Kurt Cobain’s Isolated Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ 1991

In 1991, Nirvana’s Nevermind album exploded into mainstream popular culture like–as one writer describes it– “a grenade detonating in your car radio.” The album, and the Seattle-based grunge rock movement it emerged from, was like a booster shot of 70s punk attitude into heavy metal, sweeping away the hedonism and vanity of 80s bands like Quiet Riot and Mötley Crüe. The song that epitomized the new attitude, for many, was the opening track of Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with its explosive expression of youthful alienation:

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

The line “Here we are now, entertain us” was a joke Nirvana’s guitarist and singer Kurt Cobain liked to call out to break the ice whenever he would arrive at a party. “A lot of times,” Cobain told Rolling Stone in a 1994 interview, “when you’re standing around with people in a room, it’s really boring and uncomfortable. So it was ‘Well, here we are, entertain us.’” The title of the song was taken from something his friend Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Bikini Kill, had spray painted across his wall: “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Hanna meant that Cobain smelled like Teen Spirit, a brand of deodorant worn by his girlfriend, but Cobain claimed not to know that until much later. Instead, he saw irony and rebellion.

You can hear Cobain’s isolated vocal track from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” above.  The song was recorded at Sound City studios in Van Nuys, California in May of 1991. The band reportedly chose the second of three takes. The extreme dynamics of the performance–soft to loud, apathy to rage–were inspired by the music of the Pixies. To watch a video of Nirvana trying out an early version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” before an audience at Seattle’s OK Hotel a month before the song was recorded, see Josh Jones’s December post, “The First Live Performance of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (1991).”

via That Eric Alper

Related Content:

Patti Smith’s Cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Strips the Song Down to its Heart

Nirvana’s Home Videos: An Intimate Look at the Band’s Life Away From the Spotlight (1988)

The Pixies “Acoustic Sessions”: See the Alt-Rock Stars Rehearse for the 2005 Newport Folk Festival



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by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

  • radioredrafts

    This was my least favorite song when it was on the radio.

  • Jeff Blanks

    What’s rock’n’roll without some hedonism and vanity? It’s certainly no place for Puritanism–and that’s what we’ve got today, puritannical rock’n’roll, delivered by drably dressed guys with HAIRCUTS (OK, *slightly tousled* HAIRCUTS and scruffy beards–whooo!) writing Ten Good Songs About Things Sucking. This is progress?? No–this is just another example of the tendency since punk to regard other subgenres as diseases to be eradicated rather than patients to be cured. (For all that, don’t forget what thrash-metal did to the hair bands, too.)

    Mind you, I like this song, but it’s done more harm than good–to say nothing of ratifying a certain reactionary mindset that saw hair bands as Girly Faggot Posers rather than embodiments of “male swagger”. Sometimes I think that’s really what got Kurt down so much.

  • Charles Moon

    I love Nirvana and Kurt personally! I think the song was awesome but I love it all even back to “Bleach” and “From the Muddy Banks of Wiskah”! But ” Smells Like Spirit” was like an explosion in ’91. Rest in peace, Kurt!

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