On April 17, 1991, "Nirvana" took the stage at the "OK Hotel" in Seattle, Washington, and in an improvised performance just before the band traveled to Los Angeles to record "Nevermind", it changed the face of rock forever.
(Photo: Ed Sirrs)
During the show, the band played the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time in front of an audience. The version played that evening was raw, mainly because Kurt Cobain has not yet finished writing the lyrics, but even in its unfinished form, one could already hear the tremendous power of the song, which in just four chords but redefined the music world and became the anthem of an entire generation that was later called Generation X.
Amazingly, this performance was captured on video so that even today we can watch history in its formation.
Dave Grohl referred to this historic performance in one of his interviews and noted that usually when a band plays a new song for the first time, the audience just stands and watches, but in this case, they went berserk. And so in his own words:
"The first time we played Smells Like Teen Spirit, the place went bananas and that hadn't necessarily happened before, so I didn't know what it would mean. I just knew sonically, that this is going to make people move. And it did."
The song was written by Kurt Cobain in a moment of anger, after his girlfriend Tobi Vail, from the band Bikini Kill dumped him. The title of the song came from a graffiti spray-painted by Kathleen Hanna - singer of the band Bikini Kill, on the wall of Cobain's apartment. She intended to point out the fact that Kurt was now “marked” with the fragrance of his then-girlfriend Deil’s favorite deodorant.
The four chords that Kurt chose to wrap the lyrics of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" were not innovative, on the contrary, they were chewy chords used in countless rock songs. Cobainn noted that he was trying to write a song that sounded like the Pixies. Even with the rhythm of the immortal riff, Cobain tried to sound like Boston's song "More Than A Feeling," which according to his own words was a cliché. The song did not even have a bridge. But the combination of simplicity, with roughness, and catchy melody, created the "big bang" which on that historic night changed the face of music forever.
After that historic performance, the band will make their way to Los Angeles to record the album "Nevermind" which will be released in September of that amazing year of 1991. The lyrics will be updated, and the song will get the arrangement needed and become one of the greatest and most influential songs ever.
To accompany the song, the band will shoot a clip whose idea is based on punk rock kids sowing destruction in high school, a symbol of everything Cobain had despised since his high school days in Aberdeen. The continuous broadcasts of the clip on MTV and the repeated broadcasts on the various radio stations will send "Nirvana", screaming and kicking, straight to the top of the Billboard 200 and more than that to the heart of the mainstream. This song made the band immortal overnight, but most of all it was the trigger for the great revolution of Generation X.
Needless to say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was ranked No. 9 on "Rolling Stone" magazine's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," and it also entered the 2017 Grammy Hall of Fame.