Saturday, August 27, 2011

Smells Like Teen Spirit

In the music industry, 1991 is remembered for a couple of reasons:
  • the popularity of contemporary Christian music, which was probably best embodied at the time in the recordings of Amy Grant and their crossover appeal to more mainstream audiences; and

  • the emergence of grunge as a popular offshoot of so–called "alternative" rock music.
Grunge had been around for awhile, but it really came into prominence in 1991.

And perhaps no other song exemplified that musical style better than the song that was first issued to radio stations on this date (it was released commercially as a single two weeks later and became Nirvana's biggest hit) — "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

TIME called it "an anthem for apathetic kids."

Rolling Stone ranked it ninth on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time — ahead of everything by the Beatles except "Hey Jude" and ahead of anything by Elvis.

The story is that the title was inspired by some graffiti that a female friend of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain spray painted on the wall of his apartment. The graffiti reportedly said, "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit," which was the name of a women's deodorant that Cobain's girlfriend wore. When the girl left him, Cobain used the line as his inspiration.

The song's success was completely unexpected — and a little contradictory to the anti–commercialism of grunge.

It was also more of a collaborative effort than anything else on the band's incredibly successful "Nevermind" album. Cobain presented the basic composition to the group, and then each one contributed at least one suggestion that was used in the final version.

Consequently, it was the only song on the album to list all three band members as authors.

The music video that Cobain and his band mates made was critically acclaimed as well.

In all fairness to Cobain, just how much success can one man stand?

Although the song was praised by the critics and brought Cobain and his band mates fame and fortune, they remained uncomfortable with it — to the extent of deliberately omitting it from concert playlists.

In what I suppose was a sign of the times, "Weird Al" Yankovic told Rolling Stone that Cobain "didn't realize he'd made it" until he heard Yankovic's parody of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

If that was so, Cobain must have been the only one who didn't know he had made it.