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Song Stories

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Nirvana | 1991

"Smells Like Teen Spirit," named after a brand of deodorant marketed to girls, was Kurt Cobain's attempt to "write the ultimate pop song," he said, using the soft-loud dynamic of his favorite band, the Pixies. Cobain "had that dichotomy of punk rage and alienation," the song’s producer, Butch Vig, told Rolling Stone, "but also this vulnerable pop sensibility. In 'Teen Spirit,' a lot of that vulnerability is in the tone of his voice." Sadly, by the time of Nirvana's last U.S. tour, in late '93, Cobain was tortured by the obligation to play "Teen Spirit" every night. "There are many other songs that I have written that are as good, if not better," he claimed.

Find out what the Nevermind baby has been up to years after his landmark cover photo.
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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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