Kurt Cobain, (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was musically influenced by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Queen, KISS and the Pixies. Each of his songs was inspired by an experience, a person, a book, a band or another song. In honor of his birthday today (Feb. 20), below are ten songs written by Kurt Cobain, each with one of their influences.
Lithium – Nevermind
Nirvana on MTV Shows in Early 90sThis song came out of Cobain’s experience living with the born-again Christian family of his friend, Jesse Reed. When Kurt was a rebellious teen, his father placed him in the care of family and friends. For a time with a the Reeds, he became a devout Christian. But he later renounced Christianity and engaged in “anti-God” rants.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Lithium"]
Something in the Way – Nevermind
When Cobain left high school two weeks prior to graduation because he realized he didn’t have enough credits to graduate, his mother told him get a job or leave. She banished him after one week, and he remained homeless for a while, sometimes staying with friends, and sometimes hanging out under a bridge over the Wishkah River. That experience inspired this song.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Something in the Way"]
About a Girl – Bleach
Inspired by his conflicts with a girlfriend, Tracy Marander from Olympia, WA, who used to insist he get a job. She supported them both by working at the cafeteria of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but he spent most of his time sleeping into the late evening, watching television and concentrating on art projects. Marander did not know this song was about her until after his death.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="About a Girl"]
Aneurysm – “B” side of Smells Like Teen Spirit / With the Lights Out (2004) / Deluxe Reissue of Nevermind (2011)
When Cobain met a punk rock girl named Tobi Vail, his infatuation made him so stressed and overwhelmed that he vomited. This event inspired the lyric, “Love you so much it makes me sick,” in “Aneurysm.”
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Aneurysm"]
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nevermind
Girlfriend Tobi Vail wore the deodorant “Teen Spirit” and another friend of his spray painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his wall, as a joke. Cobain was unaware of the deodorant name, and mistook the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Smells Like Teen Spirit"]
Aero Zeppelin – Incesticide
Cobain was a fan of classic rock bands from the 70s, like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Queen and KISS. He occasionally covered these bands and wrote this song as a tribute to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Aero Zeppelin"]
Heart Shaped Box – In Utero
This song was inspired by watching documentaries about children with cancer. He told biographer Michael Azerrad, “Anytime I think about it, it makes me sadder than anything I can think of.” The song’s name came from a heart-shaped box that Courtney Love had given Cobain. However, he had originally titled the song “Heart-Shaped Coffin.”
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Heart Shaped Box"]
Rape Me – In Utero
Cobain wrote it not only as an objective discussion of rape, but a metaphorical protest against his treatment by the media.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Rape Me"]
Pennyroyal Tea – In Utero
“Dave [Grohl] and I were screwing around on a 4-track,” said Cobain, “and I wrote that song in about thirty seconds. And I sat down for like half-an-hour and wrote the lyrics and then we recorded it.”
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Pennyroyal Tea"]
Scentless Apprentice – In Utero
Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer inspired Cobain to write the song. The book is an historical horror novel about a perfumer’s apprentice born with no body odor of his own but with a highly developed sense of smell, and who attempts to create the “ultimate perfume” by killing virginal women and taking their scent.
[metrolyrics artist="Nirvana" song="Scentless Apprentice"]