Music Analysis Project

Brian Morrissey

Music Industry

Blog Post #1

Nirvana

was arguably the most famous grunge band, and was credited as being the face of

the entire grunge/alternative music movement; specifically front man and chief

songwriter Kurt Cobain. This image was forever cemented when the band released

their 2nd album Nevermind

in 1991. The album itself received an immense amount of attention via constant

airplay or radio, but most notably through constant rotation on MTV who would

frequently air their first singles’ music video on it. That single of course

was “Smells like teen spirit” and would forever change the music industry, as

well as many social scenes from there on out. The song itself is a very high

fidelity, yet still raw in its feelings. It had similar characteristics of

punk, although with a more syncopated rhythm (one of the cornerstones of the

later baptized Alternative Music). It was a great departure from the 80’s hard

rock and metal bands that dominated the 80’s. It also inspired a new wave of

fashion that was meant to embody the description of the music itself; dirty,

raw, stripped down, and anything but pretty. The grunge style dominated the

early 90’s culture and began finding its ways into more and more cities. It

went from an isolated Seattle trend to a nationwide cultural phenomenon.

Teen

spirit resonated mostly with teenagers and people under 30. It did this because

of the inherent stresses and frustrations that already follow those age groups.

Philosophically, for the first time, otherwise negative emotions (envy,

depression, self-loathing, anger, confusion) were put out in the open within

this song. It was a more honest composition, albeit brutally honest, but still

it was something that listeners got behind and was considered more believable

than most of the heavily produced engineered sentiments of its musical

predecessors. Production wise, the entire album Nevermind was recorded on the DGC label and was produced by Butch

Vig. From the very beginning, Vig’s main goal was to move away from the

otherwise Low fidelity sound of the band’s previous album Bleach; he did this through the incorporations of overdubs and

vocal double-tracking (recording more than one vocal track and playing them

simultaneously). This was a complete different process to their previous debut Bleach which was from what I believe to

have been recorded for roughly $600. The goal on Bleach was to capture what the band was attempting to achieve

musically. The underground, low-fi sound quality was definitely one of if not

the biggest characteristic of giving Nirvana that different new sound;

contrasting against the engineered perfection of the majority of the mainstream

80’s metal/hard rock recordings. This stripped down sound help conveyed a sense

of talent and grit through which audiences became excited about and infatuated

with. However with a strong base established, and a motivated and talented

producer behind them; Nirvana was now i n the big leagues and making more

intricate recordings with song like Teen Spirit. Significantly bigger budget,

more intuitive, redundant, and saturated recording techniques brought big

changes to the bands production values, all the while trying to continue on the

original rawness and grit of their freshman outing. Teen Spirit’s constant

airplay on the then cultural phenomenon of MTV was an effective one two punch

that took the masses by storm, catapulting Nevermind

into being one of the most successfully albums of the last 20 years, and is

widely considered to be Nirvana’s Magnum Opus.

Socially “Smells like teen

spirit” created an outlet for individuals whose angst hadn’t an outlet

previously. Instead of a song telling them how they should feel, it was no a

soul individual merely stating how he himself was feeling and finding like-minded

individuals. Within the lyrics of the song, many various sources of angst and

turmoil are cited as sort of a teenage check list of things that potentially

affect them. In the chorus of the song Cobain states “…A Mulatto, an Albino, a

mosquito, My Libido”; these classifications can be taken as metaphorical in

some instances where an individual can feel insignificant like an insect.

Additionally he states certain disillusions with identity by being a particular

racial/ethnic classification. Directly before that portion Cobain states “With

the lights out, it’s less dangerous” citing then often time people find

solitude within the dark of their own bedrooms or naturally feel more

comfortable alone in dark environments. This feeling makes perfect sense when

the bands original sound on bleach was described as being negative and

claustrophobic.

Musically, the song is based on

the key of F minor. This is evident within the songs chord progression (F Bb G#

C#) as well as melody line both falls within these parameters. The playing of

each pair or chords that are the same interval (a 4th in this case)

helps convey a feeling of gears shifting up and those giving us a sense of

musical closure with each full progression. The movement of positioning from

the F up to the G# position in another characteristic on the minor scale being

that it’s a minor 3rd interval, one of the more prominent

progression in rock music (hard rock & Metal).One thing I always like about

this song was the vocal melody line is later in the song mirrored by the guitar

playing the same notes. I feel the most unique aspect about this song musical arrangement

comes from it drummer, future foo fighters front man Dave Grohl. Grohl helped

define the alternative genre by his highly syncopated, off meter rhythmic style

that was very uncharacteristic of the mainstreams music of the day that would

be primarily either 4/4 timing, or the occasional3/4 but would almost always be

straightforward in terms of accents and be played primarily on the downbeat.

Teen Spirit itself is in common 4/4 timing, but the more complex alternating (perhaps

where the genre got it’s namesake) inflections on different up and down beats

kind of throws you off and makes you listen to it more closely creating this initial

deception of timing, much like how jazz probably threw people off who were used

to traditional marches and other traditionally rigid structured timing

patterns.

The

most significant thin about Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” will always be

its lasting legacy. Having been immersed in the alternative and post/grunge scene,

I can attester to their musical, stylistic, and overall influence on music

today. Bands and artists now predominately write their own songs based on their

interests, feelings, and what have you instead of having selling images they

are predetermined, engineered, and do not necessarily reflect the feelings and

sentiments of the artist themselves. These sentiments lead to a rapid surge

within younger people learning instruments, particularly the electric guitar,

so they too can try and put their own stamp on music that they want to hear. A

trend which many of today’s contemporary bands Seether, Three Days Grace,

Evanescence, Shinedown, Godsmack, Chevelle, Sevendust and others have all

benefitted from the initial alternative musical movement created when Smells

like teen Spirit hit the airwaves in 1991

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12 Responses to “Music Analysis Project”

  1. medst330wpl Says:

    This is quite an analysis you got so far. I’m learned a lot from your analysis as I’m not a person who listens to their style of music. Seeing that I don’t have a musical background, I couldn’t appreciate your musical notations paragraph as much as I want to. Maybe you can explain what some of the notations mean? Thanks in advance if you do.

    I think those artists you mentioned owe a lot to Nirvana’s influences and success. Without them, the artists you mentioned will probably not have the reputations they have today.

    I suggest you post your song onto this blog so that everyone can hear it as they read your analysis.

  2. krillnyc Says:

    Funny thing about this song. I used to play in a band called No-One while I was a freshman a SUNY at Old Westbury and we were OK. Its was a power trio and our sound was heavy, noisy, and a little unfocused. One day in my buddies house in Floral Park, we were in his basement and Smells Like Teens Spirit pops out in MTV and I was just floored! “This is the sound were going for and some guys from Seattle beat us to it” I thought to myself. Later on I was reminded by Sean, my guitarist at the time, that we had seen Nirvana years before at a club named the Pyramid on Ave A, and we were too high to realize how bad they were that night.
    Life is funny that way I guess.

  3. sm09 Says:

    I have to agree “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is truly a classic, Nirvana had stormed the airwaves with at that time a very unique musical style. The fact that we still hear this song played on the radio reiterates its success. I also found the way you described the songs musical arrangement very interesting and I didn’t realize the impact Dave Grohl had on the alternative genre. I find Grohl to be a very talented musician and I don’t believe he has ever produced a song I did not enjoy.

  4. brian morrissey Says:

    Dave Grohl is a musical genius, and ironic how he was one of the father of grunge, he found his greatest success in the post-grunge world with the foo fighters

  5. Laura Says:

    I just watched the VH1 special on the Nirvana Nevermind album and they talk about the double tracking on this album. They break it all down and talk about how it was produced. They go through all of the songs and how they were put together. It’s very interesting.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEOsGztiOFg&feature=related

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