When Kurt Cobain first came up with the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riff, he didn’t think he had anything that special. “It was such a cliched riff,” he said. “It was so close to a Boston riff or ‘Louie Louie.’ When I came up with the guitar part, Krist [Novoselic] looked at me and said, ‘That is so ridiculous.'”
After the song became an enormous hit, many others pointed out that the main riff did indeed sound like Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” even though they’re in different keys. They probably weren’t similar enough for Boston’s Tom Scholz to file any sort of legal action, but he said he didn’t mind at all.
“I take it as a major compliment,” he said in 1994, “even if it was completely accidental.”
The group made fun of the whole thing in the summer of 1992 when they played the Reading Festival in England. After the opening bars of the song, Kirst Novoselic and Dave Grohl sang the chorus of “More Than a Feeling” while Bivouac drummer Antony “Dancing Tony” Hodgkinson danced around wildly. After about 18 goofy seconds, Novoselic launches into the “I see Marianne walk away” part, but Kurt interrupts him by beginning the song for real. It’s a great moment, though completely absent from the official Live at Reading CD. You can watch it right here though.
A couple of years ago, Tom Scholz admitted that he’s extremely unfamiliar with Nirvana’s work since he has barely heard any new music since 1974. “The only times when I’ll hear other music will be at the ice skating rink or the gym,” he said. “It’s been debated whether [Nirvana playing a bit of “More Than a Feeling”] was homage or thumbing their nose. Regardless, Nirvana was, from what I’ve heard, a great band. I was really impressed by the couple of things I heard. Regardless of what the context was, it’s an honor to be heard in the same airspace as Nirvana.”