97. Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (1991)

“With the lights out
It’s less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid
And contageous
Here we are now
Entertain us”

Written by Kurt Cobain/Dave Grohl/Krist Novoselic

Produced by Butch Vig

Taken from the album Nevermind

Also released on Singles, From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah, Nirvana, With The Lights Out, Sliver: The Best Of The Box and Live At Reading

AUS #5, US #6, UK #7

I was at the tender age of one when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was released, yet I can still understand quite clearly it’s significance, the importance of a song like this and why everybody still seems to love it today. There’s that relatively quiet intro, four drum hits and then the wall of guitars, which lead us into one of the most intensely exciting songs I’ve ever heard.

You cannot beat the rush of the drumroll right before the chorus explodes out of the speakers. That exhilirating moment is the peak of Nirvana’s powers, the reason for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to exist, the reason all the pretenders and lesser grunge bands were allowed to exist. If any of them could even come close to replicating that moment, they’d be worthy. But so few of them did, and that’s what makes Nirvana and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ so ahead of everything else.

The song can be seen as a triumph and a failure by looking at it from different viewpoints. A victory for alternative rock because it broke into the mainstream, symbolically driving Nevermind to knock Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from the US number one spot, and bringing a new sound to the ears of the world. But seeing this song being enjoyed and embraced by the type of guys that made Kurt Cobain’s life hell in high school would be a factor that drove him to depression.

“Our little group has always been
And always will, until the end”

Emphasis on “little”. Everybody wanted to believe they were part of that little group that was in on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. By writing a song for himself and for the people around him, Kurt Cobain gave up the power to control it. The song became bigger than he could ever hope to be himself, and with a drumroll and the thrash of the guitar, everyone belonged to the little group, for better or for worse.

Music video:

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