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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