Ok. So I before I get started into my Best tunes of 1991 list, I wanted to clear something up right away: Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” is NOT the number one song. Nay, it didn’t even make my top 30.
In the fall of 1991, I was entering into my fifth year of high school. Back then, it was called O.A.C. (don’t ask me what it stood for) but it was also known as grade 13. I had been getting into ‘alternative’ music over the previous few years and was in pretty deep by then. I remember first hearing “Smells like teen spirit” and watching the video for the first time and being pretty invigorated by it all. And I remember shortly afterwards, a bunch of us driving around in my friend Tim’s car, late on the night of the year’s first snowfall, and going to the local mall parking lot to do donuts, while this song played on the car’s tape deck. I also remember ‘moshing’* about to the song at a high school dance shortly after that.
But then, I started to get turned off by it – the constant airplay, how commercial it got, and how all these young kids were talking about Nirvana, ‘alternative’ music, and how the first had invented the second. It got so that each successive single from “Nevermind” (and “In utero” afterwards) turned me off a little bit more.
I got (and I still get) the song’s importance and its influence on alternative rock. The problem was that with “Smells like teen spirit” and Nirvana’s emergence, suddenly every ‘alternative’ band was supposed to sound like that and the other bands from Seattle’s ‘grunge’ scene, effectively narrowing the scope of American (and with it, Canadian) music for a number of years. It’s no wonder then that I turned my ears to England’s music through most of the 90s.
Many years have since passed, however, and my angst towards the band has faded. I can now listen to their songs without the animosity I had garnered towards it in my youth and actually enjoy some of them. I even have their self-titled, ‘best of’ compilation in my iTunes library. And though I still don’t think “Smells like teen spirit” was as original as everyone saw it (Kurt Cobain, himself, admitted he was trying to emulate the Pixies when he wrote it), I look at it as a good song that was at the right place, at the right time. I can really appreciate the raw energy that Krist Novoselic, a pre-Foo Dave Grohl, and of course, Cobain poured into the song. The now famous intro guitar line that carries its way through the chorus and the juxtaposition of its rage against the relative calm of the verses. It is loud and raucous and now iconic. And though I’m sure it’s still getting overplayed on alternative radio stations everywhere, I no longer listen to them with any regularity so that when I do chance upon “Teen Spirit”, it reminds me of the first time all over again. I tap my foot and nod my head ever so slightly, re-enacting an adult version of my teenaged ‘moshing’.
All that being said, don’t look for this song (or any by Nirvana) when I start posting my favourite songs from 1991 in the next week or two. It won’t be there. But that doesn’t mean I won’t understand those of you who will disagree with it not being included. To those, I salute you and recommend you press play below and bang your head along with Kurt. Happy Friday!
* I put the word ‘moshing’ in quotes throughout this post because I wasn’t really… just flailing about in a similar approximation thereof.