Alt. School: Kurt Cobain's top 50 albums - Part One.

In case you missed it, I’m challenging myself to listen to 50 albums in ten genres of alternative music that I don’t know enough about, in an attempt to make myself some kind of alt-music Voltron. I took a bit of time off after the last leg because it involved just a wee bit too much shite for my liking, and I thought it might be novel to listen to stuff I wanted to listen to, like Danish jazz-inflected stone rock and the like. But I’m back.

While my first buzz of electric guitar thrill came in the guise of Guns ’n’ Roses at a tender young age, I can still pinpoint, to the day, when alternative music entered my life like the swaggering hipster it was, all effortless cool and morose grandeur. That date was… hang on.

Nope, Google can’t tell me what date Channel 4 aired the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, so I can’t pinpoint the actual date, but you get where this is going. Nirvana performing Lithium. Pearl Jam playing Alive. It was one of those moments from your childhood that gets preserved in amber. Me, a thirteen-year-old, not very popular on account of not being very likeable, sitting in the common room of an elite British Bastard Factory, surrounded by older kids who already knew about the bands and were growing tired of them. 

Still, it blew my mind and started two obsessions. One, the Pearl Jam obsession, rages just as strong today. The other, my teenage crush on Kurt Cobain, was snuffed out just a few scant years later above a garage in Seattle.

But that was the start, for me, of another obsession, the sort of thing that has a person doing stupid 500 album challenges nearly three decades later. I fell for the underground, the alternative, the discordant, and much of that was down to an aesthetic, both musical and visual, espoused most clearly in the form of Kurt Cobain. Fuck, I wanted to meet him. I wanted to BE him. I wanted to meet him while being him. I wanted to… I should probably stop there.

The amount of bands I listened to because he casually mentioned them in an interview. The Pixies. Sonic Youth. The amount of crap pop mags I bought because they’d managed to get two sardonic responses from him at an awards show. The amount of time I spent trying to learn that Northwestern sneer. When he died I went into the kind of hysterical mourning you saw when Princess Di died, except this was justified because he made In Utero and what the hell did she ever do except sleep with a posh git or two.

Of course, with time, the wounds healed. Dave Grohl happened for some reason. Nirvana became something on t-shirts sold at Tesco to balding middle-aged men who dimly recall they liked music once. As for me, I stopped wearing black after a few weeks (that’s a chuffing lie), stopped watching Nirvana’s Unplugged on constant, teary rotation and started listening to more diverse things, like other men in bands playing discordant guitar music. But I never forgot where the root of this obsession with ‘the underground’ came from. Yes, that’s right, it came from the biggest selling band in the world, with their albums on Geffen Records. 

I didn’t say it had to make sense.

When Kurt’s memoirs came out a few years back, I felt much the same about it as I used to when I saw kids wearing t-shirts with Kurt’s suicide note on them, which is to say I wanted to scream at people in the streets about how dreadfully crass it was. It wasn’t something I was interested in because it felt too personal, too mawkish, not something he himself would have ever dreamed would be out in the world. 

But one thing did pique my interest - a page, circulated online, that had a hand-drawn list of 50 records. It was labelled Top 50 by Nirvana and was so earnestly and childishly scrawled onto the page as to be a thing of beauty all to itself, as though it was drawn on by a child who’s just thought of a band name and written the first fifty influences they can think of to show how cool that band’s going to be. It reminded me of the folders I had in school that had the Nirvana logo in Tippex.

The other day, I was looking at the list and realised there’s a lot of stuff on there I’ve never actually heard, including a few of those ‘I’ll get round to them one day’ bands that are really the whole point of doing this whole Alt. School challenge. It might not be a ‘genre’ so to speak, but if you’re going to go to Alt. School, what better teacher is there? So, here’s the list. Next week, part one.

  1. Iggy & The Stooges - Raw Power (1973)
  2. Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)
  3. The Breeders - Pod (1990)
  4. The Vaselines - Dying for It (1988, listed as Pink EP)
  5. The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World (1969)
  6. Fang - Landshark (1982)
  7. MDC - Millions of Dead Cops (1981)
  8. Scratch Acid - Scratch Acid (1984, listed as 1st EP)
  9. Saccharine Trust - Paganicons (1981, listed as 1st EP)
  10. Butthole Surfers - Pee Pee the Sailor (1983)
  11. Black Flag - My War (1984)
  12. Bad Brains - Rock for Light (1983)
  13. Gang of Four - Entertainment! (1979)
  14. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
  15. The Frogs - It's Only Right and Natural (1989)
  16. PJ Harvey - Dry (1992)
  17. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
  18. The Knack - Get the Knack (1979)
  19. The Saints - Know Your Product (1978)
  20. Kleenex - "anything by:" (1978-1983, possibly referring to 1993's Kleenex/LiLiPUT compilation)
  21. The Raincoats - The Raincoats (1979)
  22. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (1980)
  23. Aerosmith - Rocks (1976)
  24. Various Artists - What Is It. (1982, erroneously listed as What Is This?)
  25. R.E.M. - Green (1988)
  26. Shonen Knife - Burning Farm (K Records version, 1985)
  27. The Slits - Typical Girls (1979)
  28. The Clash - Combat Rock (1982)
  29. The Faith/Void - The Faith/Void (1982)
  30. Rites of Spring - Rites of Spring (1985)
  31. Beat Happening - Jamboree (1988)
  32. Tales of Terror - Tales of Terror (1984)
  33. Leadbelly - Leadbelly's Last Sessions Volume One (1953)
  34. Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)
  35. Daniel Johnston - Yip/Jump Music (1983)
  36. Flipper - Album – Generic Flipper (1982)
  37. The Beatles - Meet the Beatles! (1964)
  38. Half Japanese - We Are They Who Ache with Amorous Love (1990)
  39. Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (1987)
  40. Black Flag - Damaged (1981)
  41. Fear - The Record (1982)
  42. Public Image Ltd - The Flowers of Romance (1981)
  43. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
  44. Marine Girls -Beach Party
  45. David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
  46. Wipers - Is This Real? (1980)
  47. Wipers - Youth of America (1981)
  48. Wipers - Over the Edge (1983)
  49. Mazzy Star - She Hangs Brightly (1990)
  50. Swans - Young God (1984, erroneously listed as Raping a Slave)

Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk,, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.

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