On This Day – Nirvana Record The Video For ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, 1991

On This Day – a new regular series dedicated to great moments in music history

There’s a great piece in the new issue today [print only until next week] from Hamish MacBain on music’s close, at times almost symbiotic, relationship with anarchy. In the light of last week’s riots and the associated damage he argues that perhaps anyone wishing for more “rebellion” in music would do well to keep this summer’s events in their minds. From Marlon Brando to The Clash via the Pistols and even John Lennon, he sketches a long-running connection between popular culture and mindless violence.

This week’s time capsule comes equally raring for a fight. It was twenty years ago precisely that Nirvana headed to a soundstage in Culver City to record the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. A riotous couple of minutes of moshing kids, stage invading and eventually total destruction (albeit somewhat tame compared to my memory / its legacy on reflection) it celebrated youthful nihilism in all its glory.


Filmed with real students, who were genuinely angry and full of pent-up aggression after an ass-numbing several hours on rock hard bleachers watching take after take, it saw first time director Samuel Bayer blur the lines between stage-managed chaos and unpredictable carnage. Clocking in at under $50,000, it took its cues from two classic teen films. First, the somewhat cartoony Ramones-featuring flick Rock N Roll High School which sees the band enlist as honourary students and end up blowing up the place.

And on a more sinister note, it was also inspired by 1979 gang movie (and Matt Dillon’s feature debut) Over The Edge, which [SPOILER ALERT] saw a group of disaffected youths embroiled in the usual sex and drugs thing, ignored and misunderstood by adults and eventually, in one case, shot dead by one of the “feds”, which leads to, you guessed it, mayhem.


That Kurt Cobain inadvertently named the track after a brand of girls’ deodorant (whose parent company subsequently advertised said smelly sticks with taglines like “Deodorant made for your generation”) did nothing to harm its immediate success. Nor did it prevent the track from swiftly becoming Generation X’s theme tune or, in the words of Time magazine, “an anthem for apathetic kids”.

The video, initially banned from MTV then credited by Guinness World Records as the Most Played Video on MTV Europe, propelled the track to the upper echelons of the Billboard chart and saw Nirvana step up to the world stage. The rest is well-documented history. Twenty years later, meanwhile, and the kids still aren’t alright.

More on Nirvana’s ‘Nervermind’


Also during this week in music:

In 1962, Brian Epstein told Pete Best that the other Beatles were sacking him, and then asked him to perform that night at the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester. Unsurprisingly, Best failed to show.

In 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place in Bethel, New York State, featuring Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Janis Joplin among others.

In 1975, Peter Gabriel announced he was leaving Genesis to go solo.

In 1977, Elvis Presley was found dead on the floor of his bathroom. He had been doing his business while reading ‘The Scientific Search For Jesus’.

On This Day – The Specials release ‘Ghost Town’