Song of the Day #861: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana

When I counted down my favorite 80s songs last year, I assumed I’d follow up with my favorite 90s songs shortly thereafter.

But it never happened, partly because it’s time-consuming to come up with lists like that and partly because I just didn’t feel as strong a connection to 90s songs as I did to those from the 80s.

I chalk some of that up to my age. The 80s encompassed 8-17 for me… from elementary school through my first semester of college, a formative span when every song has great meaning and great impact. And more important, a time when I took in (via MTV and the radio) what was popular at the time.

The 90s marked 18-29, a decade when I became a much more active (and snobbish) music listener, seeking out little-known bands and classics and, for the most part, ignoring the trends of the day.

So 90s songs, to me, don’t leap out and announce themselves the way their 80s counterparts do. I hear a quintessential 90s tune and can identify it as such, but it doesn’t throw me back in time.

All that said, if I had posted a list of 90s songs (and I still might one of these days) there is little doubt that Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ would be in the top five, and likely occupy the top spot. It’s not that I love the song (although I do like it quite a bit) but it does scream out 90s to me in a way that few songs do.

In late ’91/early ’92 when this song was released, a group of kids from the high school class a couple of years behind mine performed this song at the school’s talent show, complete with a smoke machine and tattooed cheerleaders. I remember hearing about that and thinking that already I belonged to a more innocent time. We didn’t head-bang… we listened to Alphaville and shit like that.

Nirvana and the other grunge bands ushered in an era of alternative with an attitude, loud and literate and completely unpolished. Of course this was happening alongside the success of the early boy bands which made them all the more cool in comparison.

Not to sound like an old man, but I’ve always considered Nirvana’s music just a little too loud for my taste. But I dig the aesthetic and I really respond to several of their songs, especially this one.

And I have to say that in preparing for this blog entry, I took a look at the lyrics to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for probably the first time, and they’re very good. I’d always assumed the rest of the lyrics made as much sense as the mosquito, libido, albino stuff, but the verses are actually quite poetic.

Load up on guns,
Bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s overboard self assured
Oh no I know, a dirty word.

Hello, hello, hello, hello?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, how low, how low?
Hello, hello, hello.

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
A mulatto!
An Albino!
A mosquito!
My libido!
Yay! Hey! Yay!

I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Hello, hello, hello, hello?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, how low, how low?
Hello, hello, hello.

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
A mulatto!
An Albino!
A mosquito!
My libido!
Yay! Hey! Yay!

And I forget just why I taste –
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it was hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Hello, hello, hello, hello?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, how low, how low?
Hello, hello, hello.

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
A mulatto!
An albino!
A mosquito!
My libido!

A denial!

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #861: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana

  1. Amy says:

    Nivana’s music is just a little too loud for your taste, but you slip on Snoop Dogg from time to time (whenever you’re in the mood for a little “gangsta rap”) 😉

    You are a funny many.

    I would have trouble naming a “90’s song,” outside of recognizing trends like the one you cite today. For me, that decade was the time I deepened (and, yes, narrowed) my musical tastes. So… I listened to probably more music during the 90’s than at any other point in my life, but that music (Indigo Girls, Counting Crows, Hootie and the Blowfish, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, REM, Sting, Paul Simon) was music I might have discovered in the late 80’s that just took me straight through the next decade.

    The Nirvana bandwagon I was quite happy to never jump on.

  2. Amy says:

    You are a funny many, many things 😉 but I meant, of course, that you are a funny man.

  3. Dana says:

    Nirvana, and this song, falls into the category of music I appreciate for its cultural significance, but just don’t really love or even like all that much. It doesn’t speak to me, nor do I think it was intended to speak to me. In that way, Amy’s comparison to Snoop Dog is a good one, though Nirvana’s music has more if interest going on, and less “junk food” than you will find in a Snoop Dog song.

    Your time and age commentary is interesting to me with regard to my enthusiasm for 80’s popular music, my relative lack of enthusiasm for 90’s and 00’s popular music, and my rekindling of interest (to some extent) for more recent pop music. As you said, in the 80’s as a teen, popular music was so intertwined with my life that my present day fondness for much of it can easily be chalked up to nostalgia. No such nostalgia exists for the 90’s and most of 00’s. Now, however, I get to hear music through the ears of my kids and a new connection and level of sentimentality (and in years to come surely nostalgia) is developing. I suspect our parents may have gone through a very similar process.

    So, if patterns hold true, I have a feeling I will generally stop caring about popular music again somewhere around 2020:)

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