Nirvana fans rejoice: Montage of Heck has hit UK cinemas, and along with its treasure trove of home video footage, the dredging has unearthed a recording of Kurt Cobain covering The Beatles’ ‘And I Love Her’ (listen here). To celebrate, we revisited Nirvana’s 10 best cover versions from throughout their career.
10 Here She Comes Now
Inimitable as the man remains, Lou Reed’s trademark blend of disinterest and agitation on ‘Here She Comes Now’ cries out for a liberating grunge makeover. This 1991 take, released on a split single with The Melvins, sees the original’s suppressed sexual tension spill over into a violent temper tantrum.
Akron, Ohio legends Devo don’t always get their dues as postpunk pioneers, what with their quirky later records undeservedly hogging the spotlight. Lucky for them, then, that dance-punk prototype ‘Turn Around’ – originally a lowly B-side – attained immortality in grunge form on Nirvana’s platinum-selling rarity set ‘Incesticide’.
8 Son of a Gun
It’s well-known that Kurt had the K Records logo tattooed on his arm, and if you can judge a musician by his covers, his pick of the roster was Glasgow’s The Vaselines. ‘Son of a Gun’, one of two Vaselines tracks included on ‘Incesticide’, gets a moody treatment that tears up its Velvet Underground roots and dips them in the aural cement mixer.
7 Return of the Rat
Portland’s The Wipers are to US hardcore what the New York Dolls are to punk, so it makes perfect sense that Nirvana – the former scene’s hugest exports – doffed caps to the mighty group by covering ‘Return of the Rat’. Specially recorded for a 1992 Wipers tribute album, this version recaptures the original’s violent oscillations between paranoia and psychosis.
6 Love Buzz
Seventies Dutch group Shocking Blue were getting smudged out of the history books before Nirvana sniffed out ‘Love Buzz’ for their debut single. Their propulsive version seems to torture the track, making it writhe, until its fluttering riff sounds straight-up demonic.
5 Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
This enduring folk standard finally found its home when bluesman Lead Belly put it to tape in the ‘40s. It’s his blueprint that Nirvana build from with their dirgey cover, from ‘MTV Unplugged’, which sees Kurt’s Kurt-iest performance of the session, all throat-scraping cries and anguished howls.
Joining Kurt and co for that MTV session were his mates the Meat Puppets, whose leg-up from the publicity swiftly turned into a Highland fling as Nirvana’s legend grew. By way of further thanks, Kurt covered three of their songs for the performance, including this faithful take on the ‘Meat Puppets II’ cut.
3 Molly’s Lips
Professional traders in amateur pop, the Vaselines rarely sounded worse (and therefore better) than on this 1988 B-side. Nirvana don’t mess about steamrolling the lo-fi track’s delicate charms, but come away sounding perfectly attuned to its shambling spirit.
2 Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam
Originally released on the same EP as ‘Molly’s Lips’, this track inverts children’s hymn ‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’ to tap into the spirit of rejection characteristic of K Records’ oddball roster. Few Nirvana covers stray as far from the grunge stable as ‘Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam’, but it holds up like a charm, Kurt’s rasp finding its perfect foil in wistful accordions.
1 The Man Who Sold the World
Disembodied vocals, mournful melodies, warbly sci-fi effects – Bowie’s ‘Man Who Sold the World’ sounds like the chilly, ravaged skeleton of a classic. Thankfully, Kurt and co’s charming ‘MTV Unplugged’ cover retains the original’s eerie undercurrent while steering it into the land of the living.