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Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana

About “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

One of Nirvana’s biggest hits, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the lead single off of their second (and most successful) album Nevermind. It was what made the band so popular, so naturally Kurt hated it and almost never performed it again.

Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill scrawled the phrase “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” in spray paint on a wall, from which Kurt took the title. Some say Kurt took it as a call for a revolution (in reference to the Bikini Kill-led riot grrrl movement), but according to producer Butch Vig, Kurt just thought the phrase “was stupid,” and it didn’t really mean anything at all. However, it was later revealed Hanna was referring to the brand of deodorant worn by Kurt’s then-girlfriend (and Hanna’s then-bandmate) Tobi Vail.

Voted 9th on the Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs All-Time.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cobain said “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it.”

  • Is there any translation of this song?

    Yes, there is. Portuguese translation

  • What makes the song important?

    VH1 listed it at the #1 best song of the 90s

  • What have the artists said about the song?

    In a January 1994 Rolling Stone interview, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain revealed that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an attempt to write a song in the style of the Pixies, a band he greatly admired. He explained:

    I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.

    Cobain did not begin to write “Smells Like Teen Spirit” until a few weeks before recording started on Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, in 1991. When he first presented the song to his bandmates, it comprised just the main riff and the chorus vocal melody, which bassist Krist Novoselic dismissed at the time as “ridiculous.” In response, Cobain made the band play the riff for “an hour and a half.” In a 2001 interview, Novoselic recalled that after playing the riff repeatedly, he thought, “‘Wait a minute. Why don’t we just kind of slow this down a bit?’ So I started playing the verse part. And Dave [started] playing a drum beat.” As a result, it is the only song on Nevermind to credit all three band members as authors.

    Cobain came up with the song’s title when his friend Kathleen Hanna, at the time the lead singer of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his wall. Since they had been discussing anarchism, punk rock, and similar topics, Cobain interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning. What Hanna actually meant, however, was that Cobain smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit, which his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore. Cobain later claimed he was unaware that it was a brand of deodorant until months after the single was released.
    “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was, along with “Come as You Are”, one of a few new songs that had been written since Nirvana’s first recording sessions with producer Butch Vig in 1990. Prior to the start of the Nevermind recording sessions, the band sent Vig a rough cassette demo of song rehearsals that included “Teen Spirit”. While the sound of the tape was wildly distorted due to the band playing at a loud volume, Vig could pick out some of the melody and felt the song had promise. Nirvana recorded “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at Sound City recording studio in Van Nuys, California with Vig in May 1991. Vig suggested some arrangement changes to the song, including moving a guitar ad lib into the chorus, and trimming down the chorus length. The band recorded the basic track for the song in three takes, and decided to keep the second one.

    Vig incorporated some sonic corrections into the basic live band performance because Cobain had timing difficulties when switching between his guitar effects pedals. Vig was only able to get three vocal takes from Cobain; the producer commented, “I was lucky to ever get Kurt to do four takes.”

  • Live Performances:

    First TV Appearance

    Live at The Paramount 1991

    Live at Reading 1992

  • Did Kurt want this song to be popular?

    It’s not exactly clear whether Cobain wanted to famous or not. He was quoted as saying, “I’m too stubborn to allow myself to ever compromise our music or turn us into big rock stars. I just don’t feel like that.”

    However, Courtney Love has tried to dispell the “myth” that Cobain didn’t want to be famous saying, ““He wanted it baaaad. He wrote to every major, minor, any label, ‘We’ll pay. Let us be on your label.’ He was desperate to be the biggest rock star in the world. Absolutely desperate. But he made it look like it was thrust upon him.”

    Cobain did stop performing this song after it blew up though.

  • Was there a chorus effect on Smells Like Teen Spirit?

    Boss DS-1/DS-2, an Electro Harmonix Small Clone and poly Chorus and a Tech21 sanamp were the main pedals kurt used :)

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" Track Info