Ranking Every Nirvana Song – Part Fourteen: “Polly” vs “Sappy”

Welcome back, Nirvana enthusiasts!

Last week’s tunes were somewhat linked by being in a certain noisy niche (although wildly different in their approach). This week’s tunes are connected by an even more esoteric categorization: They were both recorded multiple times, in multiple modes.

“Polly” is most famously known though its appearance on Nevermind, presented on that album as a stripped-back and glum song in a folk vein. It appeared on the fantastic …MTV Unplugged in New York album arranged in the same manner. It is also on the Incesticide collection, billed as “New Wave Polly”. I am debating whether or not to include this version as its own review later on. It’s definitely an included track on what I consider to be one of Nirvana’s “studio” album (albeit a collection of studio rarities), but it is really a less-essential version of a song found elsewhere. But this version is so different, and packed into a mainline release that it may deserve to be separated from the version that we are looking at today.

“New Wave Polly” will definitely rank lower than “Polly” proper. So I’m not sure that it absolutely needs to be included. I’m sure that I’ll make a call on this at some point.

“Sappy” (also occassionally known as “Verse Chorus Verse” – a song title which was later attributed to another rarity) is one of the great Nirvana b-sides. There are a number of different versions of this track floating around, from scratchy solo demo recordings to full-band studio versions. There are recordings of this song going back to the late 80s, but we’re going to be looking at the 1993 Steve Albini recorded version, because – spoiler alert – it’s one of the greatest Nirvana recordings of all time.

I’m tipping my hand on this one, but nobody who reads this blog gives a shit.


First, I’ve gotta say: The animated album art on this video is truly hilarious and tasteless. Brilliant work.

I’ve always loved the way that this recording sounds. So dry and unvarnished. Barely any instrumentation. It fits the song like a glove. The intimate recording feels so warm and inviting, it’s kind of brilliantly at odds with the chilling picture painted by the song’s lyrics. The inspiration for this song and its lyrics have been covered and deconstructed countless times at this point, so I’m not going to go into it. But I do think, even 30 years later, it’s pretty wild that a song on a record this popular would have lyrical content as obliquely dark as the lyrics found here.

Tough to slag this song. It’s as mournfully beautiful as anything Nirvana would ever record, and I think that the recording holds up remarkably well. Also, for those of us who got acoustic guitars long before we would ever play electric guitars, this track was an essential touchstone in learning to play and having it sound somewhat like the album.


“Sappy” loomed large in my Nirvana fandom for many, many years. Originally found as the “hidden track” on the first No Alternative AIDS relief compilation, there was something fascinating to me about the chord progression and vibe of this song that had me listening to it over and over and over again. I still love it.

The lyrics, now, sound pretty funny to me. As a teen, I thought that the image conjured here – a being kept in a jar in a laundry room fooling themselves into thinking that their captor is benevolent – was brilliant stuff. I thought it was about religion at the time, but now I think that maybe this was just a song that Kurt wrote about his pet turtle.

This song features:

  • A great vocal performance
  • Drums that almost have a slowed-down surf-rock feel
  • Some very cool bass noodles
  • Very good loud/quiet/loud dynamics
  • One of the best Nirvana guitar solos on record

Look, I don’t know what else you want. This is an all-time banger.

The Ranking

Going to go ahead and act on my feelings, here.

I like “Sappy” more than I like “Polly”. That might ruffle some feathers. Parrot joke.

“Polly” is still a very fine song. Not my favourite off of Nevermind, but it’s an album with no bad songs. I think that I will rank it just below “Drain You”. Wait, why is “Lounge Act” so low? Somebody should really talk to whoever is ranking things.

The highest ranked “rarity” on this list so far is “Moist Vagina” at #16. “Sappy” is going to blow the hell out of that. I’m sticking it in front of “Very Ape”. That’s right.

The updated ranking is:

  1. Heart-Shaped Box
  2. Scentless Apprentice
  3. Territorial Pissings
  4. Sappy
  5. Very Ape
  6. Lithium
  7. Serve The Servants
  8. On A Plain
  9. Drain You
  10. Polly
  11. Love Buzz
  12. Sliver
  13. Lounge Act
  14. Blew
  15. Been A Son
  16. Endless Nameless
  17. Son of a Gun
  18. Moist Vagina
  19. Mr Moustache
  20. Paper Cuts
  21. Lake of Fire
  22. Swap Meet
  23. Scoff
  24. Even In His Youth
  25. Oh, The Guilt
  26. Pen Cap Chew
  27. Ain’t It A Shame
  28. Clean Up Before She Comes

“Heart-Shaped Box” is still the greatest Nirvana song of all time!

Live Clip of the Week!

Kurt’s vocals sound pretty strange here. Possibly because he’ll be ODing on pills within a week of this recording? Who knows. Still, neat that they were playing this live.

Author: markmeeks

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