Cover Wars: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

[Originally Published: November 9, 2011]

This opening track from Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind has spawned a whole lot of covers – many of which are instrumental, the vocal melody seems to speak to jazz piano players especially. Female vocalists also like taking a shot at this grunge classic – we round out with a few male-vox covers, a guest appearance from The Muppets and you’ve got – 10 covers of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The Contestants:

Artist: Tori Amos
Album: Crucify
The Skinny: Tori Amos was one of the first major artists to record this cover back in 1992 for an EP where she also covered Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. Cobain once said that this cover was, “a great breakfast cereal version”.

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And a live take:

Artist: The Bad Plus
Album: These Are the Vistas
The Skinny: In addition to being a talented trio that writes great original material, The Bad Plus also regularly turn a pop song into a fantastic jazz interpretation as they do here on their album These Are the Vistas.

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Live on NPR:

Artist: ELEW
Live Video: 11-3-2011
The Skinny: Piano phenom ELEW played a party for our friends over at HyperVocal last week and we are lucky enough to have this great video footage.

Artist: The Melvins
Album: Crybaby
The Skinny: The Melvins were a great influence on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana – and the bands were also good friends. For this 2000 LP, The Melvins opened the record with their straight-ahead cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

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Artist: Miley Cyrus
Live Video: May 2011 – Chile
The Skinny: And now for something completely different, I present to you – Miley Cyrus. Hey Miley, where is the second verse?

Artist: The Moog Cookbook
Album: Moog Cookbook
The Skinny: You could find The Moog Cookbook’s formula to make these covers to be a bit gimmicky, but I think it’s pretty cool. The rest of the album has some great alt/grunge covers too.

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Artist: The Muppets Barbershop Quartet
Album: The Muppets
The Skinny: And now for the cover that inspired this edition of Cover Wars, on the upcoming The Muppets Barbershop Quartet! I’m not sure what they sing for the first line, but I’m pretty sure it is not, “Load up on guns and bring your friends.”

Artist: Patti Smith
Album: Twelve
The Skinny: The Godmother of Punk seems to always make her way into Cover Wars, a lot of the time from this same album of covers entitled Twelve. Listen as Smith sneaks one of her poems into this cover.

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The music video:

Artist: Phish
Live Show: 11-2-1998
The Skinny: Alright. I know to a large degree Cover Wars is basically just a popularity contest and I realize that a lot of readers simply cast their votes for their favorite band without listening to all of the covers – and that’s OK. But voting for Phish here is not OK. But you know, we wanted to include it because we are Hidden Track, we know where we come from. And we know that a lot of our readers already know that Phish encored their sparsely attended November 2nd, 1998 show in Utah (a show where they covered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in the second set) with Smells Like Teen Spirit. Just, don’t vote for them – please.

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Artist: Robert Glasper Trio
Live Video: 10-15-2011
The Skinny: What’s great about all the jazz interpretations is that they are all different enough that I could include all of them. Robert Glasper hasn’t recorded this on an album yet – maybe on his next one.

You can also check out a completely different take from Glasper here:

The Original:

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10 thoughts on “Cover Wars: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

  1. Ron Reply

    That must of been a great phish show! I read about it years ago…

  2. KernelForbin Reply

    Cmon now people. Clearly the Phish version is not the best on this list. ;)

    Factoring in the entire show is a different story.

  3. danimal6000 Reply

    time to hit up the miley cyrus message boards and get them to skew the poll. she’s gonna climb up the ranks and then it’s gonna be a party in the usa.

  4. Uncle Eb Reply

    I voted Phish just because I was told not too! FIght the power, man!!!!

    Despite the masturbatory intro (and I like musical wankery a lot of the time, maybe would’ve made more sense in context of the set), I think ELEW’s is the only one that carries the power of the song. Who is that dude?

  5. andrew Reply

    That Miley Cyrus cover would make Kurt Cobain want to kill himself all over again.

  6. Todd Reply

    Can I vote for the original? I can’t believe how bad some of these covers are (looking at you Miley and Patti)

  7. matt Reply

    I vote none of the above.

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