ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FRIDAY 9 MAY 2008
(and featured again in this form on 4 March 2015)
Is this the song in my self-indulgent rundown that stands out like a sore-thumb?
In terms of a world-wide audience, it’s probably the best-known of all of the 45s (so far). It’s certainly got the most identifiable opening notes (that is unless you get confused with Call It What You Want by Credit To The Nation which sampled the intro).
First time I heard this was as the opening song on a cassette made up by Jacques the Kipper. It was a time when every six weeks or so, we would thrust a tape into each others hands along with set of cryptic clues for each song, and challenge the other, not just to identify the track, but also offer a few observations.
His clue for the opening song was ‘Vodka’. Sheer genius if you ask me…..the boy should have become a copywriter with an advertising agency.
But back to the song…
It’s about as far removed as you could ever imagine from the twee stuff that I listened to so much over the previous decade, and it could almost be classified as the dreaded stadium rock. And yet…
There’s just something very special and outstanding about Smells Like Teen Spirit that is difficult to pinpoint. I can’t argue that it’s anything unlike you’d ever heard before, given that it has a riff that is very similar (some say identical) to More Than A Feeling by 70s soft-rockers Boston. Nor is there a case to be made that the vocals are completely different from other folk given that Kurt Cobain’s style of quiet/shout/quiet/shout was something you heard from Black Francis on many Pixies songs. And yet…
The song did seem to arrive like a bolt out of the blue. Yes, there had been some coverage in the UK music papers about some sort of scene based around the city of Seattle, but how many times before had we read about a scene in Chicago, New York, LA, San Francisco or any other American city that had petered out before it crossed the Atlantic. But then Nirvana came across to the UK to promote Nevermind. There was a live appearance on an early evening chat-show on Channel 4 hosted by Jonathan Ross. He introduced the band who went straight into a heavy-metal riff, and then Kurt took over on a completely indecipherable lyric that was a low-moan or a scream…
In the middle of the tune, he sang the words, ‘Just Because You’re Paranoid Don’t Mean That They’re After You’. Then he started screaming again. The song finished in a flurry of feedback not seen in any TV studio since the heyday of Jesus And Mary Chain, before the drums were kicked over and the band stormed off to muted applause and a bemused chat show host who had his finger in his ear. Jonathan Ross than, in a brilliant piece of improvisation said ‘That was Nirvana – doing a song that none of us were expecting. They’ve asked me to mention that they are available for children’s parties and bar mitzvahs…’
It was a truly astonishing piece of TV, and the most ‘punk’ thing I had seen in years, and I knew right then that Nirvana were the genuine article. (The song they played was Territorial Pissings). It was the sort of thing that won’t happen nowadays as prime-time TV live shows are no longer really live and bands won’t behave in that way for fear of upsetting the label bosses.
Of course it all went badly wrong almost immediately, and the band nowadays seem to be loved and admired more for the dead rock star syndrome rather than anything else. The fact that it all ended before there could be any critical backlash or before they fell out of fashion, means that there are very few reasons why music historians and commentators can ever make critical comments about Nirvana, other than be horrified at some of the copy-cat acts that came in their wake. But that’s just nonsensical – you never read anyone blaming The Beatles for every single four-piece band that’s walked the planet since 1963 do you?
mp3 : Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
mp3 : Nirvana – Drain You
mp3 : Nirvana – Even In His Youth
mp3 : Nirvana – Aneurysm
I never did get to see the band live on stage. Mrs Villain and myself had tickets for a Glasgow gig that never happened as Kurt Cobain committed suicide shortly beforehand. I immediately went back in for my refund, but Mrs V kept her ticket as a memento. Seems she was the clever one as she could probably get far more than its face value if she was to put it on e-bay…
Oh I’ve tracked down the Jonathan Ross clip as well. Even if you’re no fan of the band, it’s worth having a look just to see how fresh-faced he was back in 1991. And check out his hair, as well as the ad-libbing (turns out I didn’t repeat it 100% word-for-word, but I wasn’t far off).