Top 40 Before 40 Rock Artists - #16 - Nirvana

I remember buying my first Nirvana album like it was yesterday. I didn’t buy the album when it came out or anything, but I had been a casual Nirvana fan for about 2 years to that point when in 1993 (about 2 weeks or so before my 12th birthday) I had received money from a relative, and my first thought was to go out and buy the new Pearl Jam album Vs. on CD. 

Truth be told, I had never really been a big fan of Pearl Jam, but at the time, I really like the song, “Daughter” and was like, “Sure, I can put some money towards the full album.”

But I had a guiding older brother who literally had to help me make the decision. I asked him, “Should I buy Nirvana’s Nevermind or get Pearl Jam’s Vs.

He was a bit shocked by the question, but he didn’t hesitate with his response. “Nevermind,” he said. 

I then told him how much I liked the new Pearl Jam song, and he said something to the extent of, “I don’t care how good of a song Pearl Jam makes, it will never be better than the worst Nirvana song.”

That part is a paraphrase, but he did say it with about that intent, and I remember being left with the feeling that maybe Pearl Jam was not as good as Nirvana.

Fast forward 28 years later, and I am absolutely in agreement that Pearl Jam has never made ONE song better than Nirvana’s worst song. Call me a fan or whatever, but the truth is that Eddie Vedder’s voice was never my cup of tea, and the music that Pearl Jam made (while incredibly talented and well constructed) was never my style.

For those of you who are just joining this list at this point, let me give a quick summary below:

  • In my almost 40 years on this planet, I have had the great pleasure of listening to a lot of music that doesn't make it to the airwaves, and a lot of these bands are some of my absolute favorites.
  • You WILL see some Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame bands on the list too, but for the most part, you are likely going to disagree with this list almost entirely.
  • I am sharing this ranking so that you get some insight into some great bands you may have never heard before AND for a little bit of a personal challenge to myself to rank these bands.

With that said, let's get to #16 on my Top 40 List Before 40:

Kurt Cobain (foreground) and Krist Novoselic live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards

By P.B. Rage from USA

#16 - Nirvana

Everybody who likes rock music and is older than 30 will know the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” even if they don’t know what it is called. It’s one of the most iconic songs of the 90’s and has been given the unofficial title of the grunge anthem.

Nirvana essentially took a punk rock sound and made it more loud to achieve the grunge sound they are famous for. It probably helped that lead singer Kurt Cobain’s voice was perfectly fit to work both as a screamer and as a singer.

Thus, the angst and frustration of a generation had been released by the songs of this rock trio.

I don’t think I have to give much of a history lesson here, but Nirvana became an unforeseen hit for Seattle-based Sub Pop Records seemingly out of nowhere with their international hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The song is notably given credit for knocking Michael Jackson out of the #1 spot on the Billboard charts.

My favorite album was actually Incesticide though. This was essentially considered a compilation album because it was previously recorded music that didn't fit on a studio release (and was not recorded during a single recording time frame). This was released after their major success of Nevermind.

I actually think that "Aneurysm" is probably my favorite Nirvana song, and it is the last song on that album.

I also liked In Utero a lot as well. It did not get nearly as much notoriety because it was a bit darker and a lot less poppy than Nevermind.

Of course, the main album they are known for nowadays is their MTV Unplugged: Live in New York album which was a pretty successful album that was released about 8 months after Cobain's suicide.

It hit number one on the U.S. Billboard Charts and was certified platinum. It was also the only album that Nirvana won a Grammy for.

Tons of lists include Nirvana in their top 100 or higher for their massive influence in shaping rock music in the 90's and beyond, and there was no way I could leave this grunge juggernaut off of my list.

They will always and forever remain a large influence on rock music for myself and future generations even if they aren't aware of the impact.

Similar Artists That I Recommend That Didn't Make The Top 40:

Sunny Day Real Estate, Pixies

<-- Check out #17 on this list or Check out #15 on this list → (Available May 11, 2021)