It was 25 years ago yesterday that Nirvana released the single that went on to be dubbed the “anthem of a generation,” specifically the “apathetic kids of Generation X” (a direct quote from Professor Wikipedia).
Yep, it was September 10, 1991, two weeks before Nevermind was released, that the world heard Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time.
I’m too young to remember the immediate impact the song had. I would have just turned 2 a few weeks prior and at that point was a little preoccupied with my Hot Wheels cars and trying not to piss my bed to be up on the latest trends in music.
I don’t specifically remember the news a couple years later that Kurt Cobain had died, but at that point, I knew who Nirvana was, thanks to spending a lot of time with my teenage cousins who were into all that kind of stuff and would babysit me regularly. It was there that my love of grunge was born, but it was in high school, when my musical horizons were expanding at an alarming rate, that I nurtured that love of grunge. It’s funny how, even a decade later, it was still a big draw for teenagers. Well, certain teenagers. While my classmates were jamming out to Usher saying “YEAH!” over and over again, or getting to know Kanye West for the first time, I was busy seeking out the Black Hole Sun and being haunted by Cobain’s screams toward the end of Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
We all know what happened with Nirvana after this song was released. They were launched to superstardom, and it didn’t sit well with everyone. That’s probably a big part of what led Cobain down his path of self-destruction. As you can see here, just two days after Nevermind hit record store shelves, Nirvana were still playing in small bars:
You can tell that they don’t hate playing the song yet at that point.
However, just a few weeks later, the band were invited to perform on the British show Top of the Pops. At the time, the show had a strict policy that said that artists must sing live vocals over a pre-recorded instrumental track. Like most punk bands probably would, they reacted negatively to this. As any musician would understand, you’d much rather be playing your own instruments, right? Not like The Monkees…
“Eww, you like The Monkees? You know they don’t write their own songs… They don’t even play their own instruments! That’s not even Michael Nesmith’s real hat!”
Anyway, after being asked to play over their pre-recorded instrumental track, Nirvana decided to have a little fun. The result is one of the best “live” performances I’ve ever seen:
The song was a smash hit, as any song labeled “anthem of a generation” would be. It wasn’t long before the tributes (and parodies) started rolling in. In fact, it was not even 6 months after the single’s release that “Weird Al” Yankovic released his take on it, Smells Like Nirvana.
It’s not exactly a song you hear and think to yourself “Man, I could really see someone doing a figure skating routine to this song.” That didn’t stop Scott Williams from doing it though – with a plaid shirt and bandanna to boot.
You know a song is big when Paul Anka decides to do a swing-style cover of it…
The song was so huge that even this shovel – an INANIMATE OBJECT – wanted to get in on the action.
Remember that Rockin’ 1000 show that was recently held in Cesena, Italy? Well guess what was one of the songs they covered…
Yep, it would seem this song is pretty much everywhere…
Has anyone actually figured out what teen spirit smells like, anyway? Because unless I get a better explanation, I’m just going to assume it’s the smell of bong water and B.O. mixed together.