which is total rubbish.
I always admired their singer because Cobain was unashamed in his eclectic choice of influences.
Pixies, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, The Sex Pistols and Marine Girls all made a mark on his musical outlook but Cobain’s love of pop music and The Beatles especially shines through on this track.
While ‘On A Plain’ lacks the life-changing energy of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, the lyrical complexity of ‘Come As You Are’ or the raw emotion of ‘All Apologies (Live)’, this for me is the best representation of just how clever Cobain was while also proving that he’s such an incredibly talented and intelligent student of music.
Eric Lalor – Breed
It was Smells Like Teen Spirit which alerted me to the brilliance of Nirvana so I went out and got the album like a professional blow-in.
It’s tough to pick a song from an album of such greatness, or indeed from their entire back catalogue, but I’ve decided for go for Breed.
Cobain had a great ear for melody and although this track is very loud and moves along at a million miles an hour, there is a great chorus, and a catchy one at that.
Dave Grohl is pushed to the absolute limit on this with drum speed approaching machine gun levels and has to be applauded for his efforts.
I love this track and it’s one I’ll never grow tired of.
Tony Cuddihy – Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Such was my all consuming love for Pearl Jam since the age of 12, the very mention of Nirvana still feels like cheating 24 years later. But on with it.
I never quite loved Nirvana, again preferring the broader sound of Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament and co. to their spikier counterparts.
Growing up in the early ’90s, it was as Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana as it was Liverpool vs. Manchester United.
As I’ve got older, I’ve become more fascinated by the story than the band itself, and choose MTV Unplugged closer Where Did You Sleep Last Night? for that final 30 seconds in which Kurt Cobain’s voice is so broken that he can barely manage to croak those final syllables.
Yet, he somehow gets there.
Recorded in November 1993, t’s a remarkable performance in general and one that haunts us even more given what happened five months later.
Conor Heneghan – Lithium
I happen to be the youngest sibling in my family and as is often the case with youngest siblings, my formative musical tastes were influenced by my older brothers.
After all, if I didn’t like what they were listening to, they’d probably pin me down, grab hold of my arms and use them to slap my own face, all the while uttering that most humiliating of phrases, ‘stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself’.
Back in the mid-90s, when I was old enough to begin appreciating good music, grunge was the order of the day in the Heneghan household, from Soundgarden to Sonic Youth, to Smashing Pumpkins and of course, Nirvana.
If I was listening to an entire Nirvana album all the way through now, I’d probably choose ‘Unplugged in New York’ and I do remember having a fondness for ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,’ which people might remember as the theme tune from ‘Top 30 Hits’.
If I was to pick out one song, however, I’d have to go for ‘Lithium’ from ‘Nevermind’.
It’s raw, it’s powerful and in what is a common theme in Kurt Cobain’s songwriting, the lyrics hint at the inner turmoil that would eventually lead to his tragic demise.
Plus, it still sounds great nearly 25 years on.
Eoghan Doherty – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what you’re going to say.
“Eoghan ur so stupid for pickin the really obvious stupid choice cuz ur so stupid so u r.”
You certainly make a valid, poorly-formed point, but guess what? I don’t care.
Whether you like it or not, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was an incredibly important track when I was a spotty wee teenager, a time when I coincidentally happened to be smelling of my very own distinct brand of teen spirit.
I clearly remember the multiple failed attempts at setting up a deadly band I could call my own, banging away on a banjaxed bass guitar, alongside John Houlihan on lead vocals (“vocals” is such a loose term), and Chris Moore murdering a set of makeshift drums (i.e. a bodhrán and his ma’s upturned wash basin).
While our suave, less spotty peers were busy talking to the girls from the Big School, all we could think about as we listened to the lead track off 1991’s Nevermind, was 1) Ewwwwww, girls = cooties, and 2) we wanted to be just like the musical genius that was the colossal Kurt Cobain.
We were shite. And I f*ckin’ loved every second of it.
Joe Harrington – All Apologies
I was a 6-year-old child living in Kerry when Nirvana were in their heyday, so I had a bit of catching up when my music taste finally developed.
The first Nirvana album I bought wasn’t Nevermind, Bleach or In Utero, it was a compilation album called Nirvana in 2002.
Before you slate me for not being a real fan, I didn’t have a lot of pocket money, I wasn’t illegally downloading and I needed to listen to the best of the band.
I must have listened to that CD a thousand times and it broke my heart when it started skipping.
There was something special about listening to a CD from start to finish rather than jumping around YouTube for specific songs. (I realise I sound 50)
I love all the songs on that compilation album, but when the guitar riff on track 13 kicked in, it gave me goosebumps every time.
The song – All Apologies (MTV Unplugged in New York) – my favourite Nirvana track.
Paddy McKenna – Dumb
I was going to pick About A Girl, then Lounge Act, then Heart-Shaped Box but it’s the simplicity of the lyric that finally drew me to Dumb.
Kurt had that knack that all the great songwriters’ have of being able to convey how he was feeling in a very simple way, whilst avoiding cliche.
The opening couplet ‘I’m not like them, but I can pretend’ is a perfect insight in to his world.
But it also has a universal appeal and it’s the reason why he resonated with an entire generation of disaffected youth.
If you’re a hardcore Nirvana fan (and if you’ve read this far you probably are!), check out the original Steve Albini In Utero mixes vs. Scott Litt’s poppier remixes on YouTube.
Anyway, here’s two minutes 32 seconds of perfection.
That’s our selections. Let us know what we’ve glaringly overlooked.