The 10 best Nirvana songs, as chosen by Deadly Circus Fire

Nirvana band
Nirvana
(Image: © Getty Images)

It’s hard to think about alternative music and not think about Nirvana. The torchbearers of the Seattle scene that became known as grunge, the trio’s blend of pop sensibilities, distortion and melancholy captured the zeitgeist of the ‘90s and wove its way into the tapestry of popular music. Releasing three studio albums in their short lifespan, they have influenced countless bands over the past two decades, including London’s progressive metallers Deadly Circus Fire. We caught up with guitarist Save Addario to talk about the grunge icons and the ten songs he deems the best Nirvana songs of all time.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

“As the story goes, Kurt Cobain came up with the title after his friend Kathleen Hanna wrote the phrase ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on his wall. This song arguably changed everything and it isn’t just about Nirvana taking grunge worldwide. Smells like Teen Spirit is probably the most covered song and continues to be interpreted by hundreds of musicians from the rock and metal to pop and hip-hop. This is the anthem that every band would love to write.”

About A Girl

“Kurt was one of the few people in music history who could perfectly blend pop vibes with punk discipline. But for me, About A Girl remains the only true Nirvana ‘pop’ song. It’s played in a straightforward nature with no attempts at sabotaging it. Sources tell us that this song was written after Cobain spent an entire day listening to Meet The Beatles on repeat. At the time, he was trying to keep his pop songwriting instinct hidden and he was disinclined to integrate the song into the the album for fear of upsetting the band’s grunge fanbase.”

School

School is a classic example of minimalist grunge – a song made with just two riffs. It enters life on a wave of dark and gloomy feedback to then breaking out in a simple yet ferocious riff. Cobain’s vocals sound damaged, having escaped domestication and finally becoming wild. The meaning of this track is made clear through Kurt’s repeated cries of ‘No recess!’, portraying an angry yet unsurprising yell of someone who’s been ripped off.”

Come As You Are

“Although this track has been accused of plagiarism, the intro riff is one of my all time favourites. For me, Come As You Are is the most interesting song on Nevermind because of its subject matter. Come As You Are teaches a great lesson about today’s world and a general rule in life: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The weirdest thing about this song are Cobain’s lyrics where he says ‘I swear I don’t have a gun’. A shocking premonition.”

Lithium

“A rough sound and extreme vocals. Lithium was not an easy song to record for Cobain, demonstrated by the fact that he threw his guitar and started screaming after he couldn’t get it to sound right in the studio. The screaming, however, was accidentally recorded and became the bonus track Endless, Nameless.”

On A Plain

“This is a song simply about writing a song. Kurt Cobain explores many elements of songwriting, settling in the end on simplicity, stating that he’s ‘on a plain’ (or at a high point in life) and that he ‘can’t complain.’ The best part of the track has to be Dave Grohl demolishing the kit. What’s also interesting is the eerie outro where the haunting vocal harmony remains while the rest of the track fades out.”

Sliver

“This is probably alt-rock’s finest outburst! Silver is a straightforward track with addictive and simple lyrics written by Cobain. On the other hand, its B-side Dive is a hammering track that represents the band’s sound through all of their previous albums.”

Drain You

“Without a doubt, this track is in my top five songs on the entire Nevermind album. It’s a powerful and melodically menacing love song with a middle section that reminds me of the early Pink Floyd/Sonic Youth – a section that Dave Grohl once called the Bohemian Rhapsody of Nevermind. The space in which the guitar solo should be playing in a typical pop song is turned into an absent, ambient flood of sound. Nirvana wrote most songs before they began recording the album, but Drain You was written on the spot at the studio during sessions. Cobain never revealed who inspired the love song, but it was written shortly after he met Courtney Love.”

Serve The Servants

“Hands down to one of the most underrated Nirvana songs. It’s Cobain’s most autobiographical song, as well as a sarcastic acknowledgment of the end of a circle. Most people will disagree on this, but for me it’s one of the best songs they have ever put on tape.”

All Apologies (MTV Unplugged version)

“Listening to All Apologies today, my feelings have remained the same throughout the years. Cobain’s artistry makes All Apologies an open book, with no need of hiding behind his cryptic lyrics. I believe this song was his last chance to let all his fears go and to say his last goodbye to the Nirvana faithful.”

Deadly Circus Fire are touring the UK this February. Check out their new video for Ghost now.

Deadly Circus Fire UK tour dates

09 Feb: Cobblestones, Bridgewater
10 Feb: The Vault, Leicester
11 Feb: Satan’s Hollow, Manchester
12 Feb: Garage Attic, Glasgow
13 Feb: Opium, Edinburgh
14 Feb: Jumpin’ Jacks, Newcastle
15 Feb: Subside, Birminham
16 Feb: The Lounge, London
17 Feb: The Junction, Ashford

What Nirvana mean to me, by Frank Carter