Not sure if you’re familiar with Magnet’s ongoing Over/Under series, but their writers choose mostly well-known musical artists and discuss their overrated and underrated songs. In theory, it’s a pretty clever idea and the writing isn’t too bad. However, as it’s played out, the series has been a hipster nightmare. The overrated pile is invariably populated by popular or anthemic material, as if by definition, a song appealing to more than 47 people is overrated. The best/worst example of this hipper-than-thou mindset is in the Rolling Stones Over/Under. When justifying his selection of “Wild Horses” as overrated (laughable), here’s what Stephen Sigl writes:
The best (and weirdest) analogy I can come up with for including this and “Satisfaction” on the overrated list is by admitting that I went to a Fugazi show about 10 years ago with some hard-core Fugazi fans and told them (at least more than once), “I hope they play ‘Waiting Room.'” That had to have been annoying, and that’s the criteria I’m using for this list.
This is the textbook definition of hipster nightmare. A guy who penalizes himself for liking a song that other people like and want to hear live. Obviously, it’s the song’s fault. Stupid catchy hook. Come on, dude. “Waiting Room” is a great song. “Wild Horses” is a great song. And “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is also a great song. Wait, why bring up “Teen Spirit”? Because Magnet’s latest Over/Under tackles the Nirvana legacy and in a total shocker, “Teen Spirit” is (over)rated #1. Unfortunately for Magnet, this is empirically wrong. “Teen Spirit” is neither overrated nor underrated. It’s properly rated. It’s a fucking classic, so deal with it. Sure, we probably don’t need to hear it for another decade because of cultural saturation, but that changes nothing. It isn’t, never was, and never will be overrated.
But, since we’re here and Nirvana is one of my favorite bands, why don’t I address their most underrated song? Magnet says it’s “Serve The Servants,” followed by “Sappy” (aka “Verse Chorus Verse”), “Lounge Act,” “Frances Farmer Will Get Her Revenge On Seattle,” and “Marigold.” “Marigold?” Well, it is obscure and that certainly appeals to hipsters, but it’s more of a Dave Grohl solo song than it is a proper Nirvana song. And it’s decent enough I guess, but ultimately more of an historical curio than great. So sorry, it doesn’t make the cut. As for the other 4, they’re all great songs, but underrated??? Who doesn’t love “Lounge Act” and “Sappy”? If you find that person, lemme know. And I’d probably say the same about “Servants” and “Frances Farmer.” Maybe they’re slightly less catchy than “Lounge Act,” but is any Nirvana fan underrating them? I don’t think so.
Frankly, I’m not sure any track from Nevermind, In Utero, or the unplugged dealio can make the underrated cut. Because those albums were so popular, every song has had time to work itself into the mainstream discourse and come out with an essentially appropriate rating (+/- personal taste). That basically leaves Bleach, Incesticide, and various non-album tracks, but even some of that material … I’m looking at you “About A Girl” … has been totally consumed by the mainstream. Nevertheless, it’s a track from Bleach that earns the coveted top spot. After due consideration, Nirvana’s most underrated song is “Floyd The Barber.”
One of Nirvana’s earliest recordings (1988), it functions lyrically on 2 different, yet equally high levels. On one, it’s classic Cobain black comedy, the kind of song that died on the vine after Nevermind went plutonium. The premise that the protagonist is trapped and tortured by the cast of The Andy Griffith Show is darkly comic. There’s references to Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea, Barney, and of course, the titular character (pictured below right). However, if you actually read the lyrics, it’s a harrowing mind-fuck. “Floyd” is “Polly” before “Polly,” a catalog of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse juxtaposed against the superficially all-American backdrop of Mayberry. How can you draw any conclusion other than Kurt Cobain was a lights-out artistic genius? That question may be rhetorical.
I was shaved (x3)
Barney ties me to the chair
I can’t see, I’m really scared
Floyd breathes hard, I hear a zip
Pee-pee pressed against my lips
I was shamed (x3)
I sense others in the room
Opie, Aunt Bea, I presume
They take turns and cut me up
I die smothered in Andy’s butt
“Floyd The Barber” is equally top shelf musically. I love how it lurches back and forth, never sitting still, never comfortable in one place. Given the lyrical content, though, doesn’t that restlessness make sense? Granted, it helps that the drummer isn’t Chad Channing, but The Melvins’ mighty thumper of skins, Dale Crover (pictured below).
Crover actually played with Nirvana throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, sitting in for demos and the occasional show/tour. In fact, the first time I saw Nirvana — Crest Theater, Sacramento, August 20, 1990 — Crover was behind the kit. Just listen to that kick drum and snare pop. Only Dave Grohl got heavier than that and just barely. This is no small matter.
“Floyd” was essentially a preview of the rhythmic assault vehicle that Nirvana was to become with Grohl in the driver’s seat. Crover and Novoselic lock in and free up Cobain for a short solo that’s looks ahead to the break in “Teen Spirit.” Economic, powerful, catchy, everything great about Nirvana was present from the beginning. And what’s the last sound you hear? That’s right, Crover. “Floyd” wins.