Tuesday, September 10, 1991

Nirvana charted with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

First posted 7/12/2014; updated 4/20/2019.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana

Writer(s): Kurt Cobain/Nirvana (see lyrics here)


Released: 9/10/1991


Peak: 6 US, 5 CB, 7 AR, 11 MR, 7 UK, 9 CN, 5 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: 3.84 US, 1.2 UK, 8.0 world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 898.72


Streaming *: 200.0


* in millions

Review:

The song that sparked the grunge movement of the ‘90s owes its inspiration to perspiration. Kathleen Hanna of punk band Bikini Kill scrawled the phrase “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit,” a reference to a deodorant, on Nirvana singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall. However, he interpreted it as her suggestion “that he could incite teenage rebellion” LW-170 and crafted an anti-commercial message in what became an ironically monstrous commercial success.

As producer Bruce Vig said, Cobain “had the dichotomy of punk rage and alientation…but also this vulnerable pop sensibility.” RS500 Upon arriving at parties, Cobain used to utter the song’s chorus (“Here we are now/ Entertain us”) to break the ice. RS500 Much as the public and critics had embraced punk fifteen years earlier, they now took to this new form of music which would revolutionize the industry.

The sound wasn’t completely new; the classic sounds of garage rock and arena rock were built on the same four-chord sequence. Cobain himself compared the guitar part to “Louie, Louie” RSP and shared “more than a hint of the chord changes” of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” TB-246 Cobain said he was inspred by the loud/soft dynamic of the Pixies. CR-503

As artist’s masterpieces often do, “Teen Spirit” haunted Cobain; he felt obligated, but tortured, to play the song at every show. As he said, “there are many other songs that I have written that are as good, if not better.” RS500 However, his demons weren’t restricted to a distaste for his career-making hit; he committed suicide on 4/8/1994.


Resources and Related Links:

  • Nirvana’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • CR Creswell, Toby. (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time.
  • LW Lewens, Alan (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY.
  • RS500 RollingStone.com “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • RSP Rolling Stone (September 8, 1988; Issue 534). “The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years.” New York, NY; Straight Arrow Publishing Company.
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 205.

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.

Awards:


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