A pop punk band from La Jolla, CA
January 4, 2018 7:20 PM   Subscribe

News of the day got you feeling uncertain? Nevermind. Some enthusiastic helper auto-tuned Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit to a major chord. I give you Teen Sprite.
posted by Mike Mongo (117 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I don't know about anyone else but this sure makes me want to murder someone. Like whoever thought this would be a good idea.
posted by evilDoug at 7:26 PM on January 4 [16 favorites]


I like it better.
posted by codacorolla at 7:27 PM on January 4 [16 favorites]


What is needed is a way to make Nirvana songs out of shitty, average-sounding pop music--not the inverse.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:27 PM on January 4 [12 favorites]


I don't know why I am as astonished by this alteration as I am, but I am astonished by this alteration. Not in a bad way necessarily, but I can't decide or tell or feel exactly what way I am either. Astonishing.
posted by cgc373 at 7:27 PM on January 4 [13 favorites]


Well...it's kind of a fun tune now! I'm picking up some Green Day vibes. On the other hand, my husband looks like he's about to cry.
posted by kimberussell at 7:28 PM on January 4 [14 favorites]


I'm simultaneously giggling with joy, sitting with my jaw hanging open, and face palming!

This is a combination of things I've never felt before! Nirvana, indeed!
posted by hippybear at 7:29 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


How to turn Nirvana into the Pixies with one neat trick! (I love the Pixies. I must be a major chord fan...)
posted by Didymium at 7:30 PM on January 4 [10 favorites]




If you listen closely with headphones you can hear Kurt spinning.
posted by davebush at 7:35 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


The description on the video is extra special
(Why yes I did spend 17 years of my life in the San Diego suburbs)
posted by primalux at 7:40 PM on January 4


Which I just noticed is the title here. A+
posted by primalux at 7:41 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Like an even worse Weezer.
posted by padraigin at 7:42 PM on January 4 [9 favorites]


Well, I guess, that entertained us.
This must be what it feels like to be old.
posted by Chrischris at 7:43 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


OK, but the video is still all angsty. Where's my technicolor fall out boy video color palette version of it?

Also the bridge has some weird editing artifact in it where it just kind of cuts back at the end
posted by axiom at 7:52 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Oh my god I love this. What's particularly lovely is how the imagery of the video seems to take on an entirely new life with this sound. Anyway, it's not entirely major chords—I think I still hear at least one minor chord in that progression. I don't have a guitar in front of me, but I'm thinking a B-shape barre chord, an F-shape barre chord at the same fret, then a B-minor–shape barre chord and an F-shape barre chord at a fret like 2 down, like some large portion of Smashing Pumpkins' hit songs. But this definitely sounds more like Pixies or, dare I say it, Superchunk? A B-side to "Hyper Enough"...
posted by limeonaire at 7:54 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


What is needed is a way to make [unforgettable] songs out of shitty, average-sounding pop music--not the inverse.

Chipmunks on 16 Speed's You Keep Me Hanging On.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:55 PM on January 4 [7 favorites]


This is incredible. Thank you so much. It's just a totally different song. So much of the guitar work sounds like horns to me. Reminds me of ska a LOT.
posted by Slinga at 7:56 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Do whatever you want but just leave "In Bloom" alone
posted by thelonius at 7:58 PM on January 4


I'm sorry, thelonius—I really like this dub version of "In Bloom," because Nirvana is actually amazing as reggae. See also: Little Roy's "Lithium." (Full album here.)
posted by limeonaire at 8:05 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


This is like that time when someone slowed down "Jolene" by Dolly Parton, but much sadder.
posted by cazoo at 8:13 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


This is great (and very bad)!

Is this something the average layman can play with? There are any number of songs I'd love to hear changed from major to minor, etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:17 PM on January 4


Oh this is wonderful. Comments during the song :
"It sounds like like the opening of a sitcom!"
"They invented Weezer!"
"They couldn't do anything about the last chorus I see- he's still the Demosthenes of Rock."
"Now if only they set it to a polka beat..."
posted by happyroach at 8:18 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


I grew up with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and this is so, so, so great. It doesn't really sound like the Pixies. It sounds like a huge hit from a pop band that never was, and should have been.
posted by escabeche at 8:19 PM on January 4 [15 favorites]


No.
posted by ITravelMontana at 8:20 PM on January 4 [11 favorites]


Yeeaaahhh...

Nope, still makes me want to harm people.
posted by evilDoug at 8:22 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Is this something the average layman can play with?

Are there programs with algorithms built into them that let you do some button pushes and maybe some slider movements to get changes to songs, even from major to minor? Yes.

This level of manipulation probably took months. There are individual tweaks being made to nearly everything in this song. The vocal track melody of the chorus is made nearly entirely of whole cloth compared to the original. Doing that, alone, probably took a week of solid work.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 PM on January 4 [9 favorites]




Is this something the average layman can play with? There are any number of songs I'd love to hear changed from major to minor, etc.

This genre sort of took off after Melodyne introduced the (conceptually inherently amazing) ability to retune notes within chords, and you'll fine a bunch of those on YouTube. This is done way more meticulously than most of those, though. If you wanted to play with that particular software, well, it's pretty expensive but I'd guess there are ways to get yourself a "discount" copy if yaknowwhatimean.
posted by atoxyl at 8:27 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


This is what it will sound like when the Disney Channel needs to do something "edgy". They will go to their stable of kids who have more ambition than talent. The kids will "sing"... this.

I made it to about 37 seconds before the revulsion was too great.
posted by dfm500 at 8:32 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


It still sounds really 90s in a way I find kind of pleasant. Like it was a song I'd hear on the radio that I wasn't really into, but now I'm sort of nostalgic about it anyway. It sort of sounds like Bush. My girlfriend used to really like Bush, and I still tease her about that.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:32 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


This made me want to cry. It's just wrong. It's bad, and it's wrong, and I do not care for it at all. I am surprised by how angry and sad this makes me.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:34 PM on January 4 [9 favorites]


Anyway, it's not entirely major chords—I think I still hear at least one minor chord in that progression.

The original is really just power chords (so neither major nor minor inherently) isn't it? Which are given a minor cast by the vocals? At least that's how people tend to learn it. I'm not that intimately familiar with the original recording but I'm pretty sure this one has guitar added or else heavily modified. Actually I know it does because the original doesn't have a guitar solo at the beginning. So it's really a more thorough re-imagining than the usual Melodyne stunts.
posted by atoxyl at 8:35 PM on January 4


atoxyl said: Actually I know it does because the original doesn't have a guitar solo at the beginning.

Yes it does.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:37 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


This made me want to cry. It's just wrong. It's bad, and it's wrong, and I do not care for it at all. I am surprised by how angry and sad this makes me.

Well, now y'all know how old hippies feel when they hear elevator music versions of The Who.
posted by happyroach at 8:39 PM on January 4 [13 favorites]


This version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_TEOuyPDNo) was done a fw years ago with software (probably Melodyne).

The version in this post definitely includes a lot of re-recorded parts. My guess is that the creator got a hold of some of the individual tracks (maybe from Rock Band or some video game that has some individual parts that can be mixed) and then retuned the vocals, but re-recorded a lot of the guitar parts. The tone of the guitar at the beginning is totally different, and that cheesy lead line that comes in at 9 seconds isn't in the original.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:39 PM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Haha, and one version has Boston's "More Than a Feeling" at the beginning, almost like this alternate universe could've sorta been real—good ol' bro power pop. Anyway, looks like full chords to me on the original, atoxyl.
posted by limeonaire at 8:44 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


I think it's a brand new backing track but the Kurt vocals are tweaked by Melodyne or something yeah? Those guitar chords at the beginning were not transformed by software. Or what jonathanhughes said.

I love the Pixies. I must be a major chord fan

There is one Frank Black song where he switches from minor to major and back to minor, and even breaks the musical fourth wall by mentioning it! (it's about his late father's gun collection)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:45 PM on January 4


Previously
posted by Start with Dessert at 8:50 PM on January 4


Oh nice—"Bullet" is the Frank Black song.
posted by limeonaire at 8:51 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Do whatever you want but just leave "In Bloom" alone

So, um...about that...
posted by jferg at 8:51 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, I can't stop laughing. This is seditious and idol-smashing and I love it!
posted by frodisaur at 8:51 PM on January 4 [11 favorites]


It's like the nineties wrote me a letter that says "I was wrong. I'm sorry." Finally.
posted by darksasami at 9:00 PM on January 4 [10 favorites]


yeah I think all the backing tracks are re-done, maybe something sampled here or there.. they aren't even the same chords, original is open fifths on 1 - 4 - m3 - m6, this one is your standard I - V - vi - IV.
posted by pingu at 9:05 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


I thought the original used alternate tunings? Kurt used those a LOT, and I saw a chart once...
posted by hippybear at 9:07 PM on January 4


I just realized what this reminds me of -- Surfer Blood!
posted by escabeche at 9:08 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


> primalux:
"The description on the video is extra special
(Why yes I did spend 17 years of my life in the San Diego suburbs)"


You aren't the only one. You ever get out of town to the mountains for the annual snow?
posted by Samizdata at 9:22 PM on January 4


if by "alternate tunings" you mean tuning the guitar strings to something other than eadgbe, but each string still tuned to a note in the standard well tempered scale, then you'd have to press different frets to play the chords but the notes would be the same in the end. if you mean microtonal tunings or crazier intonations like dividing the octave into 9 notes or whatever then i don't think so.
posted by pingu at 9:25 PM on January 4


I'm picking up some Green Day vibes.

That’s because this is basically a mashup with “When I Come Around.” Which mostly makes me wonder why they didn’t just do that.

Also, the minor-to-major thing is something we’ve seen done better, without anyone resorting to redubbing all the instruments. (But then, that resulted in almost immediate copyright takedowns, so.)

Also, Kurt was always pretty upfront about the riff in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” just being a minor key ripoff/screwup of “More Than A Feeling.” Tangentially, speaking of nineties bands with singers who were romantically invoved with Courtney Love ripping off Boston, check out what they break into right after “More Than A Feeling” in 1979 and tell me it doesn’t bear more than a slight resemblance to this later composition.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:28 PM on January 4 [9 favorites]


At first I was like "hey don't crap on the sacred hymns of my college years!"

And then I was like "but the sacred hymns of my college years were all about crapping on everything!"

And then I was like "this sounds like a weak, somehow even worse, slow version of Blink 182 or something."

And then I was like "you know, actually I like this in spite of or maybe even because of how awful it is."

Which is true of a lot of music I like (awful/beautiful). Not that I'm going to listen to it twice, mind. But still.

Now I'm gonna go listen to Matthew's Pixies covers just to wash my brain out. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 9:40 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]


THERE IS A DOWNLOAD LINK THIS WILL BECOME A PART OF MY ITUNES LIBRARY YES JEEBUS YOU HAVE BLESSED ME
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on January 4 [8 favorites]


If you're going to be a 90s band and rip off Boston, at least do it right.
posted by The World Famous at 9:46 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Amazing. I love how this can be a mirror for my emotional developmental journey over the years vis-à-vis my relationship to recorded music.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:51 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Also, Kurt was always pretty upfront about the riff in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” just being a minor key ripoff/screwup of “More Than A Feeling.”

Wasn't there a blog or something in the late 90s that was basically all about how popular 90s bands were ripping off their major chords or riffs from other bands? I think one in particular was accused of ripping off pretty much its chords wholesale, but I can't remember the name. The Wishbones? Gasp? Big Idol? Nickelback? I'm not sure.
posted by happyroach at 10:36 PM on January 4


The answer is always Nickleback when the question is negative. ALWAYS.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


atoxyl said: Actually I know it does because the original doesn't have a guitar solo at the beginning.

Yes it does .


Not the intro, I meant the guitar bit that mirrors the vocal melody doesn't happen until after a couple verses on the original while there's one before the verse kicks in here.

But yeah I think other folks are right that it's an altered vocal on a new guitar track.
posted by atoxyl at 10:40 PM on January 4


if by "alternate tunings" you mean tuning the guitar strings to something other than eadgbe

Meaning that but I don't think they were getting, like, Joni Mitchell with it? Drop D, downtuned versions of standard, and maybe other variations on those concepts.

The original chords for this song are easy to fret in standard tuning on a guitar but would be in some of those variations too so I don't know how Kurt played it.
posted by atoxyl at 10:57 PM on January 4


Also, the minor-to-major thing is something we’ve seen done better, without anyone resorting to redubbing all the instruments. (But then, that resulted in almost immediate copyright takedowns, so.)

"Nothing Else Matters" is still up, and amazing.
posted by atoxyl at 11:03 PM on January 4


Oh well whatever nevermind
posted by riverlife at 11:29 PM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Sounds like the Friends intro.

All it did was remind me what a great voice Kurt had :(
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:31 PM on January 4


Gosh he looks so much younger now than he did at the time.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 12:41 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


the song does not use an altered tuning, and I have never heard of Cobain using them
posted by thelonius at 12:45 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


wow no. that sounds like it's had all the stuffing pulled out of it. The video has a strong yellow tone to it though, it would have been perfect if they adjusted the colour balance to bring back the original skin tones. It would have looked like a totally different video
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:15 AM on January 5


I like it. It's the answer to the question, "How do we make Smells Like Teen Spirit sound even more sarcastic?"
posted by biogeo at 2:10 AM on January 5 [8 favorites]


Yes the astonishing thing to me is that between Kurt's incredible voice and the production (original recording and well-done retune) it doesn't completely destroy the song like most other humorous retunes I've heard. I mean, yes, it destroys their song, but it makes another one that... surprisingly doesn't suck.
posted by ctmf at 4:14 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Ha, now all you rockist jerks know how the sad misogynists feel when they think about Lady Ghostbusters.

This rules.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:43 AM on January 5 [8 favorites]


About 15 years ago, I put Ragnar Bjarnason’s cover of the song into my music library and it’s been on rotation ever since. So, having heard the Icelandic-Finnish-Latin-Tiki flavored version maybe a few hundred times now, it’s the version I have come to think of as canonical.

It definitely grows on you. As one radio host noted, this version is the one song you’ll wish you had if you were stranded in a desert island. Of course, you’ll also probably want to do yourself harm after a while.

Enjoy!
posted by darkstar at 4:51 AM on January 5 [11 favorites]


Ha, now all you rockist jerks know how the sad misogynists feel when they think about Lady Ghostbusters.

Kurt's feminist instincts vs. what the upbeat-sounding post-grunge era brought to the table for attitudes towards sex and gender make this comment particularly deplorable.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:15 AM on January 5 [6 favorites]


Kill your idols
posted by saturday_morning at 5:22 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Kurt's feminist instincts vs. what the upbeat-sounding post-grunge era brought to the table for attitudes towards sex and gender make this comment particularly deplorable.

Eh. I mean, I get what you're saying, but "Kurt" is not his music, the music is not an ethos. This reimagining isn't ruining anybody's childhood or whatever, which seems to be a big part of the response to it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:30 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


No one's said it's ruined anything, it's just taken something and made it sound like what the record industry in general did to grunge. We already know what that sounds like. And it doesn't even _sound_ bad, it just reminds us of what the music industry consciously and deliberately did to make grunge more marketable in the late 90s.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:33 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


make grunge more marketable in the late 90s.

"grunge" was a fad and it was over by then
posted by thelonius at 5:48 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


it's just taken something and made it sound like what the record industry in general did to grunge.

I really don't think it does. It sounds much, much odder than that.
posted by howfar at 5:51 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Tool's Schism as a new-agey Math Rock song.

This one bothers me a lot more than the Nirvana one, somehow.
posted by Foosnark at 5:56 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Getting a big "Starships" by Nikki Minaj off those opening chords. Love this.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:08 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Even back when this track was new in the 90's, everyone said how the initial riff sounded just like More Than a Feeling - now it totally does. Or maybe a Third Eye Blind track. : )
posted by bitterkitten at 6:33 AM on January 5


This is amazing. I concur with the sentiments that this makes me want to laugh cry.
posted by like_neon at 6:36 AM on January 5


But!

This was already done 4 years ago, with a way better arrangement, more Pixies-like, I think:

Smells Like Teen Spirit in Major Key
posted by mysticreferee at 6:36 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


This just makes me miss rock music in general. More guitar licks! More feedback!

I say this as a lover of pop and electronica and all other kinds of music as well, but I miss the glory days of alternative rock. There must be 18 year old future Dave Grohls out there! I want the music world to have room for them to share their gifts with us!
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:54 AM on January 5


yeah I think all the backing tracks are re-done, maybe something sampled here or there.. they aren't even the same chords, original is open fifths on 1 - 4 - m3 - m6, this one is your standard I - V - vi - IV.

I'm with pingu - this is an almost-if-not-all entirely re-recorded version. Maybe they used the original drum tracks (the sound of the drums is very different, but that could be because of the mix), and maybe the vocals have been sampled and then heavily manipulated - and I mean heavily because the phrasing is entirely different, as is the melody.

Or, y'know, considering the Vimeo page has a link to the Bandcamp page of a band called Sleep Good, who appear to be an actual functioning band with like 6 releases under their belts, maybe it's more likely an actual band just came up with this pop-punky arrangement and decided to record it as a lark. No sampling or auto-tuning or studio/computer manipulation or anything, just a "major key" arrangement.

Reminds me of ska a LOT.

That's probably because they added an acoustic guitar part that hits the upbeats of every measure, which is basically ska. You can hear it most clearly in the verses.

This was already done 4 years ago, with a way better arrangement, more Pixies-like, I think:

Smells Like Teen Spirit in Major Key yt


That one was definitely done mostly-if-not-entirely with studio manipulation, and I think it's the more . . . . disturbing version, simply because it's so close to the original that my brain keeps trying to "force" it back to the normal key as I listen to it. it's really disconcerting.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:06 AM on January 5 [5 favorites]


It still sounds really 90s in a way I find kind of pleasant.

I dig it. It sounds like the theme song to a cool teen drama on the UPN.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:07 AM on January 5


> There is one Frank Black song where he switches from minor to major and back to minor, and even breaks the musical fourth wall by mentioning it!

Oh, it goes way back before Frank Black (that line "how strange the change from major to minor" is one of my favorite moments from the Great American Songbook).

All these heartbroken/enraged comments about an enjoyable little bit of japery are livening up this cold January morning for me!
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on January 5 [5 favorites]


maybe the vocals have been sampled and then heavily manipulated - and I mean heavily because the phrasing is entirely different, as is the melody.

That's 100% the original vocal track Melodyned to hell and back; it's definitely Kurt's voice (and listen to the gross artifacts on all the sibilants and screams, especially).

I think it's the original drum track, too, but it's hard to tell for sure. The guitars and bass are obviously new, though, yeah.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:23 AM on January 5


@Abstruse on Twitter:
Someone just posted this, but I think they deleted the tweet in shame because they liked it. It's supposedly Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" changed to a major chord. But that's not what they did...

I mean, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is already a major chord. They changed the chord progression to be a Four Chord Song. Reference video if you don't know what that means:

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"'s chord progression is F - Bb - Ab - Db. This song adds a completely new guitar track to change the chords to D - A - B - G (or maybe E - B - C# - A I suck at determining pitch). So it's not really the same song.

That said, it's a pretty neat remix for a different reason: If Nirvana were TRYING to make an earworm rock-pop/powerpop song, this is the song they would've made. Cheery, Four Chords, very bubblegum, very studio.
posted by designbot at 7:31 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


More guitar licks! More feedback!

Coming right up.
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


(and listen to the gross artifacts on all the sibilants and screams, especially).

Yeah, good point - I didn't catch that on first listen.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:33 AM on January 5


Oh god this whole genre of ruining songs is just destroying me this morning.

The octaves in Eye of the Tiger (Vocals: Every Note is in E) are making my ribs hurt.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:48 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


The original is in F minor.

While there are lots of power chords (chords that don't imply a major or minor tonality), the fourth note Kurt sings ("guns") is A flat, which helps to establish F minor.
posted by sylvanshine at 9:34 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Pluffnub is indeed an underappreciated master of his chosen form.
posted by flabdablet at 9:35 AM on January 5


This produced a visceral response of nooooooo in me.
posted by 41swans at 9:42 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


I pretty strongly (ok, very strongly) do not like Nirvana.
I liked this.
I liked this enough to rip the audio from the (downloadable) video and make it an mp3.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:13 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Hanson covers Nirvana. The 90s are back in force. Undercut bobs and hairbands are on the rise amongst my masculine-presenting students, and they’ve dragged tight-cuffed jeans in from the 80s as unwitting accomplices.

I expect denim & khaki to make an appearance soon, then it’s just a small step to too-short-slicked-back hair gathered into tiny, face-lifting ponytails. “Friends” will be reimagined as a gritty drama in Queens airing on HBO with lots of gratuitous violence and nudity where we discover, weekly, that fatal misunderstandings are still possible in the age of the smartphone.

Good times. End times. This is hell and we’re all extras in Abrams’s “The Return of the Lost Jedi.”
posted by malthusan at 10:50 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


This is what I imagine Nickelback sounds like.
posted by slogger at 11:53 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Hanson covers Nirvana.

How quickly we forget about Silverchair.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on January 5 [7 favorites]


Those distorted guitars in Tomorrow tho
posted by uncleozzy at 12:27 PM on January 5


the song does not use an altered tuning, and I have never heard of Cobain using them

He did, but pretty much only in the sense of downtuning or drop tuning.
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 PM on January 5


it just reminds us of what the music industry consciously and deliberately did to make grunge more marketable in the late 90s.

I thought the whole point of grunge was to make pop music straight, white, and male again. There wasn't much the industry needed to do to make it more marketable to teenage males.
posted by happyroach at 1:02 PM on January 5


I thought the whole point of grunge was to make pop music straight, white, and male again.

The point of grunge was to kill off hair metal, which, despite the wardrobe, was way straighter, whiter, and maler. Grunge was by no means perfect, but it was a huge improvement over the requisite supermodel girlfriends and Lamborghinis of hair metal. And it, in turn, was crushed by hiphop, so, hey.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:48 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


The whole point of grunge was sounding bad. It sounded shitty, but as a deliberate aesthetic choice, a sort of dirty protest about the human condition.
posted by acb at 2:10 PM on January 5


The whole point of grunge was sounding bad. It sounded shitty, but as a deliberate aesthetic choice, a sort of dirty protest about the human condition.

There was certainly a low-budget DIY sound to the output of the independent labels like Sub Pop and Touch & Go, and it was an aesthetic that fans of those labels and their artists liked. But when "grunge" hit big in the mainstream, one major contributing factor to that commercial success was the fact that it was extremely well-produced and sounded amazing. Nevermind does not sound shitty - it sounds super slick and corporate, and hits harder than its hair metal contemporaries in large part because, rather than having been recorded in somebody's garage in Seattle or whatever, it was recorded at Sound City in the same rooms and on the same board as Fleetwood Mac and REO Speedwagon. Nevermind sounds like if Black Sabbath didn't sound shitty.

Mother Love Bone sounded shitty. Pearl Jam didn't, and that's when "grunge" became what it was.

They say you can't polish a turd, but grunge, for all its turd aesthetic, is so shiny you can see your reflection in it.

Completely set aside genre and style and just put any of the big commercial grunge hits of 1991 or 92 up against a non-"grunge" pop hit of 1990, judging solely based on whether the sound is comparatively shitty.

Pit "Teen Spirit" against "It Must Have Been Love" by Roxette - which hit #1 in May 1990. Of those two, which track sounds shitty?

Pit "Alive" by Pearl Jam against "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips, which hit #1 also in May 1990. Of those two, which track sounds shitty?

"Them Bones" by Alice in Chains against "Unbelievable" by EMF (#1 July 20, 1991). Which sounds shitty?

Grunge was generally dark, brooding hard rock that was a commercial success when it had super slick production that was way ahead of the other pop music production of the time. There was other rock at the time with slick, big production - for example, Aerosmith's 1990 stuff, which is equally big and slick sounding. But if you get Butch Vig to produce an album, it's not because you want it to sound shitty. (Steve Albini, on the other hand, you've got an argument, at least.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:50 PM on January 5 [10 favorites]


Do you want Wheatus? Because this is how you get Wheatus.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:53 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Dude the Wheatus album is really good and I will stand by that. I bought it from the dollar bin and have zero regrets.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:33 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Smells Like Teen Spirit but every note or chord is B flat

I like this version. I also like the versions by Tori Amos, Robert Glasper, and Weird Al (his cover sounds really close to the original, which is even funnier;)

Kurt was an interesting songwriter, music for the ages.
posted by ovvl at 4:22 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Kurt was an interesting songwriter, music for the ages.

I still think that, had he not died, he would probably have become one of the great hobo bluesmen of all time.
posted by acb at 4:28 PM on January 5


Mother Love Bone sounded shitty

Is this a sincerely-held opinion, or some kind of unfortuitous typo?

Also, grunge was never motivated by "commercial success", so pitting Nirvana vs. Roxette, PJ vs. Wilson Philips, AIC vs. EMF kind of blows by the point in spectacular fashion.

I believe this sort of thought experiment leads us nowhere really helpful. But, touch me, I'm sick.
posted by riverlife at 6:39 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Also, grunge was never motivated by "commercial success"

The entire PJ Ten and then Vs. situation sort of kind of ruined their lives in several ways. Too much success too quickly can really fuck with you. That's what led to Vitalogy, an album which was largely a giant middle finger toward everyone's expectations, with the Holy Trilogy of PJ songs embedded within: Nothingman, Corduroy, and Better Man.
posted by hippybear at 7:21 PM on January 5


It was like they were saying "yeah, here's what you're expecting, but deal with all this other stuff because we do this too". Including my favorite middle finger of all, Bugs, in which no band member played an instrument they knew how to play and still created music.
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


grunge was never motivated by "commercial success"

The platinum records just kind of happened by accident, I guess.

I'm not aware of any bands that referred to themselves as "grunge" until well after "grunge" had become a canned aesthetic movement consciously manufactured by people who absolutely, positively were motivated by commercial success.

It's not like Kurt, Eddie Vedder, and Shannon Hoon got together in a garage one night and hammered out the Grunge Manifesto. I believe Kurt and Eddie were in it for something else. Hell, I'll even believe Dave Grohl believes he was too. But they didn't sell all those tapes and CDs by force of will alone.

I mean, come on - a huge part of what's so fascinating about the genre in retrospect is that tension between the "fuck you" at the core of it and the scads of production and marketing money being thrown around by the people at whom a lot of that "fuck you" was (kind of, sometimes) aimed.
posted by Mike Smith at 9:06 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


It's not like Kurt, Eddie Vedder, and Shannon Hoon got together in a garage one night and hammered out the Grunge Manifesto.

No, but if you'd ever seen the documentary PJ20, it outlines exactly how interwoven the Seattle music scene was. It was a cooperative as opposed to LA's competition for attention, and there was a LOT of cross fertilization between bands both with musical ideas and personnel.

There was no single room, there was no one night, there were years of being in the same city and finding each other inspirational rather than viewing each other as competition.
posted by hippybear at 9:15 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


....elevator music versions of The Who.
posted by Rumple at 9:24 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


But I prefer minor chords. :(
posted by bendy at 9:32 PM on January 5


About 15 years ago, I put Ragnar Bjarnason’s cover of the song into my music library and it’s been on rotation ever since.

...It definitely grows on you. As one radio host noted, this version is the one song you’ll wish you had if you were stranded in a desert island. Of course, you’ll also probably want to do yourself harm after a while.



OMG, I tracked down who it was that introduced me to this cover: the inimitable April Winchell, by gum! Her old web site is surprisingly still extant, as is her fantastic audio file page that has a ton of covers of Teen Spirit by various artists. The entry for Ragnar Bjarnason’s cover — scroll way down the page — says:

“Ragnar Bjarnason (1.6 MB) If I could only have one piece of music on a desert island, it would be this. But I would probably kill myself after two weeks.”

(Previously on MeFi.)
posted by darkstar at 12:49 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Is this the right point in the thread to wheel out Du Hast again?
posted by flabdablet at 1:54 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Mother Love Bone sounded shitty

Is this a sincerely-held opinion, or some kind of unfortuitous typo?

Also, grunge was never motivated by "commercial success", so pitting Nirvana vs. Roxette, PJ vs. Wilson Philips, AIC vs. EMF kind of blows by the point in spectacular fashion.

I believe this sort of thought experiment leads us nowhere really helpful. But, touch me, I'm sick.


I think Mother Love Bone actually sounded pretty good but it wasn't nearly the impeccable production values that were seen on Ten, Nevermind, Superunknown, etc.

And The World Famous's point was that those production values have held up distinctly better over time than those of, say, Roxette and EMF, who were at least more motivated by commercial success than the kings of the Seattle scene were, but whose productions were comparably flat and tinny.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:03 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Most accurate description: long lost Clueless soundtrack song.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 3:01 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Mother Love Bone sounded shitty

Is this a sincerely-held opinion, or some kind of unfortuitous typo?


Sincerely-held opinion. Mother Love Bone was a competent hair metal band with horrendously bad production. It sounded shitty. I like a lot of music that sounds shitty.

Also, grunge was never motivated by "commercial success", so pitting Nirvana vs. Roxette, PJ vs. Wilson Philips, AIC vs. EMF kind of blows by the point in spectacular fashion.

The point was that, even compared to the biggest commercial sell-out #1 hits of the time, when "grunge" went commercial in '92, it did so with production that was more slick and, frankly, trying way harder (in a good way) than those big hits.

While there was a DIY ethic to a lot of bands of that broad genre in the late 80s and leading up to the big-label grunge explosion of 91-92 (I was in some of them and certainly had that ethic), there was never, as far as I know, much, if any desire, to actively try to sound shitty. For example, Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking album suffers from inconsistent mastering and mixing and some truly lousy production on most of the album and, although it's my favorite of their albums, there is no way the band was hoping for or happy with those production and mastering problems.

So, is it true to say "It sounded shitty, but as a deliberate aesthetic choice?" I would say no. My assertion is that, when "grunge" sounded shitty, it was because it was in its indie phase where budget was the reason for the shitty aesthetic, not deliberate aesthetic choice. When grunge went major label, it didn't sound shitty. And strongly disputing that it ever sounded shitty to begin with is fine, but is an even stronger rebuttal to the initial assertion than mine, since I concede that indie grunge did sound shitty.

Did Louder Than Love sound shitty? It certainly had shitty production, yeah. I love it, but put it up against Superunknown and I think the notion that Soundgarden wanted to sound shitty kind of goes out the window.

As far as whether grunge was motivated by commercial success, I think the motivations of individual band members are certainly worth exploring - Kurt, for example, had complicated motivations and, although he did choose music as his career, he seemed consistently conflicted by the idea of career success through stardom. But certainly somebody involved in grunge was motivated by commercial success, since you don't send a newly-signed big-label rock act to Sound City to record with Butch Vig and put the full promotional might of a big label behind it if you're not motivated by commercial success.
posted by The World Famous at 12:02 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


And now there's this.
posted by The World Famous at 2:42 PM on January 26


Oh.

Oh dear.

Oh dear me, no.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:39 PM on January 26


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