Share & Connect
For every music style it is possible to identify the milestone tracks or bands that made possible for it to develop; this kind of classification can often be a source of discussion, with people identifying the turning point of a musical movement with different bands and songs. Hardly with grunge.
Although grunge is a very diversified music style, with fans’ preferences spread around several bands and approaches, it is acknowledged worldwide that there is a record label, an album, and a track of that album, which made grunge one of the most influential music movements of rock history.
The record label is Sub Pop Records, the album is ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana, and the song is the first single of that album, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Neither Nirvana nor Sub Pop started the grunge movement, but they made it what it has been since their creation.
Grunge developed in the state of Washington, U.S., mainly in the Seattle area, during the second half of the ’80s. It is indeed often referred to as ‘The Seattle Sound.’ Grunge reached the peak of its commercial success in the first half of the ‘90s; it has often been defined as the last rock revolution. As it usually happens when a musical innovation takes place, the sound development was accompanied by a strong social movement.
Musically speaking, the aim of grunge music was to take the sincerity of punk, and to mix it with the sludge sound that pertained to metal bands such as Black Sabbath, and the structure of popular melodies pertaining to bands like The Beatles. One of the main features of grunge music, although it presents itself in very differentiated shapes depending on the bands, is the raw, dirty, sound, full of heavy guitar distortions, along with angry, disappointed, and profound lyrics.
In 1986, Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman founded in Seattle the independent record label Sub Pop records; the label was interested in the local bands that were developing at the time. Pavitt and Poneman worked to create a proper sound identification for the label, carrying a promotion of the Sub Pop product itself.
They associated that image to the Seattle sound, signing several artists of the area. Sub Pop is the record label that first signed bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, who then became central acts of the grunge scene.
By Nirvana is the most influential track of the Seattle Sound: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Although probably not Nirvana’s best song, the track, together with the album ‘Nevermind,’ changed the music scene forever; it became an icon for the grunge movement and for an entire generation. Developed around the idea of young people’s mixture of angst and apathy, the song presents itself extremely catchy, with intriguing lyrics along with a powerful sound.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has been defined as the anthem of a generation at the time, and has become, ever since its release in 1991, the anthem of people who look at the world in a specific way.
The music video, directed by Samuel Bayer, portraits the band performing in a school gym, together with anarchic cheerleaders, and kids who end up destroying everything around; Cobain said he had been inspired by The Ramones’ video for ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’. The ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video won Nirvana the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Group awards at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992, and it has also become a milestone of music history.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ announced the upcoming rock revolution. It is the first track of the album ‘Nevermind,’ the record responsible for the redistribution of power between mainstream and counterculture in the music industry.
When it was released on September 24 in 1991, not even Geffen Records, the major record label Nirvana had moved to, was prepared for the huge success of the album; the label initially pressed only 40,000 copies of ‘Nevermind,’ which instead sold a million within six weeks. Geffen had to stop pressing any other record in order to meet the demand.
The huge commercial success of ‘Nevermind’ led bands pertaining to the counterculture to sing with major record labels and to gain visibility in the commercial channels, and took grunge on top of the music world; according to various artists of the scene, record labels would sign any band coming from the Seattle area at the time, just to be part of the grunge movement.
As Krist Novoselic, bassist of Nirvana, once said, “Nirvana didn’t go to the mainstream; the mainstream went to Nirvana.” ‘Nevermind’ is not only considered the most influential album for grunge, but also one of the most influential and meaningful albums of all times.