Song 95: Nirvana, “Drain You” (1991)


I like to say that some songs are “secret best songs” from a particular artist or album. It’s not that they’re necessarily the best song, it’s that the universally accepted best song (“Hey Jude”, say) is so well-known and lauded that it’s hard to hear with fresh ears. That’s where the secret best song comes in, the dark horse that deserves more attention. (Isn’t that a fun idea? Guys? Where’d you go?).

To that end, I think we would all agree that the best song on Nevermind is “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, that ferocious animal of a single that never sounds old. But the secret best song on Nevermind is Drain You. The thing that makes Nevermind so amazing is that almost all the songs are so remarkable that each could be the secret best song. “Lithium”, “Come As You Are”, “In Bloom”… I couldn’t argue with any of these choices. Yet it’s “Drain You” that I always come back to, and I think half the reason may be the first few seconds: I love they way Cobain’s voice is so immediate and clear, with his guitar matching the tone. Then it all gloriously blows up, of course, but those first few seconds are moments of pure pop in their clarity.

I also love, love, love the melody on this song. It really is beautiful, which might sound like a strange thing to say about a song with lyrics such as “It is now my duty to completely drain you”, but it’s true: try picturing this song being played on the piano, and you might hear what I’m hearing. (Tori Amos famously did this with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which made the thing sound like “Moonlight Sonata.”) Cobain rivaled Lennon and McCartney in the melody department, as far as I’m concerned.

Another reason I love this song: Dave Grohl once again beating the shit out of his drums. That guy’s commitment to noise knows no bounds.


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