The 10 Best Nirvana Covers, Ranked

In honor of Kurt's 50th, an ode to his best imitators

By Kirk Miller

 
Nirvana
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24 February 2017

As the Grammys proved recently, it’s hard to pull off a worthy tribute. (You can’t just “start over,” Adele.)

Stray too far from the source, and you make it about yourself. Cut it too close, and you’re an inferior cover band.

With that in mind — and to honor a week in which Kurt Cobain would've celebrated his 50th birthday and, begrudgingly, 25th wedding anniversary — here are the 10 greatest Nirvana covers.

Our criteria: the best covers should spotlight Cobain’s songwriting acumen while adding something new to the mix. Basically, covers that Kurt himself would probably approve ... or get pissed about, which, hey, was part of his charm.

That said, no Paul Anka.

10. The Flaming Lips, “Pennyroyal Tea”
Before Wayne Coyne got too weird for his own good, the Lips could pull off a solid cover. Here, a surprisingly straightforward take sparkles.

9. Jay Reatard, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”
By 1993, Nirvana was a major label band yearning to return to its noisier roots. Reatard, who died at 29, gave the In Utero track a proper lo-fi treatment.

8. The Gaslight Anthem, “Sliver”
These New Jersey punks are more Pearl Jam than Nirvana in songcraft, but singer Brian Fallon perfects the Cobain rasp.

7. Goldfish feat. Julia Church, “Heart Shaped Box”
For having the audacity to turn a grunge classic into a club banger (with a saxophone!). Not sure if we like it — scratch that, we don’t — but props to this YouTube commenter: “Most of these haters don't like this cover because it doesn't involve a sad f*ck screaming about his impediment ass and suicidal tendencies. It can't even count as a cover because it's almost a f*cking remake. Who cares what it should be like according to you. Song has an awesome drop and the womans [sic] voice is brilliant. The piano and saxophone is superb.”

6. Sturgill Simpson, “In Bloom”
Who knew Kurt was secretly penning mournful country ballads?

5. Charles Bradley, “Stay Away”
Who knew Kurt was secretly penning badass funk/soul jams?

4. Sinead O’Connor, “All Apologies”
A haunting, stripped down take by an equally complicated, conflicted artist.

3. Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
An angry screed turned devastating piano ballad (Amos, BTW, also does a killer Slayer cover).

2. St. Vincent & Nirvana, “Lithium”
Having all female vocalists join the remaining Nirvana members during the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame ceremony was a fitting final chapter for a band that rejected gender conformity.

1. Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World”
Because only Kurt Cobain could make a David Bowie classic one of his own.

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