Underrated Nirvana: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album
There's nobody in rock history quite like Nirvana.
The grunge icons are celebrated as one of the greatest acts to ever take the stage, yet their entire studio discography is only three albums long. That output is minuscule when compared with other legendary acts. For reference, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys are among the artists who have released three albums in one year.
While Nirvana’s quantity of material is small, its quality was unmatched. Their trio of LPs - 1989’s Bleach, 1991’s Nevermind and 1993’s In Utero - offered equal parts anger and exhilaration. Whether Kurt Cobain was screaming at the top of his lungs or delivering lyrics in fragile hush tones, his band maintained an uncanny ability to resonate with listeners. It was a sound that connected with an entire generation of music lovers. So, while the Nirvana’s time together was brief, it was undoubtedly phenomenal.
But having such a limited catalog makes identifying underrated songs a difficult task. At this point, hardcore fans have poured over every album, EP, limited edition, bootleg, alternate take and B-side they can get their hands on. Still, there are undoubtedly other fans who appreciate Nirvana’s place in rock history while being familiar with only their hits.
Below, we’ve chosen one overlooked song from each of the band’s studio albums, along with the celebrated MTV Unplugged LP.
From: Bleach (1989)
The first song from Nirvana’s first studio album, “Blew” begins with a dynamic bass riff courtesy of Krist Novoselic. Drums and guitar soon kick in, before Cobain soars across it with haunting power. The track’s ominous vibe can partially be attributed to some studio experimentation. Like most grunge acts at the time, Nirvana were in love with the “Drop-D” style of tuning. Early in recording Bleach, they tried going even further with the alternate tuning, taking into a “Drop-C.” Novoselic referred to this as a “doom pop” sound. The band eventually decided against this particular stylistic choice. “We came back the next day and decided the idea wasn’t so hot, and we recorded over most of it with things tuned back up a little,” Novoselic recalled to Seattle Weekly. “In fact, ‘Blew,’ with that growly bass, is the only survivor of that experiment.”
“Something in the Way”
From: Nevermind (1991)
Cobain originally penned “Something in the Way” in 1990 and continued tinkering with the song even as he brought it into the studio during the Nevermind sessions. Initially, the band members tried to lay down the song together, but they were unable to get anything they were happy with. Upon confirming with producer Butch Vig, Cobain recorded a solo take with his vocals and acoustic guitar. This would serve as the song’s foundation, with Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and cellist Kirk Canning adding their parts later. Though the song is quite pretty (in a morbid sort of way), there’s an undeniable darkness to “Something in the Way,” likely stemming from Cobain’s inspiration. He told Rolling Stone that he wrote the song from the perspective “like, if I was living under the bridge and I was dying of AIDS, if I was sick and I couldn’t move and I was a total street person. That was kind of the fantasy of it.”
“Serve the Servants”
From: In Utero (1993)
Deep beneath the punk and metal influences that gave birth to the grunge sound, Nirvana’s songs contained the type of melodically captivating foundations that could rival the biggest pop hits. That sensibility was similar to another world-changing band: the Beatles. Indeed, Cobain was never afraid to share his love and appreciation of the Fab Four with interviewers, often citing the group as one of his most important influences. That connection can be heard clearly in "Serve the Servants," whose structure is certainly Beatlesque. Lyrically, the track is autobiographical, with Cobain covering everything from his relationship with Courtney Love to his estranged father. The line "I tried hard to have a father but instead I had a dad / I just want you to know that I don't hate you anymore / There is nothing I could say that I haven't thought before" came directly from a message he once left his dad.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
From: MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)
No, it’s not an original. It's not even the best cover performed by Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged session (that honor goes to David Bowie's “The Man Who Sold the World”). Still, the band’s take on the traditional folk song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is something to behold. Basing their version on the rendition done by Lead Belly in 1944, Nirvana somehow delivered a performance that's both subdued but still teeming with anxiety. In the final verse, Cobain digs so deeply into himself that he strains and cracks under the emotion. Neil Young described the moment as “unearthly, like a werewolf, unbelievable.”