Today in oh no—how is that possible—I feel so old news: Nirvana's groundbreaking album Nevermind turns 25 today. Few (if any) records have become so entwined with a city's identity as Nevermind did with Seattle in the early '90s. With that in mind, here's our totally (not) objective ranking of the album's tracks.
13. "Endless, Nameless"
You see kids, before popular music began solely worshiping at the alter of streaming, there were these neat things called hidden tracks. Bands would place an extra unlisted song at the end of their records. They were neat. Nevermind boasted "Endless, Nameless," the grunge equivalent of a rock jam. It's a distorted and fuzzy onslaught of noise. It's the closing counter to the brilliant produced polish of the album as a whole, almost a goodbye letter to the underground scene from which the band emerged.
12. "Something in the Way"
It should be stated that there isn't a bad song on Nevermind. That said, Kurt Cobain's haunting vocal delivery on the acoustic guitar and cello infused "Something in the Way" lacks the punch that the rest of the album radiates. The number works as a moody tone painting, but it's hardly peak Nirvana.
11. "Lounge Act"
Despite showcasing Krist Novoselic's knack for crafting excellent pop bass lines right off the bat (this may be his second best riff behind "Sliver"), "Lounge Act" suffers contextually in the bigger picture of Nevermind only because the songs higher on this list bear so much similarity but feature stronger hooks, lyrics, or emotion. "Lounge Act" almost serves as the de facto "generic" Nirvana song (though having a track that's this good as your stylistic floor is a great sign).
10. "Stay Away"
"I'd rather be dead than be cool." Ever a man of contradictions, "Stay Away" distills Cobain's major internal conflict: he wanted to be the world's biggest rock star but wanted none of the attention. When he repeatedly screeches "Stay, stay awaaaaaaaaaaay!" over the punk barrage during the choruses, it's an (ineffective) audible stiff arm attempting to keep the "wrong" type of people away from Nirvana, despite every aspect of Nevermind being tailor made to be huge. The sharp edges of "Stay Away" can't escape the album's soft wrappings.
9. "Come As You Are"
The song that best fits the underwater image of Nevermind's iconic cover, "Come As You Are" revels in sounding perpetually submerged; sinisterly lurking underneath and waiting for its moment to emerge. Led by Cobain's best single note-based guitar riff on the album, the record's second single deliberately lurks, extending its frail open arms of acceptance to weirdo outsiders everywhere.
8. "In Bloom"
While not Nirvana's biggest single by any measure, "In Bloom" might be the clearest showcase of the band's uncanny pop sensibility. Paced by metronoming sharp snapping snare strikes by Grohl, the chorus possesses an undeniable back-and-forth pop sway that almost commands arms to be raised and moved right and left to the beat. "He is the one who likes all the pretty songs / and he likes to sing along..." "In Bloom" makes us all "He."
The fact that 30 million people bought an album with a sickeningly dark track about captive torture from the nonplussed perspective of the torturer remains rather astounding. The bare bones tune's twistedness doesn't even derive so much from lines like "Polly wants a cracker / Maybe she would like some food / She asks me to untie her/ A chase would be nice for a few" as much as the emotionless tone in Cobain's voice while reciting the words. In the context of a pop record, it's a strange non-sequitur that effectively makes your skin crawl.
6. "Territorial Pissings"
Friendly reminder: Dave Grohl is a #$%&@!& force of nature on the drums.
Nirvana doesn't fully let loose the speedy fury of its punk and metal roots until track 4 on Nevermind, and "Breed" propels the rest of the album forward with its blistering momentum. Cobain takes the chance to to playfully poke fun at the inane nature of lustful attraction and coupling ("I don't mean to stare, we don't have to breed / We could plant a house, we could build a tree / I don't even care, we could have all three"), while professing an aspirational apathy to match the sonic vibe ("I don't care / I don't care / I don't care / I don't care / I don't care / Care if it's old").
4. "On a Plain"
The most underrated gem on Nevermind, "On a Plain" might be overlooked because the cleverness of the song's titular line—"I'm on a plain / I can't complain"—perhaps seems a bit too obvious in retrospect. Don't let that distract from the tune's pure sweet poppy hookiness. (I may love this song better than you, but I don't find it wrong, so what should I do? Rank it fourth, I suppose.)
Cobain's best expression of the beauty that exists in instability and ugliness, the unassailable soft-verse-loud-chorus interplay and blissfully catchy "Yeah, yeah, yeah" sing-along chorus helps "Lithium" remain a beloved outcast anthem more than two decades later. There's an inherent truth in the vulnerability and emotional messiness of someone that can simultaneously find themselves feeling "so happy," "so ugly," "so excited," and "so lonely." When Cobain continually belts "I'm not gonna crack," it's clear that he's repeating the phrase ad nauseam in an attempt to convince himself more than the listener. He's certainly not the only one to employ that tactic.
2. "Drain You"
"Drain You" is perfect. The instantly catchy opening rock clang of Cobain's relatively clean guitar chords as he belts "One baby to another says, 'I'm lucky to have met you,'" succumbs quickly to the powerfully unforgiving and amplifying crash of Novoselic and Grohl's rhythm section. All the little musical details are directed perfectly by producer Butch Vig: the overdubbing of Cobain's vocals and guitars, the drum rolls that lead up to each new verse, and all the assorted hisses and screams peppered into building slow burn of the breakdown before it gives way to one more glorious verse-chorus repetition. Plus, the song employs Cobain's best metaphor for love: vanishing twin syndrome, where one fetal twin in utero absorbs the other. It's something that sucks up your very life force until you no longer exist. You know... love.
1. "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
There's just no denying "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Any argument against it taking the top spot is simply trying too hard to be clever. In a vacuum, the mega hit single isn't the best song on Nevermind, but we don't live in a frickin' vacuum. It's a song comprised of fantastic elements across the board—Cobain's intelligible yet immediately visceral lyrical delivery, Grohl's thundering drums, eerie minimalist ringing of Cobain's two-note guitar riff during the verses, the masterclass on soft-loud verse-chorus dynamics—that still manages to be a case where the sum is greater than its parts. It was a sonic shriek into the ether that reverberates to this day.
The success of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" didn't only push Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene to the mainstream, it elevated that stature of the city itself. What other song has a stronger tie to a city that's not directly about said metropolis? There are millions of people around the world that can hear those iconic opening four distorted power chords and not only identify it as Nirvana, but also immediately think, "Seattle." Name one other song with that has that power. We'll be waiting.