Playlist: All things Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" in his suicide letter, saying, "It's better to burn out than fade away."
Though it is hard to argue that the immortalized lead singer of Nirvana didn't burn out, Cobain's mark and influence on music even today shows no signs of fading away.
With the 20th anniversary of Cobain's death approaching and Nirvana's induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10 around the corner, I have compiled a playlist of some of Cobain's best hits, intertwined with some music written about the poster boy of Seattle-grunge himself.
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
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OK. So Grohl has said that the song is about the common man, not anyone in particular. But with lines like "Don't the best of them bleed it out / While the rest of them peter out" it is hard to argue that Grohl wasn't thinking about his friend and former band member even a little.
Nirvana - "Aneurysm"
Much of the success of the Seattle grunge scene could be attributed to the creative liberties taken by artists in the genre. The beginning of "Aneurysm" does just that. The song has a catchy chord progression that sometimes disappears and is replaced by the scratchy howling of Cobain's signature "guitar strangle" - not to mention the song's shifts in time signature.
R.E.M. - "Let Me In"
Lead singer Michael Stipe was a good friend of Cobain's and wrote this song with R.E.M. as a tribute to the musician shortly after his death. Stipe had tried to reach out to Cobain days before his death, lending to the title and premise of the song.
Fun fact: Cobain was a big fan of R.E.M., and Courtney Love gave the band one of Cobain's guitars. Let Me In was recorded using that guitar - after lead bassist Mike Mills restrung the Fender Stratocaster to be played righty.
Nirvana - "Lithium"
I adamantly believe this is the perfect road trip song. Why? One, because the melody is catchy. And two, more importantly, anyone who doesn't know it can easily sing along. The lyrical genius was able to put lines like "I'm so happy because today/I've found my friends/They're in my head" with a chorus of "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Sometimes, less is more.
Foo Fighters - "Friend of a Friend"
Grohl wrote "Friend of a Friend" in 1990 when he first met Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. The song is about Grohl's first impression of his bandmates. The "friend's guitar" in the song is Cobain's. The somber tone, in retrospect, sounds very Cobain-esque - almost like "Something in the Way" - and its eerie touches definitely make the listener think about Cobain and his downfall.
Nirvana - "All Apologies"
Cobain is known for his catchy, simple guitar riffs, and "All Apologies," one of his most iconic songs, definitely illustrates this. He took seemingly unrelated phrases and linked them together in a beautiful poem while disguising the lyrics in the backdrop of an incredibly simple, yet complex riff.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Tearjerker"
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were close with Nirvana; the bands collaborated multiple times. "Tearjerker" appeared on the album One Hot Minute, which the band started recording just two months after Cobain's death. The song is about how lead singer Anthony Kiedis felt when he heard news of Cobain's death. Imbued with an unusually somber tone for the Peppers, if the lyrics don't pull tears out of you, the beautiful guitar solo from then-lead guitarist Dave Navarro will.
Nirvana - "About a Girl"
Cobain admitted that "About a Girl" was a major risk. He was a big fan of pop music, but the entire album Bleach was grunge. He wasn't sure how people would react to a pop-style song on Bleach. But this tune has become a Nirvana staple and, in my opinion, is even better unplugged.
Nirvana - "Drain You"
To be honest, this whole playlist could have just been the track list of Nevermind. But "Drain You" is an interesting song that is often overlooked, especially on such a packed album. The song sums up Nirvana perfectly. It features five guitar tracks dubbed over each other, all played by Cobain, which give it a dark grungy sound. The middle section of the song, which features a squeak toy - yes, a squeak toy - played by Cobain, sounds reminiscent of Nirvana's fellow grungers, Sonic Youth.
Neil Young - "Sleeps with Angels"
Like Stipe, Young tried to reach out to Cobain before his death. He wrote this song as a tribute to his late friend. The line "He sleeps with angels / too late / he sleeps with angels / too soon," is enough to understand the pain Young was going through.
Nirvana - "Heart-Shaped Box"
The intro riff is one of the band's most recognizable. Cobain spent years trying to complete the song. He struggled to find the right vocal melody to complement the odd guitar arrangement. He eventually did and created the enticing sound of this Billboard No. 1 hit.
For Squirrels - "Mighty K.C."
The relatively unknown band had one minor hit with "Mighty K.C." The band claimed to be influenced by R.E.M. and Nirvana and wrote the song as a tribute to Cobain shortly after his death. A month before the album featuring the song was released, two members of the band were killed in a car accident.
Nirvana - "Sliver"
A trip to grandma's house seems like the last thing a grunge band would decide to write a song about. But Cobain manages to take a plot of something seemingly unimportant and turn it into something powerful. It's another fun song to sing on a road trip with friends who don't know the song, considering the chorus, and most of the song, is Cobain shouting, "Grandma, take me home!"
Foo Fighters - "These Days"
In Aug. 2012, Grohl and the Foo Fighters played at the world-famous Reading Festival in England. Almost 20 years to the day, Nirvana had played one of their most iconic performances at the same festival. While playing the intro riff of "These Days," Grohl said, "I'd like to dedicate it to a couple of people who couldn't be here tonight. This one's for Krist, and this one's for Kurt." The song might not be about Cobain, but it definitely holds some significance for Grohl.
Nirvana - "The Man Who Sold the World"
Cobain played this David Bowie cover as part of Nirvana's unplugged performance, which aired on MTV four months before Cobain's death. The album of the performance was released after his death and received the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. The emotion is evident not only in Cobain's voice, but also in his eyes during this legendary live performance.