Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit)

In 1991 Seattle conquered the world.

As statements go, they don't get more opinionated and boisterous than the one above. But Killer Opening Songs has a big mouth. Oh yes! And K.O.S. will demonstrate immediately why the caption decorating the top of this post is not just a display of cheap bravado.

By the time Nirvana broke into the pop charts with their sophomore album, 'Nevermind', the musical scene had totally changed. Glam metal was in freefall with bands like Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe almost collecting their pensions whereas rap was becoming comercially successful with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul releasing ground-breaking records. This was also the year when Freddie Mercury, Queen's erstwhile singer, died of AIDS, prompting 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to top the charts once again sixteen years after its first release. It was this musical vacuum that grunge stepped into, turning Seattle into the hotbed of alternative rock'n'roll. And the song responsible for that? 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

However, it would be totally irresponsible and unfair to claim that Nirvana invented grunge. This particular musical style had been doing the rounds since the mid 80s in the USA, a spin-off of hardcore punk and heavy metal. What happpened in the early 90s was that grunge stripped down its image and bared its teeth. Out went the big perms from the eighties, in came shorter hair, checked shirts and baggy trousers. Instead of the usual 30-second guitar solo so typical of bands like Poison and Whitesnake, bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains went for a sludgier and more distortioned guitar sound. The lyrics got angrier and so did the feelings expressed by what then began to be known as 'Generation X'.

On the other hand, though, it would not be too far-fetched for K.O.S. to claim that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' opened the floodgates of the grunge movement and brought it into the mainstream. DGC Records was hoping to shift a maximum 250 000 units of 'Nevermind'. In the event, the album was selling 400 000 copies a week in the US by Christmas 1991.

The song, as such, has become an anthem for young people around the world who feel disenfranchised, alienated and confined. From the iconic intro, the main feature why Killer Opening Songs has always regarded it so highly, to the guitar solo, which, in a blatant break from convention replicated the lyrics verbatim, only instrumentally, this is the track that encapsulated the movement's ethos.

'Smells Like Teen Spirit' has been covered by many artists over the years, Tori Amos and Patti Smith are but two of them. Without wanting to come across too snobbish, K.O.S. has not been always happy with the outcome. This is an angry song by and for an angry generation and the stripped down, acoustic versions that abound sap the energy that is so ubiquitous in the original piece. Only Kelis, in K.O.S.' humble opinion did it justice a few years ago when she played the Glastonbury Festival.

So, another week, another Killer Opening Song. Enjoy.



Copyright 2008

23 comments:

  1. Nirvana, indimenticabile!!!!!!

    Hanno introdotto uno stile unico. Peccato che lo spirito di questa band eccezionale non ce´ piu´.

    Grazie per questo post, mi ha fatto rivivere una musica che adoro!

    Saluti,
    Salva

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  2. Gracias, salva, me encanta la musica de ellos también.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  3. Wow, 'El Bolero' followed by Kurt Cobain. Now, that's what I call music!

    Greetings from London.

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  4. Well, this particular song isn't exactly my kind of music, but I am looking forward to your up coming Sunday morning fare. Thanks for the delicious preview.

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  5. This is my son's favorite song of all time; at least for this week.

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  6. Thanks, willow and dutch, for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

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  7. Teen Spirit smells fine.
    There are two things I didn't like of Cobain: Suicide and Hole.
    Saludos,
    Al Godar

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  8. Ah, yes. As the mother of two teenaged sons (and one civilized young adult daughter) I am quite familiar with this song.....and I like it! However, even better is the album (!) cover. Love that photo! The young man recently did an anniversary reshoot (with swimming trunks this time) : )

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  9. Increible esta cancion. Creo que te guste o no marco un hito historico. Escucho la cancion y me trae todos los recuerdos de generacion X enojada!!!

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  10. Hahaha, Al, OK, I take you point!

    Cecile, I think it's the same story with most teenagers' parents even 17 years after the song was released. Read dutchbaby's comments.

    Lena, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' salio en el momento adecuado a la hora adecuada.

    Greetings from London.

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  11. Still popping in...just haven't taken the time to listen to the last few songs.

    The Nirvana album cover is sure eye catching!

    As (a young) someone who lived fairly close to Seattle in 1991...have to say the Grunge rage never interested me.

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  12. Hi, diva, thanks for your honest opinion. To be frank with you when Nirvana's music finally made it to Cuba I was not bowled over by it at the beginning. It took a few listening sessions for this album to sink in.

    Greetings from London.

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  13. I don't like Nirvana although I get where they were coming from.

    It's interesting how music defines a generation. 80's music, English punk rock especially, defines my youth, and it's fun to see it staging a comeback. I listen to the pop music my daughter enjoys, but it doesn't do much for me. It is good that the female voice is strong for this current generation of girls.

    You put a lot of thought into music and make us think about it too. That is good even when I don't like the music.

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  14. This is the only Nirvana song I know but I do enjoy it. :)

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  15. P.S. One of my favorite Anais Nin quotes is in your header!!

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  16. I love Nirvana. Thank you for posting it, makes me feel young again. How are the holidays treating you my friend? Any melancholy?

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  17. Thank you all for your honest opinions.

    Yoli, no holidays yet, but they are coming closer. I'm planning to spend them with my family. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  18. Karma, I fell in love with Anaiss writing when I was still in uni, back in Cuba in the 90s. I think her intellect was far too developed for her era.

    Greetings from London.

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  19. Llego tarde, como siempre.

    Esta canción cambió mi vida. El día antes de que me pirara de Cuba, todos mis socios me la pusieron y nos quedamos todos bien serios. Por alguna razon, Smells nos habia unido antes y en ese momento encestábamos oírla para separarnos. Tengo el video de esa fiesta triste.
    Por eso siempre me duele un poco, hablar de Nirvana.
    Nirvana, me dejó saber que aunque yo viviera en la Habana (que es algo así como el culo del mundo) a miles de millas de mí, en Seattle, había gente que pensaba lo mismo que uno y sobre todo que buscaba y deseaba algo mAS de la vida. Ese es el valor que encuentro a las canciones de Cobain, no su ritmo, ni su pose. Dicen que el viejo Kurt se suicido por su adicción y por su vanidad, pero al final que importa, si todo aquel que se mata lo hace por soledad. El suicidio de Kurt, me dio tan fuerte que comencé a valorar un poco más a la vida y a la gente que me rodeaba.
    Recuerdo que los socios, re-armamos una banda y comenzamos a tocar grunge en el sotano de mi casa. No hicimos nada , nada MAs que pasar los 90 molestando a los vecinos con nuestro ruido, en la jodedera de afuera, gritar en los parques del Vedado. Nuestro barrio. En G, en Paseo, en19,en 13. A lo mejor alguien aquí nos oyó de pasada. Quien sabe...
    Rimbaud, Herman Hesse y f.k. kurt cobain nos acompañaban siempre, nos daban una bomba del carajo. Cambiamos a Silvio por Santiago, le creímos al Santi porque para entonces él estaba ahogado en un hueco negro infinito, y nosotros resinGds por los apagones y por la sonrisa que se nos perdía en la suela rota de nuestros zapatos.
    Aquí va nuestra respuesta a Smells Like Teen Spirit.
    NaturalezaMuerta.
    El tiempo se marchitó
    vamos a ninguna parte
    nadie sabe cuando acaba
    esta fila interminable
    y hay quiere morir joven
    pero al resto nos da miedo
    es mejor la mentira
    sonamos que sonamos con la vida

    Mis amigos escaparon
    fueron a ninguna parte
    nadie sabe cuando acabe
    esta fila interminable
    y hay quien quiere seguir viviendo
    pero al resto nos repugna
    el teatro de esta vida
    soñamos con volar como suicidas


    a kurt cobain. abril 1994.
    by teatro mágico.

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  20. Me llegO, asere, me llegO, con-o, carajo, bro!

    Ojala que algun dia podamos conocernos y sentarnos y hablar de aquella epoca.

    Si descargabas en esos lares en los 90 es muy probable que nuestros derroteros se hayan cruzado alguna que otra vez.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  21. As someone who never evolved past the Beatles, I have to say that I missed most of grunge, but I did like Nirvana.

    Funny timing on this post, as I had just read something about the baby on the album cover (who is now 17 years old).

    http://www.undercover.com.au/News-Story.aspx?id=6889

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  22. Hi, TB, yes, I heard AFTER I uploaded the post. I have seen the photo since and could not help laughing at the coincidence.

    Greetings from London.

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