Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 123
Sat. May 12, 2012

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Trivia: Which seminal 1977 English punk album was the inspiration for title of Nirvana’s 1991 LP— Nevermind?

Answer: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

“♫ oh well, whatever—Nevermind […] ♫”

I remember Nevermind like it was 1991, I was working in a record store in San Antonio when my boss Steve comes out from the stockroom and hands me a promo tape, [Editor’s Note: back then we even got free promotional cassettes (where have all our record stores gone?)], with a naked baby swimming on the cover and says—“play this, I think you’ll like it. But, turn it up; it has to be fuckin’ loud…”

And with those instructions—I pressed play and Kurt’s distinct opening chords were the spark that revolution my young rock virgin ears were waiting for. It’s easy to remember, back then, anyone who worked in music retail, business or a fan can remember the magic of Kurt’s lyrical fury?

Kurt claimed he was trying to pay homage to his favorite band The Pixies when he said—
I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it— I connected with that band so heavily […] we used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”

Sounds like Kurt accomplished his musical wish to write the ultimate pop song with rock riffed overtones. The pop gloss production colored some of the darker themes of Cobain’s lyric. Because of Andy Wallace’s FM friendly mixing job—Nirvana became an international sensation. It was if at that moment, everyone on the planet consciously plugged in to “Smells Like Teen Spirit!”

But was Teen Spirit truly revolutionary artist like his idol John Lennon? Classic Rock Albums: Nirvana: Nevermind authors: Charles R. Cross and Jim Berkentadt believe there’s a link between Cobain and Lennon, musically, they explained—
Smells Like Teen Spirit” at once mocks the concept of youth rebellion and musically embraces it Cobain’s rebel ambivalence mirrors a young John Lennon, who should not decide whether the listener should count him “in/out” on the Beatles song “Revolution.””

It goes beyond John; Cobain’s primal scream at the end owes as much debt to Walt Whitman as does Lennon. Cobain’s angst filled voice was Aberdeen, Washington’s type of Walt’s Barbaric Yawp. It was the Yawp heard through car radio, stereo, Walkman, record players and on TV screens everywhere.

That iconic video of Teen Spirit with Cobain’s face, at the end, raging for all to hear; Kurt was the everyman vocalist of Nirvana. Kurt’s rage connected with the disconnected youth looking for meaning through the sound of Cobain’s tormented voice. Nirvana may have been the catalyst but “Smells Like” was more than another hit single— like “Losing My Religion,” “Welcome to the Jungle” and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise—”before it, “Teen Spirit” shook the foundations of rock music industry.

We are still feeling the ripples of that moment back in 1991. A lot has changed, the industry is worse. The casualties from “Spirit” are many—Kurt passing still haunts all of us, Nirvana is no more; ever imagined what if there was no “Teen Spirit?” Makes you stop and think did “Smells Like” change music or was music transformed by “Teen Spirit?”

Who cares, just press play and let the dynamic sound of “Teen Spirit” and Nirvana shake you all over again.

We miss you, Kurt!

Do you remember the first time you heard “Smells Like?”
Please, share your “Teen Spirit” memories in the comments down below!