Ranking Every Nirvana Song – Part Twenty-Nine: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” vs “Opinion”

It was going to happen eventually. We were going to land on “the big one”.

And here we are! Talking about “the big one”! And also talking about… “Opinion”. HAHAHAHA. Wow.

End of introduction.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

My biggest difficulty with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is in trying to approach it with objectivity and appraise the song untethered from its massive legacy. Now that I think of it it, this song’s impact and its ubiquity actually may be its greatest weaknesses. I’ve been a little bit dismissive of this song for many years, simply because of its popularity. I’m a shit like that.

In my attempt to listen to this song with fresh ears, I must say that it is difficult to deny how hard this song still rocks. The hooky rage, the dynamic shifts from quiet to loud, the perfectly hummable melodies, the pummeling rhythm section… it’s all pretty close to perfect. Isn’t it?

It’s a completely effortless and unselfconscious anthem. It is simple and complex. The whole thing is basically the same four chords, but it has many distinct parts. The only part of the song that isn’t using that four-chord progression is a spidery pile of chunky riffing that I am quite sure that I still can’t play properly on guitar. It’s great.

Even if you had already been on the alternative/college rock train in 1991 when this dropped, it still must have sounded like a revelation to most people upon first hearing it. It’s actually kind of crazy to me that a song this heavy wound up becoming such a big hit at all. Sure, hair metal was huge, but that’s a really different kind of cutesy heavy. I sometimes hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in grocery stores. It makes no sense! It’s like… a perfectly constructed pop song Trojan horse’d into a very angry punk song, or vice versa. I’m not sure which. It’s a song good enough to convince lame-o normies that they’re into punk rock music, for better or worse.

Hahah. Lame-o normies. I’m a shit like that.

Opinion

Songs like “Opinion” are kind of nice. Not because I think that they’re good, but because they expose the fact that our geniuses are actually just humans who are capable of writing songs as badly as our very-much-not-geniuses might write.

This is not a good song. Structurally, lyrically and melodically, this is amateur hour stuff. It is teen in a bedroom with a notepad and an acoustic guitar caliber stuff.

Honestly, it exists. And that’s about as much as one could or should say about it.

The Ranking

On some kind of bizarro planet, “Opinion” might be better than “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but we’re living on planet regular over here, so obviously “Teen Spirit” wins this round.

“Opinion” is a very bad song and I will rank it only above “Beans”.

Some people may wish for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to be ranked at the top of this list. That’s understandable. But I don’t think it’s right. I really must rank it rather highly, though. I’ve actively listened to it a few times for this post and I have enjoyed it more than I have in years.

I will rank it just under “Heart-Shaped Box”. It was not as big of a hit, but I think that it is actually a better song. Similarly, I firmly believe that “In Bloom” is a better song than “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

The updated ranking is:

  1. In Bloom
  2. Heart-Shaped Box
  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit
  4. About A Girl
  5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
  6. Breed
  7. Scentless Apprentice
  8. Territorial Pissings
  9. Dive
  10. Sappy
  11. Dumb
  12. Milk It
  13. Very Ape
  14. Lithium
  15. Serve The Servants
  16. On A Plain
  17. Drain You
  18. Polly
  19. Lounge Act
  20. Stay Away
  21. Sliver
  22. Tourette’s
  23. Love Buzz
  24. Blew
  25. School
  26. Rape Me
  27. Been A Son
  28. Endless Nameless
  29. Son of a Gun
  30. Molly’s Lips
  31. I Hate Myself And Want To Die
  32. You Know You’re Right
  33. Pennyroyal Tea
  34. Curmudgeon
  35. Moist Vagina
  36. Stain
  37. Mr Moustache
  38. Big Cheese
  39. Marigold
  40. Paper Cuts
  41. Lake of Fire
  42. Oh, Me
  43. Swap Meet
  44. Downer
  45. Scoff
  46. Aero Zeppelin
  47. Even In His Youth
  48. Oh, The Guilt
  49. Spank Thru
  50. Blandest
  51. Pen Cap Chew
  52. Talk To Me
  53. Do You Love Me?
  54. Ain’t It A Shame
  55. Clean Up Before She Comes
  56. Help Me I’m Hungry
  57. Opinion
  58. Beans

“In Bloom” is still the greatest Nirvana song of all time!

Live Clip of the Week!

Author: markmeeks

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