Ranking Every Nirvana Song – Part Twenty: “Downer” vs “Help Me I’m Hungry” (PLUS – Halfway-ish mark pandering corrections post!)

We are twenty posts deep in this series! That’s 40 songs! Holy smokes!

This isn’t the true halfway mark, as there are somewhere around 60 more songs to go, but twenty posts seems like some kind of achievement or milestone or something. I guess if I had any patience, I would wait for the 25th post to start tooting my horn. But it’s been a long winter and this horn could use tooting and it ain’t going to toot itself. Really, this is a special post in part because I rolled a kinda lackluster pair of tunes and I was bummed out about it.

So in the ranking section of this post, I’m going to consider some changes that have been suggested by people over the course of this series so far and perhaps shift some of the numbers around. I’m only human! I can make mistakes! I’m not just going to double-down on something if people tell me there might be a problem with it! I’m not one of our good for nothing political leaders or podcast hosts!

Actually maybe I should start a podcast. There aren’t enough of them and also there aren’t enough jokes about how there are too many podcasts.

…onward!

Downer

Depending on what version of Bleach you had, or if you bought Incesticide first, you might have heard this first on one or the other. Not all versions of Bleach had this tune on them, but it was later included as a bonus track on post-Nevermind pressings of the record. I think it probably fits pretty well on the Bleach album, but anything can fit on Incesticide so I guess it doesn’t matter. I think that this is the only song that features on two Nirvana full-length releases. Not 100% sure that it merits the distinction, but whatever.

“Downer” is a very straightforward slice of classic hardcore-tinged punk. It stands out for being speedy as opposed to sludgy, which was the more common mode for the early “grunge” tunes of the time. This is one of the songs recorded with Dale Crover from the Melvins on drums, and the drum performance is tight and punchy. And fast. It sounds like Krist is having a hard time keeping up during the intro.

There are three main riffs/segments in this song and they are all roughly the same level of interesting to me. Honestly, it is hard to complain because the song is under two minutes in length and it does manage to rock pretty hard. But I wouldn’t’ really call this song memorable in a melodic sense, or even in a hooky sense. It’s just a dour, hard, straight-faced punk rock tune. I certainly don’t hate it, but if more of Nirvana’s material were like this, I doubt that they would have seen the success that they did.

Lolololollllll… what am I talking about, of course they wouldn’t have. “Downer” isn’t going to get played on any Classic Rock radio stations!

There’s a big classic rock radio station billboard here in North Bay with a giant picture of Kurt Cobain on it and every time I see it, I think about what Kurt would think about it and then I also think about how I’m old and all my hair is gone and that the kids today like music that scares me.

Help Me I’m Hungry

This was recorded very early on in Nirvana’s run, during a live appearance on college radio in 1987. The song didn’t make it as far as landing itself in the set of songs recorded for Bleach, or even any proper studio recordings. It isn’t hard to see why!

He does an Axl Rose style “sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-kneeees” line in this! This song sounds like a very young punk band recording a rehearsal.

Actually, let’s take a look at this live version from 1989 instead, because it’s much better. The band is playing more confidently, and there’s more colourful guitar work with the feedback and such.

Essentially just a loud-quiet-loud repetition of the same queasy four chord riff, “Help Me I’m Hungry” is nothing to write home about. Given the delivery of the lyrics, especially in the chorus, I really believe that this was written by a young man frustrated by the fact that he is fucking hungry.

Not much in this song works for me, beyond the central groove in the verses where the bass and drums are holding down the vaguely nauseating, seasick chord progression while guitar feedback squalls overtop of it. That’s got a great feel and I think it could have been salvaged to feature in a more interesting song.

It wasn’t, though. So we’re left with “Help Me I’m Hungry”, an unremarkable little sloppy punk/noise rarity that only diehard fans have heard (or want to hear).

The Ranking (and pandering)

“Downer” is better than “Help Me I’m Hungry”.

It is also okay in the same way that a lot of tracks from Bleach are okay, so I will stick it between “Scoff” and “Swap Meet”.

“Help Me I’m Hungry” is… better than “Beans”?

Now, I’ve been doing some thinking. Some of my thinking has just come about from looking at this list week after week and sometimes being surprised by where certain songs have landed. Some of my thinking has come about as a result of certain people giving me a lot of shit about where certain songs have landed. I’m not made of stone! I can listen! I can grow!

A big sticking point with some people seems to be where “Lounge Act” landed. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think that they might be right. So I’m going to SWAP “Lounge Act” and “Love Buzz”. When I really think about it, “Love Buzz” probably isn’t better than “Lounge Act” and it probably isn’t better than “Sliver”, either. So that feels like a good and correct move to me.

I’m pretty satisfied with how the Top Ten is shaping up so far, especially knowing that there are a few tracks still to go that will shift that around a little bit. “Lithium” might be a little low? We’ll see how it goes.

Actually, I think that most of the list is pretty solid. Just that one change for now. We’ll revisit things again as we near the finish line.

The updated ranking is:

  1. In Bloom
  2. Heart-Shaped Box
  3. About A Girl
  4. Scentless Apprentice
  5. Territorial Pissings
  6. Sappy
  7. Dumb
  8. Very Ape
  9. Lithium
  10. Serve The Servants
  11. On A Plain
  12. Drain You
  13. Polly
  14. Lounge Act
  15. Sliver
  16. Love Buzz
  17. Blew
  18. School
  19. Rape Me
  20. Been A Son
  21. Endless Nameless
  22. Son of a Gun
  23. Curmudgeon
  24. Moist Vagina
  25. Mr Moustache
  26. Marigold
  27. Paper Cuts
  28. Lake of Fire
  29. Swap Meet
  30. Downer
  31. Scoff
  32. Aero Zeppelin
  33. Even In His Youth
  34. Oh, The Guilt
  35. Pen Cap Chew
  36. Do You Love Me?
  37. Ain’t It A Shame
  38. Clean Up Before She Comes
  39. Help Me I’m Hungry
  40. Beans

“In Bloom” is still the greatest Nirvana song of all time!

Live Clip of the Week!

Couldn’t find live video of this one! Ah well.

Author: markmeeks

squid goals

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