In writing up this post week after week, I have come to realize that I have a whole pile of songs to get through. I have also realized that sometimes these posts are going to generate more interest than other times. We have been pretty lucky so far, usually drawing either two standout songs, or pairing a lesser-known track with a real superstar track.
This week, we’ve got two songs that I love that will maybe be seen as mid-tier entries. This isn’t, say, “Beans” vs “Beeswax”, but I don’t think we’re looking at anything that’s going to top the list today. But whatever, these songs are great. Can’t wait to listen to them.
The opening track on Bleach, and one of the most sludgy, grimy songs in Nirvana’s catalogue, “Blew” is a perennial personal favourite. The detuned guitars are low and chunky, creating a vibe that I found impossibly heavy when I first got my hands on this record. I don’t really consider many of Nirvana’s songs to be “grunge”, strictly speaking. This song, though? This song is grunge.
As a guitarist who has consistently been pigeonholed into being a bass player in rock bands through my life for some reason (I guess I have a bass player vibe), the opening to this song was always super inspiring to me. The fuzzed-out tone and huge riff really set the table for the rest of the song.
This is one of the rare tunes where – although I like the verse and the chorus a lot – the guitar solo is maybe the highlight of the song for me. It’s just a tremendous example of a Kurt Cobain guitar solo, winding and diving places that you’d never expect. All the while, the bass guitar is somehow holding down the groove and showboating with cool embellishments at the same time.
This song is terrific. Also, the line “Here is another word that rhymes with shame” is still hilarious to me.
Lake of Fire
There was some question about whether or not I would be including covers in the overall list of Nirvana songs. I’ve already included a studio version of “Ain’t It A Shame”, so obviously covers are on the table. But do I include live covers?
I think in the case of anything featured on the Nirvana Unplugged in New York album, I have to. It’s an essential album and the covers performed at this show are some of Nirvana’s most enduring recordings. So, according to my arbitrary system of rules… these are fair game.
I adore the whole Unplugged set. I think that many people do. Some combination of the caliber of performance and the context of the album’s recording and subsequent release gives it a haunting air. Live Nirvana recordings are typically great, but this was something different, especially when paired with the video presentation. Kurt was in top form vocally, and this concert special still feels like watching a ghost.
The three Meat Puppets covers that they performed that night were all very strong, and “Lake of Fire” was certainly the best-received of the three in my circles at the time. It is the hookiest of the three songs, featuring a great chorus that begged to be sung along to, and a bluesy stomp. Kurt’s performance of the opening “where do bad folks go when they die” line lands as chillingly as it ever did, and the guitar work throughout is terrific.
This tune wasn’t my favourite of the Meat Puppets covers at the time, and I don’t think that it’s my favourite now. I’m more of a “Plateau” guy. But I do enjoy it and it holds a well-deserved place in the pantheon of notable Nirvana tracks.
I can pretty quickly make a call that “Blew” edges out “Lake of Fire”.
The ranking gets more difficult and probably more arbitrary every week. “Blew” definitely lands above “Scoff” and “Swap Meet”, as it’s a much more significant track from Bleach. I think that it will edge just ahead of “Been A Son”, but it will not quite best “Lounge Act”.
“Lake of Fire” will similarly beat “Scoff” and “Swap Meet”, but I do not think that it has the mustard to move above of “Been A Son”.
The updated ranking is:
- Scentless Apprentice
- Territorial Pissings
- Serve The Servants
- Love Buzz
- Lounge Act
- Been A Son
- Lake of Fire
- Swap Meet
- Oh, The Guilt
- Pen Cap Chew
- Ain’t It A Shame
“Scentless Apprentice” is still the greatest Nirvana song of all time!