The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #247: All Apologies by Nirvana (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #247: All Apologies by Nirvana.

“All Apologies” is the final track on Nirvana’s final studio album, “In Utero”. Compared to many Nirvana songs, “All Apologies” is quieter and more reflective. While the song was released as a single, it really came to the attention of the public via an MTV Unplugged acoustic concert in which Kurt Cobain and the band are surrounded by candlelight, amid a silent, awestruck audience. In the MTV Unplugged video, the individual notes played by Cobain, bassist, Krist Novoselic and drummer, Dave Grohl, are crackingly clear. Cobain’s voice has rarely been as emotive as it was during this performance. Out of all of the MTV Unplugged concerts, with numerous talented singers and bands, many critics rate Nirvana’s performance as being the best of all-time.

The song, “All Apologies” finds Cobain reflecting on his life, mere months/weeks before he was to commit suicide. Cobain always had mixed feelings about his music. He strove for the integrity of the Art in music-making and not the industry that surrounds it. The more successful he and the band became, the more he wrestled with his role. Was he contributing to the continuation of a business that he despised and, by doing so, was now complicit in all that was wrong with the music industry? Was there still room for Art and the poetry of his lyrics? Was everything just marketing now?

In his personal life, he had married the enchantress who he found irrestible, Courtney Love. Together, they had given birth to a girl that they named Frances Bean. So, in addition to all that was plaguing him in his career, he now felt the weight of the responsibilities that came from being a husband and father. When you have children, life changes. Priorities change. Nothing is the same, ever again. For me, that life change lifted me up into a higher plain of happiness. For Cobain, who presented as bi-polar and who spent an entire lifetime straddling that line between depression/mental illness and creative genius, his life changes were weighing him down. As we know, not long after the release of “In Utero” and the debut of “All Apologies” as a single, Cobain ended his pain by taking his own life in his home.

The lyrics to “All Apologies” read like a biography of who Cobain was, how he felt about his life and his future, too. He uses the phrase, “In the sun I feel as one” to comment on how unaccepting a community the Pacific Northwest was for him growing up and how, being in any other place (in the sun, rather than the rainy Northwest) would have been better than living where he was. He, also, talked about the burdens that come with seeing life’s complexities and contradictions more clearly than most, when he sings scathingly, “I wish I was like you…..easily amused”. Cobain also, uses the words, “Married” and “Buried” as declarative statements of where his life is at now and, perhaps, where his life is headed. There are many people who point to “All Apologies”, because it was the final thought expressed on the final Nirvana album, that it is a musical suicide note. Whether or not that is what Cobain intended is pure speculation but, never-the-less, the emotional nature of a man singing about life being hard cannot be taken lightly in relation to his suicide mere weeks later.

There was never an official music video for “All Apologies”. There was never really any time for that. There was talk of the band shooting a video that re-created the Kennedy Assassination but, with cream pies instead of guns. But instead, the live MTV Unplugged version of the song ended up being the de-facto official music video and, as such, is the one that I will play for you now. For those whose musical history is relatively modern, the death of Kurt Cobain resonated on an emotional scale every bit as large as that of the death of Elvis and the murder of John Lennon did for those acquainted with the early days of Rock n’ Roll. It heralded the end of musical era for many who were fans. But, as songs go, if “All Apologies” had to be the final song released by the band then, it was a great song to end with.

So, without further delay, here is a memorable perfoamnce of “All Apologies” by Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged Concert series. Listen hard. Absorb it all. Reflect and enjoy.


The link to the video for the song, “All Apologies” by Nirvana, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Nirvana, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting local talent. The link to their website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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