Tuesday, September 10, 1991

Nirvana released “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

First posted 7/12/2014; updated 5/9/2020.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana

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


Released: September 10, 1991


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


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


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 898.72 video, 651.0 streaming

Awards (Nirvana):


Awards (Tori Amos):

About the Song:

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 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 Cobain said he was inspred by the loud/soft dynamic of the Pixies. CR

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 April 8, 1994.

The song has been covered by a wide variety of artists, including my personal favorite – a stripped-down, piano-based rendition by Tori Amos. However, it has also been done by Paul Anka, Michael Bublé, Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, Joan Jett, Bruno Mars, Metallica, the Muppets, Willie Nelson, Patti Smith, and Weird Al Yankovic (with his “Smells Like Nirvana” parody).


Resources and Related Links:

  • Nirvana’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Page 503.
  • LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 170.
  • 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 246.

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