Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (official video) is a grunge song.
Song Title: Smells Like Teen Spirit (official video)
Genre: grunge, rock
Composer: Copyright © 1991 Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic
Lead Vocals: Kurt Cobain
Backing Vocals: Dave Grohl
Guitar: Kurt Cobain
Bass Guitar: Krist Novoselic
Drums: Dave Grohl
Producer: Butch Vig
Recorded: May 1991 at Sound City, Van Nuys, California
Released: September 10, 1991 (1991-09-10) (DGC)
Rolling Stone Top 500: Smells Like Teen Spirit (official video) was selected number 9 (nine) in Rolling Stone Magazines 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in May 2011. See Rolling Stone.
Number of listens: 23887
Current rank: 43 (updated weekly)
Highest rank: 24 (play the video all the way through to register a vote for this song)
U.S. Billboard Hot 100: peak #6 (six), 1991
Mainstream Rock: peak #7 (seven), 1991
Modern Rock: peak #1 (one), 1991
Dance/Club Play: peak #14, 1991
Dance Singles: peak #27, 1991
Billboard chart listings courtesy of Billboard Magazine
Summary quotation from Wikipedia:
Smells Like Teen Spirit is a song by the American rock band Nirvana. It is the opening track and lead single from the bands second album, Nevermind (1991), released on DGC Records. Written by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl and produced by Butch Vig, the song uses a verse-chorus form where the main four-chord riff is used during the intro and chorus to create an alternating loud and quiet dynamic.
The unexpected success of Smells Like Teen Spirit in late 1991 propelled Nevermind to the top of the charts at the start of 1992, an event often marked as the point where alternative rock entered the mainstream. Smells Like Teen Spirit was Nirvanas biggest hit, reaching number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and placing high on music industry charts all around the world in 1991 and 1992.
Smells Like Teen Spirit received many critical plaudits, including topping the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll and winning two MTV Video Music Awards for its music video, which was in heavy rotation on music television. The song was dubbed an anthem for apathetic kids of Generation X, but the band grew uncomfortable with the success and attention it received as a result. In the years since Cobains death, listeners and critics have continued to praise Smells Like Teen Spirit as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
Origins and recording
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:
Cobain did not begin to write Smells Like Teen Spirit until a few weeks before recording started on Nirvanas 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 dont 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.
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 bandor at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
Cobain came up with the songs title when his friend Kathleen Hanna, at the time the lead singer of the riot grrrl punk band Bikini Kill, spray painted 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 that 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 Nirvanas 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.
Smells Like Teen Spirit is written in the key of F minor, with the main guitar riff constructed from four power chords (F5–B♭5-A♭5-D♭5 played in a syncopated sixteenth note strum by Cobain. The guitar chords were double tracked because the band wanted to make it sound more powerful, according to Vig. The chords occasionally lapse into suspended chord voicings as a result of Cobain playing the bottom four strings of the guitar for the thickness of sound. Due to being neither major nor minor, the occasional use of suspended chords also allows the chord progression used in the riff to be thought of as a I–IV–♭III-♭VI majorchord progression. The songs chord progression has been described as an ambiguous, harmonically dislocated sequence, and it is the asymmetrical nature of Cobains riff [
] that makes it so great. Musicologist Graeme Downes, who led the band The Verlaines, says that Smells Like Teen Spirit illustrates developing variation. Listeners made many comments that the song bore a passing resemblance to Bostons 1976 hit More Than a Feeling. Cobain himself held similar opinions, saying that it was such a clichéd riff. It was so close to a Boston riff or [The Kingsmens] Louie Louie.
Smells Like Teen Spirit uses a somewhat conventional formal structure consisting of four-, eight-, and twelve-bar sections that includes an eight-bar verse, an eight-bar first chorus (pre-chorus), and a twelve-bar second chorus (main chorus). Elements of the songs structure are marked off with shifts in volume and dynamics, going back and forth from quiet to loud a number of times during the length of the recording. This structure of quiet verses with wobbly, chorused guitar, followed by big, loud hardcore-inspired choruses became a much-emulated template in alternative rock because of Teen Spirit.
The song begins with Cobain strumming the main riff, adding distortion when the rest of the band joins in. During the verse Cobain plays a sparse two-note guitar line over Novoselics eighth note bassline, which outlines the chord progression. In the pre-chorus, Cobain begins to play the same two notes on every beat of the measure and repeats the phrase Hello, hello, hello, how low? Cobain then resumes the main guitar riff for the chorus, where the band plays loudly and Cobain yells the lyrics. The first and second choruses both end with a brief four-bar interlude where Cobain shouts Yeah! twice over a new riff. After the second chorus, Cobain plays a 16-bar guitar solo that almost completely restates his vocal melody from the verse and pre-chorus. The band extends the third and final verse and chorus as Cobain sings the refrain A denial repeatedly. At this point Cobains vocals become strained and his voice is almost shot from the force of yelling. The song ends with the feedback of the guitar.
Lyrics and interpretation
The lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit were often difficult for listeners to decipher, both due to their nonsensicality and because of Cobains slurred, guttural singing voice. This problem was compounded by the fact that the Nevermind album liner notes did not include any lyrics for the songs aside from selected lyrical fragments. This incomprehensibility contributed to the early resistance from radio stations towards adding the song to their playlists; one Geffen promoter recalled that people from rock radio told her, We cant play this. I cant understand what the guy is saying. MTV went as far as to prepare a version of the video that included the lyrics running across the bottom of the screen, which they aired when the video was added to their heavy rotation schedule. The lyrics for the albumand some from earlier or alternate versions of the songswere later released with the liner notes of the Lithium single in 1992. American rock critic Dave Marsh noted comments by disc jockeys of the time that the song was the Louie Louie of the nineties and wrote, Like Louie, only more so, Teen Spirit reveals its secrets reluctantly and then often incoherently. Marsh, trying to decipher the lyrics of the song, felt after reading the correct lyrics from the songs sheet music that what I imagined was quite a bit better (at least, more gratifying) than what Nirvana actually sang, and added, Worst of all, Im not sure that I know more about [the meaning of] Smells Like Teen Spirit now than before I plunked down for the official version of the facts.
Teen Spirit is widely interpreted to be a teen revolution anthem, an interpretation reinforced by the songs music video. In an interview conducted the day Nevermind was released, Cobain stated the song was about his friends, explaining, We still feel as if were teenagers because we dont follow the guidelines of whats expected of us to be adults [
] It also has kind of a teen revolutionary theme. As Cobain did more interviews, he changed his explanation of the song and rarely gave specifics about the songs meaning. When discussing the song in Michael Azerrads biography Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Cobain revealed that he felt a duty to describe what I felt about my surroundings and my generation and people my age.
The book Teen Spirit: The Stories Behind Every Nirvana Song describes Teen Spirit as a typically murky Cobain exploration of meaning and meaninglessness. Azerrad plays upon the juxtaposition of Cobains contradictory lyrics (such as Its fun to lose and to pretend) and states the point that emerges isnt just the conflict of two opposing ideas, but the confusion and anger that the conflict produces in the narratorhes angry that hes confused. Azerrads conclusion is that the song is alternately a sarcastic reaction to the idea of actually having a revolution, yet it also embraces the idea. In Heavier Than Heaven, Charles R. Cross biography of Kurt Cobain, the author argues that the song is a reference to Cobains relationship with ex-girlfriend Tobi Vail. Cross cites the line Shes over-bored and self-assured and states the song could not have been about anyone else. Cross backs up his argument with lyrics which were present in earlier drafts, such as Who will be the King & Queen of the outcasted [sic] teens.
Cobain has said, The entire song is made up of contradictory ideas [
] Its just making fun of the thought of having a revolution. But its a nice thought. Drummer Dave Grohl has stated he does not believe the song has any message, and said, Just seeing Kurt write the lyrics to a song five minutes before he first sings them, you just kind of find it a little bit hard to believe that the song has a lot to say about something. You need syllables to fill up this space or you need something that rhymes.
The music video for Smells Like Teen Spirit was the first for director Samuel Bayer. Bayer stated he believed he was hired because his test-reel was so poor the band anticipated his production would be punk and not corporate. The video was based on the concept of a school concert which ends in anarchy and riot. Inspiration was taken from Jonathan Kaplans 1979 movie Over the Edge, as well as the Ramones film Rock n Roll High School. Filmed on a soundstage in Culver City, the video featured the band playing at a pep rally in a high school gym to an audience of apathetic students on bleachers, and cheerleaders wearing black dresses with the Circle-A anarchist symbol. The video ends with the assembled students destroying the set and the bands gear. The demolition of the set captured in the videos conclusion was the result of genuine discontent. The extras that filled the bleachers had been forced to stay seated through numerous replays of the song for an entire afternoon of filming. Cobain convinced Bayer to allow the extras to mosh, and the set became a scene of chaos. Once the kids came out dancing they just said fuck you, because they were so tired of this shit throughout the day, Cobain said. Cobain disliked Bayers final edit and personally oversaw a re-edit of the video that resulted in the version finally aired. One of Cobains major additions was the next-to-last shot of the video, which was a close-up of his own face after it had been obscured for most of the video. Bayer noted that unlike subsequent artists he worked with, Cobain did not care about vanity, rather that the video had something that was truly about what they were about. The video had an estimated budget between $30,000 and $50,000.
Like the song itself, the music video for Smells Like Teen Spirit was well received by critics. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke described the video as looking like the greatest gig you could ever imagine. In addition to a number one placing in the singles category, Teen Spirit also topped the music video category in the Village Voices 1991 Pazz & Jop poll. The video won Nirvana the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Group awards at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, and in 2000 the Guinness World Records named Teen Spirit the Most Played Video on MTV Europe. In subsequent years Amy Finnerty, formerly of MTVs Programming department, claimed the video changed the entire look of MTV by giving them a whole new generation to sell to. VH1 placed the debut of the Teen Spirit video at number eighteen on its list of 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Moments on TV, noting that the video [ushered] in alternative rock as a commercial and pop culture force. In 2001, VH1 ranked the video fourth on its 100 Greatest Videos list. The video has been parodied at least twice: in Weird Al Yankovics music video for Smells Like Nirvana and in Bob Sinclars 2006 music video for Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now).
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