Ranking Every Nirvana Song – Part Three: “Sliver” vs “Ain’t It A Shame”

Last week’s entry wasn’t the close contest than the first post was, and this one seems to have turned out to be even less of an even match.

I received a question last week as to whether or not I would be covering B-sides and covers as a part of this series. The answers are yes and yes. This week we’ll take a look at our first cover song, and I’m sure that a B-side or two will pop up in the near future.

This week’s tracks, in a head-to-head contest… are not much of a contest. The tricky part will be slotting them into the overall ranking, which will prove to be more and more difficult every single week.


One of the truly standout tracks from the wildly varied Incesticide collection, “Sliver” is one of the most unabashedly poppy songs of Nirvana’s career. Our last post highlighted the legendary bass riff at the core of “Lounge Act” and we’re picking things back up on another of Krist Novoselic’s moments of genius.

How many people have you seen pick up a bass guitar and start to plunk out the intro to “Sliver”? I’ve seen people just twiddling around on this bass lick on standard guitars. It’s a mile-wide hook and it is fun as hell to play. And it’s a fun song to sing. I’m sure that there will be naysayers, but I would place “Sliver” in the top five Nirvana songs of all time in terms of how much fun they are to perform covers of. Pile yourself into a garage full of dumdums with instruments and let this one rip! Instant good time!

This tune is also a great example of the hypnotic use of repetition that became a hallmark of so many of Nirvana’s best tracks. The “gramma take me home” refrain drills into your skull in a manner that marries the song’s feeling to the song’s substance on a more seamless level than most of the band’s other material.

I don’t have a bad thing to say about this song. It’s one of the greats. The video is also a great snapshot of the band having a good time together, which is always a pleasure to see. Interesting to see Dave Grohl in the video when the recording features Mudhoney’s Dan Peters on drums.

I just included that last sentence as a Nirvana trivia flex for all of the diehards. I’m the real deal, baby.

Ain’t It A Shame

Nirvana recorded a pile of cover tunes in their short career, and “Ain’t it a Shame” is… one of them.

This cover of a Ledbelly song is not actually Nirvana, strictly speaking. This is a recording from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Ledbelly cover band called “The Jury” that Kurt and Krist from Nirvana formed with The Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Mark Pickerel. The idea of Kurt Cobain and Mark Lanegan actually making some music together seems pretty interesting, but that’s about as interesting as this gets.

The track is fine. It’s a punked-out version of a classically structured blues song and it bops along with confidence and swagger. It is totally fun to hear Kurt wailing out this tune and probably would have been loads of fun to hear live. Krist also takes the bass for a walk (as they say), which is always a good time.

When it comes down to it, though, this doesn’t hold much for me. It’s, like, a textbook rarity, culled from a project that didn’t have the legs to produce anything more enduring. This is the first I’ve listened to it in many years, and I probably won’t dig it up again for a long while.

The Ranking

So… “Sliver” is obviously better than “Ain’t It A Shame”. All of the album tracks that we’ve looked at so far are better than “Ain’t It A Shame”.

But where the hell do we place “Sliver”? I think I can comfortably rank it above “Been A Son”. I’m also pretty confident that it’s not quite as good as “Territorial Pissings”. Things get tougher as I look between “Sliver” and “Lounge Act”, though.

These are both songs that sort of stand apart from others in terms of delivery and tone. “Lounge Act” and its pressure-cooker intensity versus the innocent and brash pop sound of “Sliver”. It’s a toss-up. I feel as though “Sliver” might just have the edge over “Lounge Act” and serves as a more significant track.

But it pains me to say so.

The updated ranking is:

  1. Territorial Pissings
  2. Sliver
  3. Lounge Act
  4. Been A Son
  5. Scoff
  6. Ain’t It A Shame

Territorial Pissings is the still greatest Nirvana song of all time!

To check out the first post, go ahead and click here.

Author: markmeeks

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