The opening few notes of this must be among the most recognisable of all time:-
mp3 : Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
I can still recall the very first time I ever heard this. It was 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.
I loved the song then and I love it still. I put it at #11 in my all time 45s rundown back in 2008 and it would still feature just as highly if I was to re-run that exercise today. ( much of the rest of this posting is adapted from that particular piece over at the old blog with a few additions)
This song is about as far removed as you could ever imagine from the jingly-jangly 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?
Here’s the other tracks on the CD single:-
mp3 : Nirvana – Drain You
mp3 : Nirvana – Even In His Youth
mp3 : Nirvana – Aneurysm
The back of the single provides details of a promotional tour in 1991:-
November 26 : Bradford University
November 27 : Birmingham Hummingbird
November 28 : Sheffield University
November 29 : Edinburgh Calton Studios
November 30 : Glasgow QMU
December 2 : Newcastle Mayfair
December 3 : Nottingham Rock City
December 4 : Manchester Academy
December 5 : London Kilburn National Ballroom
December 9 : Belfast Conor Hall
December 10 : Dublin McGonagle’s
A few thousand people struck gold with tickets on that tour.
I never did get to see the band live on stage. Mrs Villain and myself had tickets for a Glasgow gig that never happened.
It was initially cancelled as Kurt Cobain had been unwell and was re-scheduled for later in the year but as we all know, the singer committed suicide on 6 April 1994. The £12 was obviously needed for something else as 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 would get far more than its face value if she was to put it on e-bay.
(Incidentally, that’s not an image of Mrs V’s ticket…just one I lifted from the internet)