The 15 Best Nirvana Covers You May Not Have Heard


If you haven’t gathered as much from the rash of think-pieces and tributes (we suggest you read these instead), tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. While the many words you may read in the next few weeks about Cobain’s legacy demonstrate his importance to generations of listeners (and music journalists), it’s also pretty clear that Cobain and Nirvana are a heavy influence on the bands that followed in their footsteps — and even some of their contemporaries and predecessors. It’s a ballsy move to cover a classic Nirvana song, and there have been some famous artists who have tackled the obvious ones (particularly Tori Amos and Patti Smith, who have both recorded famous version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). There are also, however, plenty of musicians who came before and after Kurt Cobain who have successfully put their own spin on his words.


Caetano Veloso — “Come As You Are”

Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso brings a slight Tropicália spin to his straight-forward cover of the second single from Nevermind.


tUnE-yArDs (feat. Wye Oak and Dirty Projectors) — “Lithium”

The encore performance of the epic concert to celebrate the anniversary of Michael Azerrad’s monumental book Our Band Can Be Your Life saw members of Wye Oak and the Dirty Projectors joining Merrill Garbus on stage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom for this pretty intense cover.


Sinead O’Connor — “All Apologies”

Sinead O’Connor turns this classic into a pretty Sinead-y song.


Kristin Hersh — “Pennyroyal Tea”

Kristin Hersh’s cover of the In Utero track doesn’t sound too different from the original, proving that sometimes you don’t need to put a new spin on what’s already a perfect song.


Jay Reatard — “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”

Jay Reatard’s lo-fi cover of the In Utero track is a fitting tribute, and a bittersweet one considering Reatard’s life was also tragically cut short before the age of 30.


Jessica Lea Mayfield — “Lounge Act”

It’s always interesting to hear a female voice tackle a Nirvana song, and Jessica Lea Mayfield’s ethereal vocals, combined with the chilled-out arrangement, is a nice balance to the original version from Nevermind.


Manic Street Preachers — “Been a Son”

Here’s a bluesy, acoustic version of an early Nirvana track, which originally appeared on the Blew EP.


Titus Andronicus — “Breed”

If there’s any recent band that can replicate the raw energy of Nirvana, it’s New Jersey punk rockers Titus Andronicus, who deliver a stellar cover of this Nevermind track.


Maps & Atlases — “Drain You”

Chicago rockers Maps & Atlases give this song from Nevermind the indie-rock treatment.


Hooverphonic — “In Bloom”

With the addition of frenetic strings and female vocals, Hooverphonic turns “In Bloom” on its head while doing service to the original track from Nevermind.


Animal Collective — “On a Plain”

If there’s any band that could successfully turn a grunge song into a freaky, folky, acoustic jam, it would be Animal Collective.


Sonic Youth — “Moist Vagina”

Noise-rock icons and Nirvana pals Sonic Youth take on this song, which was originally released as the B-side to “All Apologies” and “Rape Me.”


Stereophonics — “Something in the Way”

This bare-bones acoustic cover of this song, from Nevermind, is a fitting and moody tribute.


Cibo Matto — “About a Girl”

Leave it to Cibo Matto to turn a grunge-rock classic into a groovy little ditty.


Kathleen Hanna — “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

At the now-defunct New York variety show Our Hit Parade, Kathleen Hanna tells the amazing story of the time she and Kurt Cobain defaced a pro-life teen pregnancy center, explains the origins of the classic song title, and talks about how the song haunted her during her brief days as a stripper.