A lot of bands got stuck in the ’90s. It was a hard thing to avoid. Classic rock dominated the ’60s and early ’70s before punk shook things up. After that, everything seemed like an awkward coming-of-age phase, one in which rock & roll was trying to rediscover itself after going through a youthful indiscretion. It was a time when post-punk/new wave was the edgiest thing around, but post-punk became an unfitting title for anything that resembled the Talking Heads. And anyone trying to sound “heavy” just came across as outdated. But then something happened.

“Grunge.” It’s almost a dirty word now, a genre that’s restricted to a single era, one that died as suddenly as Kurt Cobain, but at that time and in that moment, it was everything to rock music; the unfiltered energy of punk, the accessibility that punk had failed to capture, the rebellious spirit of young people facing a generational gap as wide as ever.

But while that was all present, none of it mattered to the listener. What mattered most about grunge—and about Nirvana—was the feeling it captured. It’s that feeling that you get when you witness Kurt Cobain smash a fucking guitar. It’s seeing hundreds of kids wearing plaid shirts and screaming along in a mosh pit. It was a departure from hippie, a departure from artsy. It was the next step, and Nirvana did it perfectly. The Seattle punk scene meets The Beatles. The sing-along chorus meets the vomit-stained mattress. The open arms meet the middle fingers.

Today would have been Kurt Cobain’s 45th birthday. Happy birthday, Kurt. Here are the 50 best Nirvana songs.

Click through to the next page or hit shift + right to begin…

50. “Been A Son” (1992)

Album: Incesticide
Label: David Geffen Company

It’s one of the shortest and most straightforward of Nirvana’s song collection, but only Kurt could have had you slapping your knee and singing along with the lyrics, “She should have been a son.” And no, the song was not about Frances Bean. Rumor has it that Kurt’s father never wanted to have a daughter, but he did: Kurt’s sister Kim.

49. “Moist Vagina” (1991)

Album: “All Apologies” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

This song almost ended up on In Utero, but there was already enough controversy thanks to “Rape Me.” So here it is, on the “Rape Me” single, appropriately paired with “All Apologies.” Before it was named “Moist Vagina,” it was called “Then She Blew Him Like He’s Never Been Blown,” “Brains Stuck All Over The Wall,” and “Marijuana.”

48. “I Hate Myself And Want To Die” (1991)

Album: “Pennyroyal Tea” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

If you read the 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Kurt Cobain post—you read it, right?—then you know Kurt wanted to name In Utero this. He always had this sort of half-joking, self-deprecating tone, and it was always funny to him since everyone else seemed to be so concerned. Looking back, it’s not that funny. When asked about the song’s meaning, Kurt told Rolling Stone:

“Nothing more than a joke. And that had a bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn’t get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked out, schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time: ‘He isn’t satisfied with anything.’ And I thought it was a funny title.”

47. “Stain” (1992)

Album: Incesticide
Label: David Geffen Company

By many, Kurt Cobain was viewed as a negative, brooding, self-hating cry baby. At least, that’s what he thought, and instead of rejecting the idea, he embraced it.

46. “Even In His Youth” (1991)

Album: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

This ended up as a b-side to the wildly popular “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but the song dates back to the late ’80s. While Kurt never really opened up about the meaning of his lyrics, it was pretty clear that this one dealt with issues of Kurt’s childhood. His parents divorced when he was seven, and this had a hugely negative impact on Kurt, who began feeling resentment towards his parents and becoming more withdrawn.

45. “Mr. Moustache” (1989)

Album: Bleach
Label: Sub Pop

The chaotic, chugging guitar work and unpolished vocals of “Mr. Moustache” hinted at Nirvana’s heavy influences. It was a lot sloppier than the later work, but that’s part of the fun of “Mr. Moustache.”

44. “Lounge Act” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

According to bassist Krist Novoselic, “Lounge Act” is about Tobi Vail, and ex-girlfriend of Kurt. The line “I’ll arrest myself, I’ll wear a shield”, refers to the K Records logo tattoo on Kurt’s arm, that he got to impress Vail. The band thought the beginning of this song sounded like something from a cheesy lounge band (hence the name), but it’s the last verse and chorus, screamed by Cobain, that brings “Lounge Act” to the next level. The rushed last word of each line in the last chorus sounds provides something of a raw edge that you’d expect from Bleach, but when mixed and mastered at the level of Nevermind, the evolution of Nirvana is as clear as ever.

43. “Son Of A Gun” (1992)

Album: Incesticide
Label: David Geffen Company

“Son Of A Gun” is a cover of one of Kurt’s favorite bands, The Vaselines. While their version had boy-girl vocals and a little bit of a softer touch, Nirvana brought in the distortion. It’s rare to hear Kurt sing these kinds of notes in succession, and even with the amplified electricity, this had such a sunny melody. It would have been nice to hear Nirvana explore this kind of sound more, but “Son Of A Gun” stands on it’s own, except for maybe “Molly’s Lips,” but don’t get ahead of yourself, punk.

42. “Stay Away” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

This is more the Nirvana we know and love. “I’d rather be dead than cool” is the theme, except Kurt throws in a “God is gay” for good measure at the very end. It was a phrase Kurt used to spray paint on the trucks of kids in his high school to piss them off. When asked about homosexuality, Kurt once said, “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.” Even in the later part of his life, Kurt still enjoyed pissing people off, it’s just that he had a bigger platform: one of the best rock albums of all time.

41. “On A Plain” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

“On A Plain” wastes no time. It kicks right off into the verse, “Start things off, without any words…” From there on, it doesn’t get any more clear, but it’s infectiously catchy despite it’s vague lyrics. Some think it’s about drugs (there are rumors that the slapping sound at the beginning is Kurt getting ready to shoot up), some think it’s about being unfulfilled, and some think it’s just a bunch of random lines thrown together. The acoustic version on Unplugged In New York was great, too.

40. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

Frances Farmer was an actress from Seattle. In 1942, she was arrested for drunk driving, and stories of her arrest were all greatly exaggerated and unclear. She posted bail but never paid the fine and a warrant was out for her arrest. This is when the story of Frances Farmer got blurry, but authorities claimed that she put up a fight, and her behavior from this point on led them to believe she was schizophrenic. She was treated with shock therapy and hospitalized. For years, she was in and out of mental hospitals.

Frances was finally released in 1950 and took on menial work. In 1957 she attempted a comeback. She stated that she was never crazy, that she was mistreated, and there were sensationalized stories that she received a lobotomy. She stated, “if a person is treated like a patient, they are apt to act like one.”

39. “Verse Chorus Verse” (1991)

Album: N/A (Appeared On With The Lights Out)
Label: David Geffen Company

The title “Verse Chorus Verse” was actually used for many Nirvana songs, probably because Kurt called a lot of songs this before they were finished. Lyrically, it’s one of Kurt’s darkest, with references to taking medication, feeling sedated, and crawling in a hole. In typical Nirvana fashion, instead of being openly sad and sappy, it’s still got a careless edge to it.

38. “Lake Of Fire” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

“Lake Of Fire” is one of a few covers that Nirvana did with The Meat Puppets during their Unplugged In New York session. The tongue-in-cheek religious references fit Kurts style well, and The Meat Puppets’ help on guitar gave this one a style unlike any other Nirvana tracks.

37. “Old Age” (1991)

Album: N/A (Appeared On With The Lights Out)
Label: David Geffen Company

Even with lyrics that are basically mumbled to a point beyond comprehension, this is still a great listen. We can assume that it’s possibly got something to do with getting old, and the toned down vibe of this one seems like a sound that Nirvana may have eventually settled into as they got older, as their later work incorporated more acoustic guitars and steadier vocals. It sounds a little like the style of one of Dave Grohl’s early songs with the Foo Fighters, “Big Me.”

36. “Serve The Servants” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

The opening line of this is one of Kurt’s most revealing: “Teenage angst has paid off well, Now I’m bored and old.” With references to his parents’ divorce, feelings about his dad, and (probably, with the witch hunt reference) the media’s attack on Courtney Love, Kurt sounds incredibly fed up to the point of detachment here, and sad as it is, that’s when he was often as his best.

35. “Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

It was suspected that a lot of the time Kurt didn’t like to explain his lyrics because they didn’t mean anything. For this one, it’s a fact. Kurt admitted that this track was just a bunch of random lines from poetry thrown together. Still, those “random” pieces of poetry captured a lot of the central themes of Nirvana and the burned out Kurt on In Utero. Plus, if it sounds good, fuck it, right?

34. “Curmudgeon” (1992)

Album: “Lithium” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

Kurt probably had a laugh at the pairing of “Curmudgeon” as a b-side to “Lithium.” The latter is one of the most cohesive, controlled songs in Nirvana’s catalog, and “Curmudgeon” is completely unhinged.

33. “Oh Me” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

Another Meat Puppets cover. Part of what made all three covers from the Unplugged session so good was that it was stuff that you didn’t typically hear Nirvana doing. It felt more restrained, more mature, and showed off a side of Nirvana that we didn’t get to see very often, even during their own acoustic songs. Again, it makes you wonder what direction Nirvana would have taken if they had more time together.

32. “Molly’s Lips” (1991)

Album: “Candy”/”Molly’s Lips” Split Single
Label: Sub Pop

Like “Son Of A Gun,” “Molly’s Lips” has such a pop-punk feel to it that it’s fun to hear Nirvana let loose with it. Vaselines’ member Eugene Kelly shared that it was about actress Molly Weir in a story-telling kids show in the ’80s. He said, “Molly used to have this program before the news on Scottish TV where she’d tell all these stories from her childhood. She always struck us as a great character, so we just wanted to sing a song about kissing her.” With so much heavy material (both in terms of sound and lyrics), “Molly’s Lips” is a nice break from it, perfect as the middle song for any Nirvana playlist.

31. “Oh The Guilt” (1993)

Album: Puss/Oh The Guilt Split Single
Label: Touch and Go

This was released as a split single with the Jesus Lizard’s “Puss.” Although it was recorded in ’92 and released in ’93, it’s got all the signs of early Nirvana and is one of the rawest Nirvana songs out. Plus, it features some great, unfiltered yelling courtesy of Kurt.

30. “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

This is a parody of an old Christian song called “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam,” but Nirvana chose to do it the Vaselines’ way, with the altered lyrics, “Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam.” The Vaseline’s take had a light, airy feeling about it, but when Nirvana tackled it for their Unplugged series, it felt a lot more somber to the point of being funereal.

29. “Marigold” (1993)

Album: “Heart Shaped Box” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

Dave Grohl sings! “Marigold” was the only Nirvana song with Grohl on lead vocals. Kurt heard Dave working on this one and liked it so much that he decided to record it with him. It ended up being released as the b-side to “Heart Shaped Box.” Grohl went on to cover the song during live sets with his band the Foo Fighters.

28. “Very Ape” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

One of the highest energy songs off In Utero, “Very Ape” is thought to be another one of Kurt’s stabs at the ignorant, self-centered, stereotypical macho man. It was never one of the spotlight stealers, but at under two minutes, it packs the biggest punch on the band’s last proper album.

27. “Plateau” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

The last of the Meat Puppets covers from the Unplugged concert. It’s a great cover, and hearing Kurt hit those high notes in the chorus was unlike any vocals you’d hear from him on typical Nirvana stuff, where he’d sooner scream at the top of his longs before he ever approached a falsetto.

26. “D-7” (1992)

Album: Homoaning EP
Label: David Geffen Company

This was originally a song by The Wipers, but Nirvana flipped it into one of their best bootlegs. It starts out lazy and creeping, but wait for about 1:30 in, when it explodes into punk greatness.

25. “Polly” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

Taking a story about a girl getting abducted and tortured and turning it into a catchy, popular song is not an easy task, but Nirvana pulled it off with “Polly.” It probably went over most peoples’ heads, but the story of the real-life Polly is here.

In the liner notes to Incesticide, Kurt wrote: “Last year, a girl was raped by two wastes of sperm and eggs while they sang the lyrics to our song ‘Polly.’ I have a hard time carrying on knowing there are plankton like that in our audience.”

24. “School” (1989)

Album: Bleach
Label: Sub Pop

“School” was allegedly a comparison of the Seattle punk scene to high school, but this track seemed to resonate with young people everywhere because when you think about it, everything is like high school in one way or another. The song was from Nirvana’s first album and a live version was included on From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah.

23. “Rape Me” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

It was Nirvana’s most controversial song, but Kurt never really felt the need to explain anything. Some thought it was about the media, some thought it was literally about rape, and some thought it was just another Cobain-esque statement of indifference, taking one of the things that you’d expect someone to react the most strongly towards and flipping it into a nonchalant “whatever.”

Nirvana wanted to perform “Rape Me” at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards but the execs wouldn’t allow it and threatened action against the band and the label if they did it. They agreed to perform “Lithium” instead, but when they hit the stage, Kurt strummed through a few seconds of “Rape Me” first, causing some anxiety for the MTV team before going into “Lithium.” Wal-Mart refused to sell an album with the titled “Rape Me” on it, so the band was forced to make a clean version called “Waif Me.”

22. “Dive” (1992)

Album: Incesticide
Label: David Geffen Company

This is Courtney Love’s favorite Nirvana song. Otherwise it might have been higher on the list.

21. “Territorial Pissings” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

This song starts of with Krist Novoselic singing Youngblood’s “Get Together” before erupting into the defiant punk rock anthem that we love it as. “Maybe some baby boomers will hear that and wonder what happened to those ideals,” Novoselic said. It was a fitting statement, since Nevermind wiped out that hippie mentality in rock and brought the rebellious punk mindset to the mainstream. Along with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana played this during their appearance on Saturday Night Live. After the performance, the band destroyed everything on the set.

20. “Scentless Apprentice” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

Most of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics were inspired by his own experiences, but as he grew as a songwriter, he started to draw from other sources for inspiration. “Scentless Apprentice” was inspired by the book Perfume by Patrick Suskind. The story was about a man with an extraordinary sense of smell but no scent of his own. He was an apprentice in a perfume shop and a murderer of girls, who he kills for their smell.

Dave Grohl originally came up with the structure of the song, and Kurt didn’t like it but moved forward with it as not to hurt Dave’s feelings. Dave once said in an interview that the line, “You can’t fire me because I quit” gave him the chills, saying, “Maybe all those things that people wrote about him painted him into a corner that he couldn’t get out of.”

19. “Love Buzz” (1989)

Album: Bleach
Label: Sub Pop

This was a cover of a song by The Shocking Blue and ended up being Nirvana’s very first single. An explosive live version was included in Nirvana’s Live! Tonight! Sold Out! DVD where Kurt stage dives and is then attacked by a security guard after some violent confusion.

18. “Pennyroyal Tea” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

Themes of babies and pregnancy were heavily present in the band’s last album. “Pennyroyal Tea,” in large doses, was known to induce abortions, and this song is thought to be about making a bad decision and dealing with the consequences. A remix was supposed to be released as a single, but pulled after Kurt’s suicide.

In one interview, Kurt explained:  “Pennyroyal tea is a herbal abortive. I threw that in because I have so many friends who have tried to use that, and it never worked. The song is about a person who’s beyond depressed; they’re in their death bed, pretty much.” He also admitted that his own chronic stomach ailments influenced the lyrics.

In his own journal, he provided a simpler explanation of the track: “Herbal abortive… it doesn’t work, you hippie.”

17. “Come As You Are” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

This was basically a rip-off of Killing Joke’s “Eighties,” and almost wasn’t released because of the close resemblance. Killing Joke decided not to take any action, and it ended up becoming one of Nirvana’s biggest hits. The contradictory, vague lyrics leave a lot up to the listener, and it’s often thought to be a song about acceptance, but there have also been connections made to drug use. Seattle had a campaign pushing for clean needles that used the slogan, “If doused in mud, soak in bleach.” Kurt flipped this into, “come, doused in mud, soaked in bleach.”

Blink-182 referenced the lyrics to “Come As You Are” in Adam’s song with the line, “I took my time, I hurried up, the choice was mine I didn’t think enough.”

16. “You Know You’re Right” (2002)

Album: Nirvana (Greatest Hits)
Label: David Geffen Company

One of the last songs ever recorded by Kurt. Recorded in January of 1994, this wasn’t released until eight years after Kurt’s death. There was a bootleg from a live version Nirvana once played going around, but the track never leaked—despite Krist and Dave wanting to put it out—because Courtney wouldn’t allow it. She did, however, play her own version of the song during her unplugged session. There was a huge legal battle over this song, and when it finally was released it in 2002 it reached #1 on the rock charts and #45 on the Hot 100.

15. “Breed” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

“Breed” was originally recorded under the name “Immodium.” It was one of the heaviest songs on Nevermind, and while most of the tracks on that album feel smoothed out, this was one of the most beautifully turbulent—a reminder of the raw energy that Nirvana was still capable of.

14. “Sliver” (1990)

Album: Released as a non-album single
Label: Sub Pop

It must have been hard to sit around with Nirvana and pick out which songs to push. “Sliver” was released as a non-album single, but has always been a fan favorite and could have easily been commercially successful had it been polished up for Nevermind. The song’s rubbery bass and lyrics about “mashed potatoes and stuff like that” give it a lighthearted feel, but at it’s core it seems to be another song about Kurt being deserted by his parents.

13. “Man Who Sold The World ” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

This David Bowie cover was one of the high points of the Unplugged sessions. It’s a song about identity crisis, something that both David Bowie and Kurt Cobain had a personal connection with. Kurt was convinced that he’d mess the song up during the live performance. Afterwards you can hear him on the recording saying, “I didn’t screw it up, did I?”

12. “About A Girl” (1989)

Album: Bleach/Unplugged In New York
Label: Sub Pop

This one was about an ex-girlfriend, Tracy Mirander, who Kurt lived with at the time. He wrote the song without a title, and when then-drummer Chad Channing asked what it was about, Kurt replied it was “About A Girl.” It was one of the simplest Nirvana songs, relying on two chords for most of the song, but it was the best from the band’s debut, Bleach, and also ended up making the cut as an even better acoustic version for Unplugged In New York.

11. “Drain You” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

“Drain You” was one of the standouts from Nevermind, but Kurt almost didn’t include the song on the album at all because he felt like it didn’t fit. When the track was being recorded, the engineers and producers had to lie to Kurt to get him to redo the guitars so they could dub in extra takes of distorted playing. Kurt disliked overdubs, so they told him the first takes didn’t record properly. The strange noises in the middle of the song were from a squeaky duck toy that Kurt brought into the studio.

10. “Aneurysm” (1991)

Album: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” B-Side
Label: David Geffen Company

“Aneurysm,” a song Kurt wrote about his break-up with Tobi Vail, was a b-side to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The song was never really a standout or commercial success, but the high-energy cut turned into a favorite at live shows. A live version was included on Nirvana’s posthumous From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah.

09. “Something In The Way” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

This is the most haunting song Nirvana ever recorded, about the time in Kurt’s life when he was living under a bridge by the Wishkah River. Usually, Kurt strained his voice just to yell over the loud backing instruments, but when this song was being recorded, Kurt sang so quietly that producer Butch Vig was forced to turn up the volume all the way on his vocals. The cello was added at the last minute by friend of the band Kirk Canning.

08. “Sappy” (1991)

Album: No Alernative AIDS benefit compilation
Label: Arista

This one dates back to the late ’80s, but Kurt was never happy with it. If you’re a big Nirvana fan, you’ve probably heard a few different versions of this one: acoustic, electric, alternate lyrics. To Kurt, none of them were good enough. To us? They were all great. It’s the melody of this song that really stands out, and that melody translates in every version.

07. “Dumb” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

Of “Dumb,”  Cobain told Melody Maker, “That’s just about people who’re easily amused, people who not only aren’t capable of progressing their intelligence but are totally happy watching 10 hours of television and really enjoy it. I’ve met a lot of dumb people. They have a shitty job, they may be totally lonely, they don’t have a girlfriend, they don’t have much of a social life, and yet, for some reason, they’re happy.”

Kurt wrote it off, but there seems to be a lot more to this song that he probably didn’t want to talk about. With lines like “Skin the sun, fall asleep, wish away, the soul is cheap, lesson learned, wish me luck, soothe the burn, wake me up” and “I’m not like them, but I can pretend, The sun is gone, but I have a light,” the flip-side of this song seems to be Kurt’s own experience, one in which he couldn’t find happiness, and possibly how he used drugs to cope. Whatever the true meaning, it shows the a more mature Nirvana capable of more than just big hooks and hard rocking, and it’s one of the most beautiful songs from their collection.

06. “In Bloom” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

Kurt’s most potent attack against the stereotypical redneck types that he grew up with in Aberdeen, Washington and frequently talked about. Kurt knew that most people wouldn’t understand the lyrics of his songs, and in this one he took a playful shot at those people with the chorus: “He’s the one who likes all the pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, but he knows not what it means.” And sing along they did. The song was released as a single over a year after Nevermind came out, and even got included in the Rock Band video game.

05. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (1994)

Album: Unplugged In New York
Label: David Geffen Company

If you watch MTV’s Unplugged In New York concert by Nirvana, you’ll notice that Kurt rarely looks up. Most of the time his eyes stay closed or focused on the ground in front of him. In the last chorus of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” a traditional song most notably covered by Kurt’s favorite artist, Leadbelly, he delivers the most moving performance of the night. He screams through the last chorus before looking up with piercing eyes while he takes a deep breath. It’s a chilling, powerful moment.

04. “All Apologies” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

This was the last single that Nirvana ever released. After years of venting, screaming, complaining, and brushing everything off, Kurt was finally acknowledging it all in his own, sobering way. It felt like he was completely burned out by this point, completely at a loss for anything to say, completely over his current situation, and a way, it felt like he was at peace with it all. It felt like a suicide note. Four months after the single was released, Kurt Cobain committed suicide.

03. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

Nothing really needs to be said here, right? It was the song of the ’90s, and even though Kurt grew to hate the song, that didn’t change the fact that an entire generation of young people considered this their anthem. When you think about songs that define a decade, there are few others as fitting as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

02. “Heart Shaped Box” (1993)

Album: In Utero
Label: David Geffen Company

This is another song that Kurt didn’t share much about. Kurt originally wrote this in 1992 and forgot about it. He, Krist, and Dave tried completing it many times but were never satisfied until they finally got it right with this final version. It contains a lot of medical imagery, specifically about the birth process, something that Kurt was fascinated with and was a recurring theme in his later work.

He said that it was inspired by a report about children with cancer, but it’s commonly believed to be about his unstable relationship with Courtney Love. There are references to Pisces and Cancer, Cobain and Loves astrological signs, and it’s been said that Love sent Cobain a heart-shaped box to his hotel room soon after they met. In a biography of Kurt, Charles Cross said that with the lyric “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black,” Kurt “sang in what has to be the most convoluted route any songwriter undertook in pop history to say ‘I love you.'”

01. “Lithium” (1991)

Album: Nevermind
Label: David Geffen Company

“Lithium” has it all. Everything that Nirvana stood for was in “Lithium.” The loud-quiet-loud, the self-loathing lyrics, the catchy chorus that somehow lives off of nothing but “Yeaaaah.” But there was something else about this song, named after a drug used to treat bi-polar disorder. Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid said it best: “My favorite song on Nevermind was ‘Lithium.’ Kurt Cobain tapped into something in the culture that nobody had given a voice to before: passionate ambivalence: ‘I’m so ugly, but that’s okay ’cause so are you.’ He captured the idea of having incredibly powerful feelings about not having feelings.”

Kurt was the voice of every hunched over slacker who felt disillusioned, detached, demotivated—the kid whose favorite word was “whatever.” The saddest part is that it was clear that Kurt did have feelings—strong ones—but like so many other young people growing up, setbacks and bad choices led him into a hole that he couldn’t get out of. Instead of opening up about it, he brushed it aside and masked it with a strong detachment.

Kurt wasn’t perfect, but that’s okay, neither are we.

RELATED: 20 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT KURT COBAIN