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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Comments (12)
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  • radioredrafts says:

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

  • Jeff Blanks says:

    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 says:

    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!

  • gary says:

    Kurt ,was jesus christ to our generation..he spoke truth, and spoke out against hypocrisy of our establishment, he was born in the year of the goat, and became a sacrificial lamb, whether it be by his hand or someone elses, he knew his fate before him.He knew his mission was clear, denounce materialism and embrace love for others, what a lonely cross to bare, farewell fellow gen xer, see you on the other side one day…..

  • Jeff Smith says:

    Kurt rules the earth with a small hard pencil of joy and destruction. His hair was evil and the temperamental way he went about his business an inspiration to man and beast alike. Thank you.

  • jim nichols says:

    ……if you’re lonely
    You can talk to him
    ……he could never live it down
    To be our creation

  • bobby bloomfield says:

    The vocals are double tracked. The lead vocal is two takes panned to the centre. You can hear the double more clearly on the chorus and very clearly on the last word – denial. The “hello hello part” is two vocals panned left and right. So when people say things like “it was the second take” that’s not true. There are at the very least least four “takes” going in this one clip. It’s quite possible that each line is from a different “take” so there could easily be 50 passes in this little clip.

  • Josih says:

    Eu queria o audio com essa musica :( nao sei tirar do video se alguem tiver me manda por favor :(

  • Madi says:

    So ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was actually a friend taking the piss out of his like of teenage girls? Fits. Would have had groupies clambering over each other.

  • Lewis says:

    It’s not just that he spoke the truth fore he was both a liar and a thief but it’s more than that it’s that he was the truth. You know what I mean? Jesus, I mean, his voice was a hand on the other side. One day….is right.

  • CorrectMeIfImWrong says:

    I thought this was about a girl going to a party to be abused by the others. What do you think

  • lee shafer says:


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