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Release Date: September 10, 1991

Credits: Kurt Cobain (lyrics/guitar/vocal) , Krist Novoselic (bass), Dave Grohl (drums), Butch Vig (producer)

Album: Nevermind (released September 24, 1991)

Backstory: Nirvana’s first hit ushered in the grunge era, giving a voice to the Gen-X angst that had had been simmering across the country. Kurt Cobain grew up on the post-punk bands of the 1980s, particularly the Vaselines and the Pixies, and modeled this song after them. “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song,” he later told Rolling Stone. “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies.” Dubbed the “anthem for apathetic kids,” the song hit number six and shot the band into stardom — something Cobain could never quite accept.

 Midnight Inspiration: Cobain got the title for the song after a long night with his good friend, Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hannah — the same night he spray-painted “God Is Gay” on the side of a Christian pregnancy center — when she drunkenly sprawled “Kurt Cobain Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his apartment wall with a Sharpie. She had been referring to the deodorant marketed at adolescents; he took it as a call for revolution.

Smells like Awkward: Hannah was mortified when she woke up the morning after — fully clothed and hungover, Sharpie in hand— and has said she tried her best to forget that night, despite the song’s radio ubiquity. But in a strange turn of events, Hannah, who had taken a job in a gentleman’s club to earn money to fix their van for tour, ended up stripping to the song in front of a hardcore band she had “explained feminism to four hours before.”

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