Nirvana Albums Ranked from Worst to Greatest


Nirvana band photo

Nirvana Albums Ranked – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Anton Corbijn

Nirvana Albums Ranked: From worst to greatest, here are the legendary grunge band’s greatest collections

The music of Nirvana is undeniably unique. They’re one of those bands that the second you heard their chords, even if you’ve somehow never heard the song before, you know it’s Nirvana.

Even though Nirvana became one of the biggest rock bands in the world, that success was short lived. Frontman Kurt Cobain tragically ended the band’s Cinderella story with a gunshot in 1994. But, the band’s so-called grunge sound inspired countless others in the years to follow and still does today.

Nirvana didn’t invent grunge, but they made the sound accessible to the masses. What started with bands like The Wipers in the 1970s and Melvins in the 1980s blossomed into this radio-friendly form of alternative rock that Nirvana spit out on 1991’s “Nevermind.” Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bass player Krist Novoselic became heroes of the 1990s with their four-chord rock sound.

While all of Nirvana’s releases are strong, some stand out more than others. Read on for Audio Ink Radio’s list of all the Nirvana albums, ranked from worst to greatest.

10. “Sliver: The Best of the Box” (2005)

Since Nirvana didn’t have a ton of full-length releases, we’re including best-of collections and box sets in this feature. As the story goes, DGC released a three-disc box set named “With the Lights Out” in 2004, offering some rare and unreleased Nirvana tracks. It’s a cool release, but the sound quality isn’t great. In 2005, they came back with a single-disc collection with 22 songs, including three that weren’t included on “With the Lights Out.” Again, the sound quality isn’t the finest, but that’s okay, as this is more of a find for lo-fi Nirvana fans and not the masses.

9. “Icon” (2010)

“Icon” is a short best-of complication featuring Nirvana’s greatest hits. While it certainly has the big songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies,” it’s lacking on much else, so this is really a collection for the very casual Nirvana fan. It’s also a good introductory Nirvana collection. As the say, you have to start somewhere.

8. “Nirvana” (2002)

In comparison to “Icon,” this is a much more complete compilation release. Nirvana’s “Nirvana” brought quite a controversy, as it lit up a feud between Courtney Love and the surviving members of Nirvana over the song, “You Know You’re Right,” which was recorded during the group’s final studio session in January 1994. Grohl and Novoselic planned to release it on “With the Lights Out,” but Love thought it was hit and didn’t want it to get lost on a box set. She sued Novoselic and Grohl, stopped the song’s release, and included it on this album. Despite the crazy history, this is a complete “greatest hits” collection, with lots of variety.

7. “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” (1996)

“From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, which is rare for a live album. But, the public was hungry for more Nirvana. Dropping just two years after Cobain’s death, the set featured performances between 1989 and 1994. It’s a passionate collection that reminded the world of why Nirvana were so known for their explosive live shows.

6. “Live at Reading” (2009)

Here’s another great live album from Nirvana. Instead of it being a collection of live performances from throughout the years like “Muddy Banks,” this one featured one show, recorded from beginning to end. That show was a legendary one, too: Nirvana’s headlining set at the 1992 Reading Festival in England. This was right when rumors were swirling about Cobain’s battles with addiction, and it was also right after his daughter, Frances Bean, was born.

5. “Incesticide” (1992)

Following the massive success of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, Geffen was desperate to tie fans over until the band could release another set. Enter, “Incesticide.” The set features a handful of rarities and B-sides, and they’re all stellar. From older Nirvana tracks lost in time to cover songs to previously unreleased versions of tracks, “Incesticide” is always an intriguing listen.

4. “Bleach” (1989)

People think of Nirvana as a 1990s band, but they were making major noise in the 1980s. “Bleach,” out on Sub Pop in 1989, captured a band at the very genesis of their form and style. This was pre-Dave Grohl Nirvana, with Chad Channing and Dale Crover holding down drums. “Bleach” didn’t sell big, but it was enough to convince Geffen to sign Nirvana, and the rest is history. Gems such as “About a Girl” and “Negative Creep” are still among Nirvana’s greatest.

3. “Unplugged in New York” (1994)

Just months before Cobain’s tragic passing, Nirvana performed at MTV’s iconic acoustic series, “MTV Unplugged.” The band’s “Unplugged in New York” is considered one of the greatest live records of all time. The set was stripped down and (almost) entirely acoustic, with songs such as “Something in the Way” and Nirvana’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” getting etched into rock history.

2. “In Utero” (1993)

It was the follow-up that had the world holding its breath. Following the immense success of “Nevermind,” music fans waited with great anticipation for the next Nirvana LP, and that was 1993’s “In Utero.” To record the album, Nirvana worked with producer Steve Albini of Pixies and The Breeders in a Minnesota studio. “In Utero” is dark and heartbreaking, and it almost foreshadows Cobain’s suicide. But, songs such as “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Dumb” show Nirvana at their most creative.

1. “Nevermind” (1991)

One can never predict a zeitgeist, but that’s what happened with Nirvana’s “Neverminded.” The album is one of the most influential in all of music history and pop culture. With one single song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” gone was the hair metal of the 1980s. This record even influenced fashion, ushering flannel in and leather pants out.

Nirvana famously recorded “Nevermind” with Butch Vig at Sound City Studios in California. They didn’t expect to sell a ton of copies, and “Nevermind” debuted at a low-key No. 144 on the Billboard 200. But, when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the airwaves, things took a dramatic turn. “Nevermind” went on to sell millions of copies and become one of the most popular rock records of all time. This entire album is a single, from “In Bloom” to “Lithium,” and for some reason, these songs never tire. “Nevermind” changed a generation of music, and for that, we’re naming it the greatest Nirvana album of all time.

Read Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 10 best grunge albums of all time here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Grunge, Music, Rock

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