Kurt Cobain’s Hits: Smells Like Teen Spirit, You Know You’re Right, Aneurysm, In Bloom
Kurt Cobain’s Biggest Hit
Kurt Cobain is best known for writing the iconic song Smells Like Teen Spirit. It’s a haunting and introspective track that showcases Cobain’s talent as a songwriter.
Cobain grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, a tough coastal logging town. He struggled with depression and took a variety of drugs to cope.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Despite Kurt Cobain’s dismissal of his biggest hit following its sudden pop mainstream penetration (you can’t blame him, it does make you wonder how anyone could possibly enjoy playing this song live), the simple melodic hooks and progressively attacked vocal screams reworked with raw power by his bandmates on the studio version of Nevermind still make this the best song to come out of the grunge era. The riff also has some of the most infectious guitar chord progressions to ever hit a radio playlist (although the riff does resemble that from Boston’s 1976 smash More Than A Feeling, it doesn’t quite work in the same way).
Featuring a janitor dancing around as part of the video, it is one of Nirvana’s most iconic songs and captured the nihilistic attitude of Generation X in the Pacific Northwest. The lyrics are cryptic and nihilistic, but the overall feeling is of freedom and non-conformity. It is also one of the few rock anthems to incorporate an acoustic guitar.
You Know You’re Right
Kurt Cobain wrote numerous songs with religious references, but none are more poignant or lyrically powerful than this one. It’s a classic tale of a man who turns to religion as a way to cope with his grief and despair. It’s a dark and haunting song that’s also a true testament to Cobain’s amazing writing abilities.
This song is a prime example of the complex themes that would become a mainstay in Nirvana’s music. Cobain’s painful childhood experiences informed much of their music, and it showed in this song. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s still a great tune that highlights the hypocrisy of many people.
It’s a pretty sad song to hear, but the guitar riffs and drums are absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most memorable songs ever recorded by Nirvana. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing this song. Even today, the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl doesn’t really enjoy playing it live.
Despite its short duration, Aneurysm is one of the most complex songs Nirvana ever wrote. Cobain’s lyrics often walk a fine line between rock cliche and impassioned believer statements, but this song takes it further. Its music is equally multi-layered, pitting grough melodies against glorious thrash riffs and flourishes of death metal to soundtrack a story of heroin, physical collapse, love and discomfort.
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Many people assume that this song is about heroin since Kurt was a well-documented drug addict. However, it is actually about Toby Vail of Bikini Kill. She was his first girlfriend and he would get so nervous around her that he would throw up. The “shoot the s—” lyric refers to her not shooting heroin but is also a common slang term for talking bulls–t.
A deceptively jaunty acoustic folk riff masks one of Nirvana’s most thematically harrowing cuts, in which Cobain interprets a local murder-rape story. Written during the Bleach era, the song recounts the harrowing experiences of a young girl who was kidnapped after a punk show by serial rapist and kidnapper Gerald Friend, and then imprisoned in his home.
While the lyrics to In Bloom are cryptic and require a close reading, they’re also clear in their intent; a call for people to reject the sex industry, and a warning against complicity with serial killers. Sturgill Simpson’s country take on the track may feel like a departure from Nirvana’s grunge sound, but it drives home the same raw emotion, and is a reminder that great music transcends genre.
A perfect mix of rugged rock and dreamy, addled grunge flow, In Bloom is a rumination on mental health issues. Cobain’s vocals are so fragile and reeking of substance abuse that it’s almost impossible to listen without wincing, but when the chorus hits, it’s hard to forget.