Skip to content

6 Albums That Inspired Kurt Cobain & Nirvana’s In Utero

Kurt Cobain pulled from pop, punk, and avant-garde influences to craft the dynamic songs that ended up on Nirvana’s final studio album, In Utero.

Alternative Rock

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was not only a gifted musician and the reluctant voice of an entire generation — he was also a passionate music fan who used his fame to help underground artists reach wider audiences. 

The Melvins were one of Cobain’s biggest inspirations and their long-time friendship ultimately led to Buzz Osbourne introducing Nirvana to Dave Grohl. As Nirvana ascended from the underground to the mainstream with Grohl behind the kit, Cobain would often mention the Melvins in interviews and regularly refer to them as his favorite band. This exposure attracted the attention of Atlantic Records, who released three Melvins albums in the 1990s. 

Artists like Daniel Johnston and Flipper appeared on shirts worn by Cobain as the paparazzi snapped his photo everywhere he went. The whole world saw Cobain wear these shirts and that level of publicity helped Johnston sign a major label deal with Atlantic Records and enabled Flipper’s work with Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings

Cobain invited the Meat Puppets to appear with Nirvana for their 1993 performance on MTV’s Unplugged. Although the band had already signed to a major label, the televised performance and the album that followed helped the Meat Puppets’ next release reach new commercial heights. 

Also in 1993, Nirvana released a split with The Jesus Lizard on Touch and Go Records. At this point, Nirvana was one of the biggest bands on the planet, but they wanted to honor their commitment and work with an underground band and independent label that they greatly admired. The Jesus Lizard also experienced the effects of Cobain’s admiration as the band would eventually get signed by Capitol Records. 

1993 was also the year that Nirvana’s third and final studio album, In Utero, was released. If you plan on picking a copy of one of the deluxe reissues with tons of unreleased bonus tracks, you’ll hear the wide array of influences that Cobain pulled from. Through fandom, research, and the list of Kurt Cobain’s 50 favorite albums, Discogs has curated a list of essential albums that influenced Nirvana and the masterpiece that is In Utero.

The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
by David Bowie

Art Rock
The Man Who Sold The World
David Bowie
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram

Nirvana famously covered the title track from this record for their MTV Unplugged In New York set and you can hear various Bowie influences throughout Nirvana’s career. With hard-hitting guitars, memorable vocal melodies, and cryptic lyrics exploring darker themes, it’s easy to see how The Man Who Sold The World helped shape Cobain’s songwriting. Other Bowie albums like The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars also seem to be a strong influence as In Utero’s string arrangements evoke a similar mood.

Is This Real? (1980)
by Wipers

Punk, Alternative Rock
Is This Real?
Vinyl, Reissue, Remastered

The Wipers had a tremendous influence on Nirvana, grunge, and underground music as a whole. Led by singer and guitarist Greg Sage, the 3-piece band played an inventive take on gloomy punk that featured experimental guitar techniques, angst-ridden vocals, and lyrics that tackled topics like alienation and depression. Cobain listed the first three Wipers albums on his top 50 albums list, but the two songs Nirvana famously covered in 1992 both came from Is This Real?, the Wipers’ groundbreaking debut. If you listen to the Wipers’ early material and follow it with In Utero, you’ll be able to hear more than a few sonic similarities between the two.

Yip / Jump Music (1983)
by Daniel Johnston

Yip / Jump Music
Daniel Johnston
Rock, Lo-Fi, Emo, Art Rock
2 x Vinyl, Reissue, Remastered

Daniel Johnston may have not been the most technically proficient musician, but he more than made up for it with his exceptional ability to craft unforgettable pop hooks. As an outsider musician with a true DIY spirit, Johnston recorded his own music, duplicated his own tapes, and handed them out to anyone willing to listen. Cobain was one of those listeners who could recognize Johnston’s knack for crafting lo-fi, avant-pop songs brimming with genius and heart. Although Cobain had various pop influences, Johnston’s eccentricities, purity, and melodic sensibilities clearly helped inspire songs like “Dumb” and “All Apologies” on In Utero.

My War (1984)
by Black Flag

My War
Black Flag
Rock, Hardcore, Punk
Vinyl, Reissue

Out of all the bands that the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne introduced Cobain to, Black Flag and their album My War probably had the most profound impact on Nirvana’s heavier side. The album’s mix of intense punk energy, heavy riffs, and slower tempos laid the template for countless sludge metal and grunge acts to follow. Although Nirvana was at their sludgiest on their debut album, Bleach, the impact of Black Flag’s ferocity, experimentation, and heaviness can also be felt throughout In Utero. It’s worth noting that Cobain was also a big fan of Black Flag’s Damaged, one of the best punk records ever recorded.

Scratch Acid (1984)
by Scratch Acid

Post-punk, Noise Rock
Scratch Acid
Scratch Acid
Rock, Noise, Post-Punk
Vinyl, 45 RPM, EP

Before The Jesus Lizard was formed, David Yow and David Wm. Sims played in Scratch Acid — another band that gained new fans after appearing on Cobain’s clothing. Their self-titled debut EP features eight tracks that fuse avant-garde punk, post-punk, and noise rock elements that inspired some journalists to refer to them as “the American equivalent of The Birthday Party.” Scratch Acid’s potent blend of dark, weird, and aggressive layers informed Cobain’s compositions throughout his career, including the stranger tracks found on In Utero.

Surfer Rosa (1988)
by Pixies

Alternative Rock
Surfer Rosa
Rock, Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
Vinyl, Reissue, 180 gram

Cobain was a very vocal Pixies fan. Nirvana’s use of the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic was often credited as a Pixies influence when the band was being interviewed. The Pixies’ debut studio album, Surfer Rosa, was recorded by Steve Albini and this was one of the main reasons why Nirvana chose to record In Utero with him. Beyond the energy captured by Albini in the studio, the Pixies’ effortless blend of punk, art rock, and pop clearly had an indelible impact on the eclectic yet cohesive set of songs found on In Utero.

Essential Nirvana Releases

Keep Digging