Every song on Nirvana's Nevermind, ranked from worst to best

Nirvana's Nevermind turns 25

Nevermind is 30 years old this week. That’s older than some of you. That’s older than South Park, Heelys and PlayStation, and arguably more influential than all three combined. So, as we roll out the birthday cake and gorge on grunge, here’s each song from Nirvana’s breakthrough record, ranked from worst to best.

12. Lounge Act

Nevermind is largely a flab-free album. But we must start somewhere. This is a confessional, angst-ridden missive about ex-girlfriend and Bikini Kill member Toni Vail. Krist Novoselic’s chilled-out, backseat bass perfectly complements Lounge Act’s jolly main riff and that yelled third verse/chorus couplet is a winner. 

It’s a great song. Whereas the burgeoning power and fragility of Nevermind’s tracks stands upright throughout, Lounge Act slouches; the band couldn’t be arsed to think of an ending for the track, so just slowed the tape machine down instead.

11. Territorial Pissings

Novoselic’s loudhailer homage to The Youngblood’s 1967 Get Together at the start of Territorial Pissings still terrifies you, right? Right. Then that filthy intro riff, a defiant statement on Cobain’s behalf, ignoring producer Butch Vig’s pleas and plugging his guitar straight into the mixing desk. Finally, Dave Grohl’s relentless, rigorous drum roll. 

And we’re off. This is Nirvana doing punk and we like it. The choppy mid-section remains a certified headbanger and while Cobain’s hoarse screams through the entire track are superb, the ridiculous mini-meltdown at the end is the song’s zenith. This dirty, dismal side to Nirvana would be perfected on their next record, In Utero.

10. On A Plain

That verse. That’s where Weezer got it from, right? The vocal harmonies, the scuzzed-up power chords, the nonsensical lyrics and general air of awkwardness. On A Plain serves as one of Nevermind’s poppiest moments; it’s the Beach Boys with ripped jeans and scuffed Converse.

9. Stay Away

Stay Away shines through Cobain’s dunderheaded delivery through the verses, attacking hipsters and wannabes who’d rather “be dead than cool”. Snarky, sarcastic and boasting a supercharged refrain without ever really being aggressive, Stay Away remains an anthem for the disenfranchised to this day. Listen for Grohl’s wonderful run on the snares.

8. Something In The Way

Something In The Way was originally recorded by Cobain on his battered acoustic guitar, with Grohl and Novoselic recording their parts later. The simple, heartfelt chorus is a shining example of Cobain’s knowledge of the pop hook, while a haunting cello gives the track a mournful feel. The improvisational hidden track whacked onto the end, Endless Nameless, is a far cry from the rest of Nevermind, and opts for a noisy Melvins-esque attack on the senses. Which is fine by us.

7. Drain You

The B-side to Smells Like Teen Spirit does possess a riff achingly reminiscent of the A-side, but Drain You excels in other ways. Basically, it’s fun. It’s so fun. Nirvana were often tagged as miserable bastards and while In Utero had its morbid moments, Drain You is a few minutes of unbridled adrenaline. 

It slows down for like two bars and that’s it until the thundering, Grohl-induced climax. Listen out for the rubber duck toy, too.

6. In Bloom

Novoselic once said that In Bloom “originally sounded like Bad Brains, then Kurt turned it into a pop song.” There’s no reason why it couldn’t sound like Bad Brains, but the fact Cobain refuted any notion of hardcore and instead embraced those wonderful vocal harmonies with Grohl is a titanic statement. 

The idea that Cobain was coaxed into double-tracking his vocals because Vig said “John Lennon did it” is yet another handy conduit between Nirvana and The Beatles, showcasing Cobain’s command of pop and, well, you’ve got Grohl on top of that. What more could you want? The other five tracks, maybe.

5. Lithium

The grunge singalong that survives in clubs, pubs, bedrooms and anywhere else people have ears and lungs; Lithium is a fucked-up love song of the most vehemently infectious kind. The quiet/loud dichotomy is in full swing here and it’s another of Nevermind’s examples of perfection. 

Everyone works in tandem. Nobody is the star here; Novoselic’s bass underpins the entire thing and gets a good showing when the track breaks down, while Grohl’s powerhouse drumming is simply world class.

4. Smells Like Teen Spirit

This song defined a generation 25 years ago and it’s still pretty much perfect. You can deny your love for Nevermind’s opener all you like, but when Smells Like Teen Spirit kicks in and you haven’t heard it in a while… you will get shivers down your spine. The hairs will stand up on the back of your neck. The works.

3. Breed

A throwback to Bleach but streets ahead. Grohl’s frantic drum roll at the start is the sort of shit we dream of seeing live, leading us into a three-minute masterpiece that rumbles along at an even more frightening velocity than Drain You

The happy-go-lucky, almost surf rock bassline is yet another example of Novoselic’s minimalistic, god-like craft; less is more and the bassist only swaps things round in the chorus. It’s such a tiny thing but, when we’re this close to the top, it’s nuances like this that give Breed the edge.

2. Polly

The ‘other’ acoustic one. As murky as Something In The Way may be, Polly is downright chilling. This Cobain track presents the story of the irredeemable Gerald Friend, a man who abducted, raped and tortured a 14-year-old girl. 

Despite its grim subject matter (which is handled excellently by Cobain, providing a perfect lack of empathy) it’s a classic, and the best defence to anyone claiming Nirvana relied solely on the quiet/loud dynamic; there’s a simple bassline and Channing, in his sole drumming performance on the record, ever-so-rarely brushing his ride cymbal. And that’s it. No frills. Polly is beautifully crushing.

1. Come As You Are

Come As You Are is Cobain’s Beatles moment. It’s that good. This song transcends Nirvana (and Killing Joke, whose song Eighties heavily inspired the main riff), clawing its way through the confines of rock music and essentially creating its own pocket of pop music. 

The chorus pedal achieves an aquatic guitar effect, doing nothing to stifle the track’s appeal: a testament to Nirvana’s warping of the weird to well-accessible at will. It’s laid-back but Grohl’s drumming suggests otherwise. It’s everything you’d want from Nirvana post-Bleach. Come As You Are is Nevermind’s victory lap and arguably the ultimate Nirvana song.

Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.