Best tunes of 1991: [Special honourable mention] Nirvana “Smells like teen spirit”

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.

I’ll explain.

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.

22 replies on “Best tunes of 1991: [Special honourable mention] Nirvana “Smells like teen spirit””

I completely understand. Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. Congrats on the new job though and glad the reason was good news and not bad. Cheers!

Liked by 1 person

Easily my fave of 1991. I loved this, it just sent a jolt of energy through me from the very first time I heard it – I bought the LP the day it came out, purely because I liked the cover! Hearing it all the time never dimmed it for me either.

Liked by 1 person

I don’t doubt that there were better songs in 1991, but Cant imagine there were 30 of the! Naturally, I’m looking forward to your picks.

Also, I think Nirvana widened the musical landscape – alternative rock is very varied and the bands that broke through are incredibly different sonically. I don’t think they had to sound like Nirvana.

Liked by 1 person

I feel like the situation was a bit different here in North America. The big record companies still had clout back then and saw dollar signs with Nirvana. They were on the lookout for other bands that sounded similar. At the time, I felt like we were getting a lot of recycled Nirvana…

Anyways, the fact that I gave them an honourable mention is a big step for me. I definitely appreciate them more now than I did in my youth. Even 10 years, I might have just pretended they didn’t exist altogether.

Liked by 1 person

That’s a fair comment, JP. I guess I’m just thankful that majors took a chance on signing and releasing albums by Pearl Jam, Afghan Whigs, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. otherwise I would never have heard them when I did.

Liked by 1 person

See? This is exactly why I’m of two minds about the whole thing. I can’t disagree that some good came out of the whole alternative commercialization in the US.

Liked by 1 person

I guess it’s kinda like the whole ‘Brit pop’ thing in the UK. The Oasis and Blur thing resulted in tons of pretty average bands cropping up and being pushed down our throats.

Liked by 1 person

I guess how you feel about Nirvana and their impact / Britpop depends on the music that you’re into. I got into most of my favourite artists thanks to Nirvana… my gateway band to so many other great artists.

Liked by 1 person

…Or maybe the other way around. It’s like a chicken and the egg kind of thing.

I’m probably more forgiving of the mediocre Britpop bands because I wasn’t as close to it, just as I could never get into bands like Nirvana and STP when I was younger because it is all that was being playing on Toronto’s ‘alternative’ radio station. Somehow I managed to maintain a soft spot for Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins though…

Liked by 1 person

You’re kinder than me, JP. I had no time at all for all that mediocrity that was played either on ‘alternative’ radio shows or the Britpop being pushed out.

I guess I was a bit closer to the post-grunge / grunge-lite tripe cause I liked alternative rock and Britpop was also around me cause my brother was into some of that stuff.

Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.