Today in History: Smells Like Teen Spirit released

in music •  6 days ago  (edited)

For those of us that were of a "cognitively aware of your surroundings" age when this song was released, we can remember how all-encompassing this song was. Even if you didn't like the type of music (and it was kind of hard to be a fan or not a fan of grunge since Nirvana kinda invented it) you were down with this song. There was something just "incredible" about it.

The year was 1991

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I remember exactly where I was when i first heard it: I was in the "cool part" (or so we thought) of the high school parking lot, and my friend who is normally into Depeche Mode and other such electronic moody music was jamming it from his Buick Century Sedan stereo (on cassette no doubt.)

I was a death metal fan at the time and it was funny to me that he was playing this and also that I enjoyed it as much as I did. There was just something amazing about it. Perhaps it was the simplicity of it, perhaps it was Kurt's very unusual voice. I dunno exactly, but it immediately drew you in and even after hearing that song probably a thousand times, I am still happy to hear it come on today.

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The song was an instant hit and went to the number one spot in many countries. This was prior to the release of the album "Nevermind" which happened a mere 16 days after this track was dropped.


It was such an odd name for a song, especially since the words dont appear anywhere in the actual song. The origin is that a friend of Kurt Cobain's spray painted "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" on Kurt's wall. Teen Spirit was a somewhat popular women's deodorant in the 90's. Kurt was unfamiliar with the brand and claims he still had no idea about the product until months after the release of the song. He adopted the slogan because he misinterpreted the graffiti as a revolutionary slogan when it was really referring to the deodorant that Cobain's girlfriend used at the time.



The cheerleaders in the video were all hired from a nearby strip club in Culver City, California. Another noteworthy piece of history was that the destruction of the entire set at the end of the video was not planned. The shoot had taken a lot longer than they had planned and the extras, the crew, and even members of Nirvana were getting a bit agitated that it was taking so long. Therefore a decision was made to allow the crowd to destroy the set on the final take to blow off some steam.


official video from Nirvana's YT

The song inspired "Weird Al" Yankovic to record "Smells Like Nirvana." Weird Al has a custom of asking artists for their permission before recording and apparently when Yankovic called, Kurt simply asked "Is the song going to be about food?" (which is a safe assumption since a lot of Al's work is precisely that) and Al responded "No it's going to be how no one can understand your lyrics"

Kurt laughed and immediately signed off on it.

Kurt Cobain is on the record saying something along the lines of "I didn't know that we truly made it until Weird Al wanted to cover us."

A legendary released that really changed the musical scene in the early 90's, Smells Like Teen Spirit can be seen as one of the most influential tracks of our time. The focus of the music industry immediately shifted to Seattle grunge and rock, completely eliminated glam rock and even resulted in the eclipsing of famous bands like Guns n Roses. Basically, Nirvana, and especially this track, all but single-handedly eliminated what remained of 80's music.

Rolling Stone rates it 9th in the list of "500 greatest songs of all time."

Where were you when it was released? Were you even alive?

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Putting on repaeat for the rest of the day :)

I actually didn't hear this song until after I had heard a lot of other Nirvana songs. Either that or I heard it and I didn't realize who it was. This was a really exciting time for music and my personal introduction to many other genres that I had not listened to before. I remember well hanging out listening to many of the songs from this era.

I saw Nirvana in Dublin in 1992 and even a quarter of a century later I remember how thrilling it was.

pretty incredible that you got to see them live. There aren't many people that can claim that. I have to compromise and see a local cover band that does a really good job on a few of their covers. It always brings back the memories.

Yep, I'm one of these people.

I first heard it on local independent radio station 3RRR (Melbourne). I was on 'swot-vac' that weird limbo time between finishing high school while studying for final exams. I had moved to my grandmother's house so I could focus on studying for exams and not be distracted at home. I woke up one morning with my radio alarm to the station playing this song....

At the time I was listening to a lot of British Indie music, so what grabbed my attention was Dave Grohl's drumming, which had a dance-like beat found in the music I was listening to at the time. And yet, here was this kick-arse guitar and deep, deep bass sound.

I had been into metal a few years back, but got sick of the whole black leather and demonic imagery shit. But here was a band that incorporated melody and that indie vibe, but with punk-metal aesthetics. Being 18 (and finished school) I'd also just started to get into seeing live acts at local pubs, which were basically grungy-punky rock bands. So it also had that kind of vibe.

Unfortunately, I missed them when they toured a few months later in January (summer for us here in Australia). Apparently it was a seriously awesome gig. I remember a friend of mine reassuring me they would tour again. How wrong we were.

what a fantastic response. Ouch on the "waiting for the next world tour" thing. If you haven't seen the biographical documentary about Cobain entitled Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, i highly suggest that you do so. It was extremely well-done.

It is nice to know that I wasn't the only one caught off guard by Nirvana... I like to believe that we all kind of were.

I would upvote your comment but i have heard rumors that this is a waste of time and SP to do so now. I'm gonna follow you and look into your blogs a bit closer instead. Thanks for the excellent response.

They have an album called Live in Reading. And if you ever want to hear them in their rawest form listen to this . Its one of my favourite albums. Its just noise but Cobain shows his brilliance of just making it up as he goes along. The album is chaos but utter brilliance at the same time.

that is an excellent tip. Thanks for that!

Just heard about it, extremely soothing to ears!