Kurt Cobain’s Influences: The Beatles, The Meat Puppets, The Pixies, The Ramones, The Stones
The Beatles Are One of the Biggest Influences on Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain led a musical and underground movement that will forever change the way we look at music. He formed Nirvana with bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl and paved the way for grunge and alternative rock.
He was also a feminist, wearing dresses on stage and displaying a love for gender equality that inspired a generation of musicians. So who were his biggest influences?
1. The Beatles
The Beatles are typically ranked high on many “best bands of all time” lists, and for good reason. They created a music that spoke to generations and was constantly evolving.
Cobain first stumbled upon the Beatles when his uncle lent him his copy of Revolver at age 14. He took to the album immediately, learning all the songs and playing them on his cheap Japanese electric guitar.
Cobain, along with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, is widely considered to have kicked off the grunge movement. He pushed the boundaries of punk rock into more mainstream territory and made the genre a cultural touchstone for Gen X. He also addressed societal issues like anxiety, depression and alienation through his lyrics. He mocked his own insular Seattle rock scene (“School”), the Jonas Brothers (“In Bloom”), the record industry (“Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”), clueless fans and Christians (Lithium”). He also spoofed the macho culture of his dying timber town with playfully nonsensical graffiti gems on lugheads’ macho pickups.
2. The Meat Puppets
When Kurt Cobain invited the Meat Puppets (Curt and Cris Kirkwood) onstage during his MTV Unplugged appearance, it guaranteed more exposure for their album Too High to Die than years of good reviews could have. The group, along with Violent Femmes and Gun Club, helped define a style known as cow punk, though their records were often marred by drug abuse, erratic behavior, and legal problems.
Their laidback guitar music and a fondness for Christian Roth glasses, ripped jeans, and casual tees made them style icons of the era. Even today, artists like Kid Cudi can still find inspiration from their music despite being further removed from rock ‘n’ roll than Cobain was.
3. The Pixies
Kurt Cobain and the Pixies were both a part of the 80s alternative rock scene. Both bands influenced many young musicians and even helped shape culture with their music. They also influenced fashion, such as the grunge look.
The band formed in 1986 with guitarist/vocalist Charles Thompson IV (better known as Black Francis), singer-songwriter Joey Santiago, bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering. The Pixies’ distinctive sound is rooted in punk and surf rock and defined by dynamic “loud-quiet” shifts in song structure. Their cryptic lyrics referenced such offbeat topics as incest, aliens and biblical violence.
Francis and Santiago remain unfazed by their indie-rock cult status, maintaining an aura of modesty that stands in stark contrast to a musical landscape steeped in self-absorption. They reunited in 2004 and continue to tour, playing sold-out shows to devoted fans.
4. The Ramones
When the Ramones first landed on the scene in 1975, their music was rooted in hardcore punk. Their songs clocked in at less than two minutes and they were constantly performing at CBGB, establishing their devoted fan base.
Cobain borrowed from their sound on his early, pre-Nevermind work with Scratch Acid. In fact, it’s easy to hear his vocal style on their song “Cannibal.”
The band’s 1984 album My War was a major influence on both the Melvins and Mudhoney. And it also introduced a Black Sabbath influence that would ultimately help shape grunge.
5. The Stones
The Stones were one of the biggest influences on Kurt Cobain. Their music was the epitome of raw, angsty, DIY rock that made them icons for an entire generation. Their songs dealt with feelings of alienation, depression, and loss, making them relatable to many.
The grunge wave that Nirvana kicked off seemed like a fleeting fad at the time, but today it’s held up with more misty-eyed affection than any movement in guitar music since. From Seattle also-rans Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains to the glum strut of bands like Korn and Linkin Park, Nirvana paved the way for a slew of gloomy rockers.
And although he may not be as prolific with his output, bands like Lana Del Rey have taken notes from the Nirvana playbook when it comes to putting as much honesty into their music as possible.