Rarely in history has so much been written about a body of work so ostensibly slim. Burning unprecedentedly bright and fast, however – riding the dramatic trajectory of a Shakespearean tragedy and explosively reshaping the pop-cultural landscape – Seattle grunge trailblazers Nirvana proved themselves a once-in-a-generation force demanding forensic analysis for as long as their titanic influence endures.
The subsequent divergence of paths for the band’s key players – vocalist Kurt Cobain’s ending abruptly with his suicide in April 1994, bassist Krist Novoselic’s winding into relative obscurity, while drummer Dave Grohl went on to unlikely second superstardom as frontman of Foo Fighters – adds yet another intriguing wrinkle.
As such, each of the 102-odd tracks divided across three studio albums, a handful of stand-alone singles/B-sides and their catalogue of cover versions (excluded from this list) demand individual attention. In boiling down a Top 20, we’ve tried to single out those songs most pivotal to their stratospheric ascent, to that enduring legacy, and to understanding the complex personalities within.