7 Best Nirvana Songs, Ranked By Fans

Nirvana, the iconic grunge band fronted by the late Kurt Cobain, left a lasting impact on the music world with their groundbreaking and influential sound. Their discography is filled with hits that have stood the test of time and continue to resonate with fans old and new. So much so that even almost 30 years after the death of the lead singer, fans are still debating over what their greatest hits are. From their breakout song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to lesser-known gems, we will take a closer look at the music that solidified Nirvana’s place in music history. To determine the best Nirvana songs of all time, we researched across eight expert reviews. The tracks on our list are the most recommended by critics in our research. Let us know what you think in the comments. Click through to see the results!

The List: Best Nirvana Songs, According to Music Fans

7. “Drain You” (1991)

“Drain You,” one of Nirvana’s love songs, takes the final spot on today’s ranking and was a personal favorite of Nirvana’s late front man, as noted by Rolling Stone. Despite the rumors surrounding its inspiration, the song’s universal themes of love and loss make it relatable to a wide audience.

Described by U Discover Music as a “dynamic and anthemic rocker,” “Drain You” continues to stand the test of time as one of Nirvana’s most beloved tracks. The raw energy and emotion that Cobain poured into the song are palpable, creating a hauntingly beautiful listening experience. “Drain You” showcases the band’s ability to blend catchy melodies with gritty instrumentals, solidifying their place as icons in the music world.

Noted by Paste to be another track about Cobain’s tumultuous relationship with Tobi Vail, she even “unintentionally contributed to the famous verse ‘It is now my duty to completely drain you,'” which was something said to Cobain during the couple’s breakup. The lyrics of “Drain You” are both cryptic and deeply personal, further adding to the song’s allure and impact on listeners. The contrast between the upbeat tempo and dark themes in the song perfectly encapsulates the grunge era and Nirvana’s unique sound. Even decades after its release, “Drain You” continues to resonate with fans and new listeners alike, solidifying its status as a timeless classic in rock music history.

6. “Sliver” (1990)

Described by The Guardian as being “a gleeful retelling of a childhood visit to Cobain’s grandparents,” “Sliver” captures the essence of nostalgia and youthful innocence. The playful lyrics and energetic riffs make it a standout track in Nirvana’s setlist. The song’s unpolished sound perfectly reflects the band’s punk rock roots, while Cobain’s anguished vocals add a layer of depth and emotion to the music.

“Sliver” tells the story of a young boy feeling abandoned while also enjoying the finer things in life, such as his grandparents’ cozy home and delicious meals. According to Kerrang, this song is “known by Kurt as ‘the most ridiculous pop song I’ve ever written.'” The juxtaposition of dark lyrics with upbeat music is a hallmark of Nirvana’s style, creating a sense of complexity and raw authenticity in their music. “Sliver” is overall a reminder of the power of music to transport us back to simpler times and evoke a range of emotions within us.

Noted by Paste as having the “appropriate dose of silliness,” Nirvana reminds listeners that even in the midst of pain and confusion, there can still be moments of joy and lightness. Through the song’s nostalgic and introspective lyrics, Nirvana invites us to reflect on our own experiences of childhood and family, making it a timeless and relatable piece of music that continues to resonate with fans of all ages.

5. “All Apologies” (1993)

Noted by The Guardian as sounding like it’s sung by a “man crushed by fame,” “All Apologies” is an introspective song that delves into the complexities of success and inner turmoil. The lyrics express a sense of regret and resignation, painting a picture of someone grappling with the weight of their own celebrity. Ultimately, “All Apologies” is a poignant reflection on the price of fame and the struggle to find peace within oneself.

Many, including Rolling Stone, describe “All Apologies” as sounding like nothing short of a “suicide note,” even more now after Cobain’s death. The lyrics, filled with self-doubt and self-criticism, seem to echo the inner demons that plagued the Nirvana frontman. Despite its melancholy nature, “All Apologies” remains a powerful and enduring reminder of the fragility of fame and the toll it can take on even the most talented and troubled souls. The legacy of Cobain and this song continue to resonate with fans and music lovers alike, serving as a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by those in the spotlight.

Kerrang states that Cobain was noted as commenting that “All Apologies” represents the “peaceful, happy comfort” he wanted for his wife and daughter, a stark contrast to the demons he often experienced in his own life. The lyrics of the song reflect a sense of resignation and acceptance as Cobain grapples with the complexities of his public persona. Despite his tragic end, the message of “All Apologies” endures as a testament to the struggles of mental health and the pressure of fame in the music industry. It serves as a reminder of the human cost of artistic brilliance and the need for compassion and understanding in a world that often demands perfection.

4. “Aneurysm” (1991)

According to The Guardian, this song that was demoted to the “B-side” of “Nevermind” for baffling reasons. Despite its initial relegation, “Aneurysm” has become a fan favorite and a staple of the band’s live performances. The song’s infectious energy and intense lyrics showcase the band at its peak, capturing the grunge sound that defined the ’90s. With its famous guitar riffs and Kurt Cobain’s signature vocals, “Aneurysm” remains a standout track that truly encapsulates the spirit of Nirvana.

Noted by Rolling Stone as being about “Kurt Cobain’s tumultuous relationship with Bikini Kill drummer Toby Vail,” this song is an emotional expression of the band’s inner turmoil and personal struggles. The powerful and visceral nature of the song resonates with fans on a deep level, making it a standout in Nirvana’s discography. Its intense energy makes it a must-listen for any fan of the grunge genre.

Described as being a song with “simplicity” by NME but combined with Kurt’s sensitivity, “Aneurysm” is a fan favorite. The unfiltered lyrics combined with Cobain’s vocals create a sense of vulnerability that is both captivating and relatable. The pulsating guitar riffs and frenetic drum beats drive the song forward, building to a cathartic climax that leaves listeners feeling both exhausted and exhilarated. “Aneurysm” stands as a powerful testament to Nirvana’s ability to channel their inner demons into music that speaks to the struggles and complexities of life, solidifying their status as icons of the grunge era.

3. “Heart-Shaped Box” (1993)

Noted by Kerrang as being the “comeback lead single” off “In Utero,” this is a song named for a gift Courtney Love had bestowed upon Cobain. It is an abrasive track that showcases Nirvana’s ability to seamlessly blend raw emotion with powerful instrumentation. The lyrics, filled with dark imagery and cryptic metaphors, reflect Cobain’s inner turmoil and struggle with fame. The song’s infectious chorus and dynamic shifts in intensity make it a standout song on an album that is widely considered to be one of the band’s best.

The Guardian notes how “In Utero” has a reputation for being an “unsettling farewell note from a doomed man at the end of his tether,” and no greater song on the album represents that than “Heart-Shaped Box.” With its memorable guitar riffs and Cobain’s honest lyrics, “Heart-Shaped Box” captures the essence of Nirvana’s signature sound. The track’s juxtaposition of beauty and darkness creates a sense of unease that is both captivating and disturbing. It is no wonder that this song has become a classic in the grunge genre.

Rolling Stone reports that, in a 1994 interview with Love, she claimed that Kurt had written “Heart Shaped Box” in five minutes. Kurt Cobain’s ability to write such a powerful song in such a short amount of time speaks to his incredible talent as a songwriter. The raw emotion and intensity in “Heart-Shaped Box” is palpable, drawing listeners in with its poignant lyrics. In the end, “Heart-Shaped Box” remains a testament to Cobain’s brilliance and the enduring legacy of Nirvana.

2. “Lithium” (1991)

Noted as an “expert example of Nirvana’s mastery of tension” by AV Club, “Lithium” builds slowly, with Kurt Cobain’s haunting vocals floating over the melancholic melody. The song’s emotional depth is palpable as the lyrics explore themes of inner turmoil and the search for peace. As the track reaches its climax, the intensity of Cobain’s voice combined with the crashing instrumentals create a release that is both powerful and cathartic.

This song is the perfect “description of the ups and downs” that come with mania and depression, as described by Live 365. Nirvana’s “Lithium,” though often overshadowed by “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” remains a standout track in the band’s discography. It showcases Nirvana’s ability to craft honest music that resonates with listeners on a deep emotional level. The juxtaposition of Cobain’s vulnerable vocals with the explosive instrumentation exemplifies the band’s signature sound. “Lithium” serves as a reminder of Nirvana’s ability to capture the complexities of the human experience in their songs.

Reported by Kerrang as “brilliantly” blurring the “lines between internal and external grievance,” this song continues to be a fan favorite and a staple in alternative rock music. Its themes, mixed with Cobain’s vocals, create an immersive experience for listeners. The lyrics touch on themes of inner turmoil and personal struggle, resonating with fans who have experienced similar feelings. The song’s dynamic shifts and powerful chorus further showcase Nirvana’s talent for creating music that is both introspective and anthemic. Overall, “Lithium” remains a powerful track in Nirvana’s songbook, continuing to be celebrated for its emotional depth and musical brilliance.

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

Though no “real” Nirvana fan, whatever that means, would ever put this song at number one, its impact cannot be overstated. Though “overfamiliarity” may make it hard to recall, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was huge upon its release, as noted by The Guardian. The song was a defining anthem of the grunge movement and solidified Nirvana’s place in the halls of one of the rock greats. Its raw energy and rebellious attitude resonated with a generation, and its influence can still be felt in modern music.

AV Club describes the song’s “control and tension” as the reason for its staying power long after its release. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a turning point for not only Nirvana but the world of music, as it marked a shift towards a new sound and attitude in the industry. The song’s success catapulted the band to mainstream fame and paved the way for other alternative rock bands to gain recognition. Its catchy chorus and powerful instrumentation continue to captivate listeners, making it a classic that will always be remembered as a pivotal moment in music history.

Featuring an iconic riff and famous for being “responsible for one of the most exciting live TV moments ever seen,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became the soundtrack of a generation disillusioned with the status quo (NME). The raw emotion in Kurt Cobain’s vocals resonated with fans around the world who were looking for something different in the music scene. The song’s rebellious spirit and anti-establishment lyrics still strikes a chord with listeners, solidifying Nirvana’s place as one of the most influential bands of their time. 


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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