They were only in the mainstream for a short three years but their music shaped the future of rock and roll forever. A fair achievement, wouldn’t you say?
An Unexpected Success
Soon to be the soundtrack to all of your 90s punk-rock dreams, Nirvana emerged from the Seattle grunge scene in the late 80s with a rather unexpected bang. Founded by frontman and guitarist Kurt Cobain, who I’m sure you’re all very familiar with, and bassist Krist Novoselic, they hired and fired a number of drummers before landing on the exceptional Dave Grohl. Their first album Bleach (1989) was released for a small independent record label called Sub Pop, and though it was well received by critics, the album did not chart. However, it laid some important foundations for what was to be an industry-altering second record.
Characterized by its dynamic contrasts between quiet verses to hardcore choruses, Nevermind was released in 1992, and thus followed the move of grunge into the mainstream eye. This fusion of pop melodies combined with that classic grunge noise would become the perfect formula, the anthem of a Generation X (the parents of the Millennials, if you will!), and even years on the album continues to influence the sound of modern rock.
Smells Like Supermarket Deodorant
Of course, the leading track in this movement, and a song that would become the template for alternative rock, is “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Funny story: the name of the song actually came from a friend of Cobain’s writing “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on his wall. Being the thoughtful artist that he was, he read this and thought it to be nothing short of a revolutionary statement, the edgy slogan that would define the rebellion, and just simply the most punk rock thing he had ever read. It turns out that Teen Spirit was a deodorant. Oh well, the revolution would be smelling FRESH.
All jokes aside, the main guitar riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is now so iconic and completely unmistakeable. The term “power chords” seems somewhat of a disservice to what those four chords did for alternative music. When writing the song, Cobain admitted to trying to write “the ultimate pop song”, and spoke of “basically trying to rip off the Pixies”, a band who hugely inspired him. Some might say he did create the ultimate pop song, but of course with the Nirvana sound fixed firmly in its place.
It’s with no doubt that to create an electric guitar syllabus without the Nirvana influence would have been a travesty(!), so you can find “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in our Grade 3 books alongside a vast array of musical talent! From Nirvana to Taylor Swift to Otis Redding, your guitar education will certainly be a well-rounded one.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was listed in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame’s “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”, and received awards and accolades aplenty. By 2009, Nirvana record sales soared about 75 million worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time, while they also landed a coveted place on the Rolling Stone “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time”.
And so, we are back to the beginning. A mere three years of mainstream success came to a heart-breaking conclusion when Kurt Cobain sadly ended his own life in 1994. This was the end of Nirvana as we knew it, and we can only imagine what else might have been achieved by this band today. Thankfully, we are grateful to have a catalogue of classics to see us through, think “Come As You Are”, “Lithium” and “The Man Who Sold The World” - the world will certainly never forget Nirvana.