kurt cobian in a dress singing on stage

What Genre Is Nirvana?

Nivrana is a grunge band. They also cross-over into punk, pop, rock and alternative.

What Is Grunge?

kurt cobain grunge music icon thrashing on stage

A quick search about grunge will tell you something along the lines of this: Known as the “Seattle Sound”, grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that became prevalent throughout the last half of the 1980s. Centered in Seattle, Washington, the grunge sound has its roots deep within the independent (although now infamous) record label known as Sub Pop. Grunge bands started to become commercially-mainstream with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991, along with other major releases from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

But the history of grunge goes much deeper than that. An article from The Guardian goes into the true history of grunge:

Grunge didn’t start in Seattle. Sub Pop used the word in 1988 to promote a Green River album – “gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation” – but the word had been around as a description for decades. It shows up in 1957, on the back sleeve to a Johnny Burnette rockabilly album. Lester Bangs was using it in April 1972.

There’s more of an argument to be had for grunge beginning in Australia with the Scientists and their scrawny punk ilk. Grunge wasn’t suburban metal, despite what Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam would have us believe. It was stripped-back primeval rock music, no artifice, just SWEAT and BEER and heads banging in bass speakers.

There’s no doubt that Nirvana honed in on their sound at live shows and was the main influence in creating a lasting, personal version of grunge that would make the gritty rockers of the past proud and shape music for the foreseeable future.

Is Nirvana Grunge, Or Something More?

kurt cobain top 50 albums list
Nirvana Cover Songs

Nirvana’s hit ’91 smash, Smells Like Teen Spirit is widely seen as the culprit in bringing grunge to the masses. And while you’ll certainly hear distorted guitars, loud drums, looming bass lines and disparaging vocals, you’ll also notice that song structure is serenely pop in fashion. Other songs, especially from Bleach-era Nirvana are much more punk-driven. Many songs from In Utero are pop-driven. And of course, Unplugged, shows us that stripped-down grunge songs can be, well, not grungy at all.

You should also take a look at Kurt and Nirvana’s main influences. Kurt’s 50 Best Albums list (shown to the left) has a wide range of influences listed, like Aerosmith, The Stooges, David Bowie, R.E.M, Mudhoney, The Vaselines and Daniel Johnston. Nirvana’s cover songs were an eclectic mix of bands from Kiss, the Velvet Underground and blues legend Lead Belly. So if you were to ask Kurt Nirvana’s genre, I’m sure he would get pretty pissed at you.

So while the endless debate goes on, if you’re ever asked “What Genre is Nirvana”, say grunge.. and oh, so much more.

Who Are Some Grunge Icons Of The 90s?

Who are the “Big 5” of grunge? Since its inception, there are a few grunge icons that are generally regarded for pioneering the genre and bringing it to the mainstream. Some of the top grunge icons of the 90s include:

  1. Kurt Cobain – The lead vocalist and guitarist of Nirvana, considered by many to be the “king of grunge”.
  2. Chris Cornell – The lead vocalist and guitarist of Soundgarden and later, Audioslave, known for his powerful vocals and songwriting skills.
  3. Eddie Vedder – The lead vocalist of Pearl Jam, known for his distinctive voice and socially conscious lyrics.
  4. Layne Staley – The lead vocalist of Alice in Chains, known for his haunting vocals and intense lyrics.
  5. Scott Weiland – The lead vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots, known for his dynamic stage presence and emotive singing style.

Some Grunge Icons Of Today

Although traditional grunge hasn’t stayed at the top of the top-100 charts in recent decades, it’s still a popular sub-genre that carries a sense of hard-hitting nostalgia and a care-free attitude. Today, you can find grunge icons in the form of new and old musicians alike:

  1. Dave Grohl – The former drummer of Nirvana and current frontman of Foo Fighters, known for his energetic performances and songwriting skills.
  2. Matt Cameron – The drummer of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, who has also played with various other bands and artists.
  3. Jerry Cantrell – The guitarist and vocalist of Alice in Chains, who has also released several solo albums.
  4. Kim Thayil – The guitarist of Soundgarden, known for his inventive playing style and unique tone.
  5. William DuVall – The current lead vocalist of Alice in Chains, who joined the band after the death of Layne Staley and has helped to keep their music alive.

What Is The Oldest Grunge Band?

Green River Promo For Sub-Pop

Of course, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and others were not the first grunge bands in the industry. In fact, the band that’s considered the earliest and most influential bands in the grunge scene, Green River, formed in the mid-1980s.

Green River came together as early as 1984 and was composed of members who would later go on to join other notable bands in the Seattle scene, including Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard (who would form Pearl Jam), Bruce Fairweather (who would join Mother Love Bone), and Mark Arm (who would form Mudhoney). Green River’s sound was a mix of punk rock, heavy metal and classic rock influences, and their early recordings helped to establish the template for the grunge sound that would become popular in the coming years.

Nirvana certainly owes a debt of gratitude to bands like Green River and other early pioneers of the Seattle grunge scene. Nirvana emerged from the same scene and shared many of the same influences and musical sensibilities as these early grunge bands. In fact, Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain was a big fan of Green River, and he cited the band as a major influence on Nirvana’s sound.

Green River, along with other Seattle bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Tad, helped to establish the template for the grunge sound that Nirvana would later popularize. These bands combined punk, metal and classic rock influences to create a sound that was heavy and uncompromising, with a focus on powerful riffs, driving rhythms and introspective lyrics.

Nirvana took this sound and added their own unique spin on it, incorporating elements of pop and alternative rock to create something that was both catchy and emotionally raw. Nirvana’s breakthrough album, “Nevermind,” became a cultural phenomenon and helped to usher in the mainstream popularity of grunge and alternative rock in the early 1990s.

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