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Amidst the raucous energy of punk and grunge, with its distorted guitars, thundering drums, and chaotic stage antics, Nirvana carved out a unique space for tranquility and introspection. This duality, this ability to seamlessly transition from explosive energy to poignant vulnerability, sets them apart from their contemporaries.

This flexibility in Nirvana’s sound was largely due to one name: Kurt Cobain! The forever iconic “spokesman of a generation” didn’t just express himself with “screams”, but also masterful compositions that placed Kurt Cobain alongside legendary songwriters like McCartney/Lennon or Marr/Morrissey.

It was in these slower, more introspective songs that Kurt Cobain’s genius shone. Nirvana’s “slow” songs were not mere interludes between bursts of adrenaline-fueled punk; they were masterpieces in their own right, showcasing Kurt Cobain’s songwriting genius and his ability to connect with listeners on a deeply personal level.

Note to Reader: To focus on Nirvana’s original songwriting, this article excludes cover songs. This means we won’t be discussing their renditions of classics like “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” or “Lake of Fire.”

From “About a Girl” to “Something in the Way,” check out our selection of Nirvana’s 10 Best Slow Songs below:

 


1. “Polly” (1990)

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From Nirvana’s breakout album, Nevermind (1991), “Polly” it’s a disturbing track written from the perspective of a kidnapper/torturer of a young girl. While uncomfortable, it’s often seen as a statement against violence towards women, with Kurt Cobain giving a voice to the perpetrator’s dark thoughts.

The song was inspired by a real-life incident. In 1987, a 14-year-old girl was abducted, tortured, and raped near Tacoma, Washington. Often interpreted as evidence of Kurt Cobain’s advocacy for feminism and women’s rights, “Polly” was written from the perpetrator’s perspective.

It’s one of Nirvana’s most complex songs, with a quiet, almost folky verse.

 


2. “Something In The Way” (1991)

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“Something in the Way” is a haunting and melancholic song written by Kurt Cobain. It appears as the final track on their second album Nevermind. The song is characterized by its minimalistic arrangement, featuring Kurt Cobain’s somber vocals accompanied by a lone guitar.

Shrouded in a bit of mystery, but it’s widely considered to be about Kurt Cobain’s experiences with homelessness in his youth.

Interestingly, while “Something in the Way” was never released as a single and rarely performed live by the band, it unexpectedly gained popularity in 2020 after being featured in the trailer for the film “The Batman.”

 


3. “Dumb” (1993)

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“Dumb” appears on their third and final studio album, In Utero, released in 1993. The song is renowned for its introspective lyrics and stripped-down musical arrangement, featuring Kurt Cobain’s emotive vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar and cello (a segment composed and played by Kera Schaley, a Chicago-based musician who is a close associate of the album’s producer, Steve Albini).

The song delves into themes of self-awareness, insecurity, and emotional vulnerability. Kurt Cobain’s poignant lyrics reflect his struggles with fame, relationships, and mental health. Lines like “I’m not like them, but I can pretend” resonate with listeners who have experienced feelings of alienation or disconnection from the world around them.

 


4. “About a Girl” (1989)

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The song “About a Girl” debuted on their first album Bleach in June 1989. It’s regarded as one of Kurt Cobain’s early and most memorable compositions.

Inspired by his girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander, Kurt Cobain’s lyrics reflect his struggles with his lack of self-esteem and insecurity, feeling unworthy of a woman’s love, in this case, his girlfriend at the time with whom he lived for three years in an apartment in Olympia. Initially unnamed, Cobain simply referred to it as “about a girl.” Tracy Marander only learned of the song’s subject after reading Michael Azerrad’s biography on Nirvana.

The acoustic version from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session in 1993, released posthumously after Cobain’s death, achieved commercial success, topping charts and cementing its place in music history.

 


5. “All Apologies” (1993)

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“All Apologies,” the closing track on Nirvana’s third album In Utero, stands out as a melancholic ballad brimming with contrasts. Written by Kurt Cobain in 1990, the song navigates between serene beauty and deep anguish, weaving a heartfelt apology.

The song was first recorded in 1991, with an initial version boasting a more upbeat folk sound. The final album version, however, is marked by the mournful cello, creating a dense and introspective atmosphere.

Released as a single on December 6, 1993, “All Apologies” soared to the top of the US Modern Rock charts, becoming the band’s third hit. “All Apologies” was released as a double A-side with the song “Rape Me.” Sadly, it marked Nirvana’s final single before Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide in April 1994.

Despite the somber context, “All Apologies” received two Grammy Award nominations in 1995, solidifying its impact on the music industry.

 


6. “Pennyroyal Tea” (1993)

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The title “Pennyroyal Tea” refers to a herbal tea made from the pennyroyal plant, which has been historically used for various medicinal purposes. In the context of the song, the lyrics have been interpreted as addressing Cobain’s struggles with depression, anxiety, and the pressures of fame. Yes, another one, poor Kurt…

Initially planned as a single from In Utero, its release was scrapped after Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994. A censored version of the album included a remixed version of the song. “Pennyroyal Tea” remains a popular choice for Nirvana live compilation albums.

A dark and complex song, it exemplifies Nirvana’s ability to create catchy melodies intertwined with raw emotions and unsettling themes.

 


7. “On A Plain” (1991)

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“On a Plain” is characterized by its catchy guitar riff, driving rhythm, and dynamic shifts in intensity. It’s often praised for its infectious energy and memorable hooks, contributing to its enduring popularity among Nirvana fans.

No entanto Kurt Cobain expressou o seu desagrado com a gravação para nevermind numa entrevista para a Flipside: “That song came out way too clean. I’m not happy with the way that came out at all. It should have been a lot rawer; we play it a lot better live I think.

Anyway, the acoustic redemption of this song on MTV Unplugged is masterful and one of our favorites from the set.

 


8. “Old Age” (1991)

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Originally composed by Kurt Cobain and later with lyrics added by Courtney Love, “Old Age” was first released by the American rock band Hole.

Although initially attributed solely to Love, the true authorship of the song remained unknown during Nirvana’s existence. In a 1997 interview with Melody Maker, Love disclosed that the song was “partly someone else’s composition” without specifying further.

In 1998, a cassette tape surfaced containing Nirvana’s rehearsal performance of the song from March 1991, which was given to the Seattle newspaper, The Stranger. When questioned about the song’s origins, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic confirmed that it was indeed a Cobain composition.

Nirvana officially released the song in November 2004, featuring an unfinished studio version on the rarities box set, With the Lights Out, which you can listen to in the video above.

 


9. “Marigold” (1993)

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There’s a fun fact about “Marigold”! The song is a Nirvana song written by Dave Grohl, not a solo Dave Grohl song. The lyrics are cryptic, but some fans think they explore fleeting moments and the passage of time.

“Marigold,” originally titled “Color Pictures of a Marigold,” was written by a young Dave Grohl before he joined Nirvana as their drummer. The song first appeared on his side project, Late!, in 1992 on the album Pocketwatch. This version has a simpler sound with just vocals and guitar.

Nirvana’s version is heavier than Grohl’s original and the lyrics remain open to interpretation, but some possible themes include desires, success, and the impermanence of life. Released as a B-side to the single “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Marigold” is a lesser-known Nirvana track but a favorite among dedicated fans.

This song makes me think that if Kurt Cobain were still alive, it would be fascinating to see two main songwriters!

 


10. “Sappy” (1993)

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The first known version of “Sappy” is a solo home demo recorded by Kurt Cobain in the late 1980s. However, the song’s official release came in October 1993 as a hidden track on the AIDS-benefit compilation album, No Alternative.

The song went through several iterations in the studio. Nirvana recorded “Sappy” four times with two different drummers. The first attempt featured Chad Channing on drums, while later versions included the band’s new drummer, Dave Grohl.

“Sappy” explores themes of disillusionment, delusion, and depression. The lyrics suggest a sense of captivity and a forced facade of happiness. Some interpretations propose a more metaphorical meaning, with the song referencing Kurt Cobain’s pet turtle living in a jar, symbolizing a trapped existence. 

I particularly think this song has one of Kurt Cobain’s greatest guitar work. If you haven’t heard it, check out the version from the In Utero remix released in 2013!

 


If you enjoyed our selection of songs, feel free to check out the Spotify playlist below.

 

 

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