Smells Like Nirvana

An ode to the 20th anniversary of Nevermind in this week's (not so) Forgotten Videos
  • Kurt Cobain in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
September 21, 2011 -- 2:52 pm PDT

Welcome to Forgotten Videos. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week we'll feature a video that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or vice-versa…. We're not here to judge, we just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"

On the Billboard 200 chart dated Jan. 11, 1992, three stringy-haired guys from Seattle displaced pop icon Michael Jackson's Dangerous to take the No. 1 spot. The trio was Nirvana and the album was their major label debut, Nevermind. That album went on to spend 253 weeks on the chart and spawned three hit singles, including this youth rebellion classic, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the directorial breakthrough for music video producer Samuel Bayer, who was reportedly hired for the gig because of how "bad" his B-roll was. The end product was likely just what frontman Kurt Cobain had ordered — a non-corporate punk video that showcased a high school gone to hell complete with dancing cheerleaders, moshing students and plenty of anarchy. "By the first chorus the place was just a riot," recalled drummer Dave Grohl in the Classic Albums — Nirvana: Nevermind documentary. For those select fans who were invited to be part of the making of the video, it was the best gig they could have ever imagined. They, along with the band, were on the precipice of a phenomenon. And that guitar Cobain thrashes at the end of the video? Yeah, they got to help with that too.

Formed in 1987 in the rainy town of Aberdeen, Wash., by Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic along with original drummer Chad Channing, Nirvana quickly gained a cult following in the outskirts of grunge-laden Seattle. A year later, the band was signed to Seattle-based Sub Pop Records and released their first single, a cover of Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz." In 1989 the band released their full-length debut, Bleach, which ultimately peaked at No. 89 on the Billboard 200 in February 1992 catapulted by the popularity of Nevermind. But Bleach, which was recorded over a short 30 hours, was enough to make fans out of bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney and Sonic Youth, and attract the attention of major labels. That summer, drummer Grohl was brought on, solidifying the lineup, and Nirvana signed with Geffen Records.

Released in September 1991, this month marks the 20th anniversary of Nevermind. Produced by GRAMMY winner Butch Vig, Nevermind was greeted by unexpectedly large fanfare, propelled by "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which caused the album to sell out of its initial shipment of 50,000 copies. The album garnered Nirvana their first GRAMMY nomination for Best Alternative Music Album in 1991, as well as two additional nominations the following year for Best Hard Rock Performance With Vocal and Best Rock Song for "Smells Like Teen Spirit." By 1992 the album had been certified triple platinum. To date, the album has sold more than 10 million copies.

"It changed my life," recalled Vig. "It changed everyone's life affiliated with it. Those don't come by very often [and] when they do it's a magic moment."

The band went on to release two more albums, 1993's GRAMMY-nominated In Utero and 1994's GRAMMY-winning MTV Unplugged In New York, both of which topped the Billboard 200, before Cobain's untimely suicide on April 5, 1994. Grohl went on to found Foo Fighters, and Novoselic moved into a career in politics. But being a part of Nirvana is no doubt high on the list of the coolest accomplishments for both.

"When I listen to [Nevermind] I hear a sense of purity and honesty that I haven't heard in a long time," recalled Grohl.

"It's undeniably the best thing I ever did in my whole life," said Novoselic.

It may be the best thing Weird Al Yonkovic has done in his life too.

Have you ever thrashed a high school gymnasium? Got any Forgotten Video recommendations? Leave us a comment.

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