All the cool kids will tell you that they were into Nirvana back in ’89 when they released ‘Bleach’ on Sub Pop. All the cool kids are lying. Like everyone else, they got into Nirvana the moment they heard the first ten seconds of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on the radio: Kurt Cobain’s dirty guitar riff exploding as Dave Grohl’s kit and Krist Novoselic’s bass smashed their way into the song and our collective consciousness.
Many words have been written about ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and we’re about to add a few more, but it’s almost impossible to overstate the sonic earthquake that this song caused around the world in 1991. This was like nothing we’d ever heard before: the sound of Seattle’s grunge scene coming out of the garage like a ravenous monster. A generation of disaffected youth had found an anthem like no other. Anger, despondency, pain and chaos ripped through a million bedrooms as we listened to Cobain wail, scream and howl lyrics that were as confusing as they were powerful: ‘A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido… hey.’ What the fuck?
There’s one more thing that makes ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ the song of the decade, and that’s Samuel Bayer’s now iconic video. His lo-fi, sepia-saturated take on a school concert that descends into madness – complete with slo-mo cheerleaders, smashed up guitars and smoke and fire in a sports hall full of sweaty headbanging teens – was as disturbing and anarchic as the song itself. Everyone watched it. Everyone knew they would never forget it. Tim Arthur
What’s your favourite Nirvana song?