Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ Inspired a Guns N’ Roses Song

Though they are both classic rock bands, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana made very different songs. Despite this, Axl Rose wanted one of Guns N’ Roses’ songs to sound like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He had a difficult time getting what he wanted.

Guns N' Roses standing in a row
Guns N’ Roses | Paul Natkin/WireImage

What Axl Rose wanted from the album ‘Chinese Democracy’

Guns N’ Roses released a covers album called “The Spaghetti Incident?” in 1993. The band did not release another album until 2008’s Chinese Democracy. In a 2016 interview with Loudersound, A&R manager Tom Zutaut recalled talking about Chinese Democracy with Axl Rose.

“Here was the Axl that I met in 1985 again,” Zutaut recalled. “A guy that had a vision and wanted to make the best record that had ever been made. And we talked and he said, ‘I go to the studio I tell ’em what I want and they tell me that they’ve got what I want and then when I listen to it I’m bummed out.'”

Why it was so difficult for Guns N’ Roses to mimic the sound of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

At one point, Rose said he wanted the drums on the title track of Chinese Democracy to sound like the drums on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Zutaut had a solution. “I’m gonna take a break but I’ll be back,” he said. “I went and bought [Nirvana’s album] Nevermind at the local Tower Records.” Subsequently, Guns N’ Roses listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and were able to mimic the drums.

Zutaut guessed why none of the musicians Rose worked with purchased Nevermind. “I guess maybe they heard the Nirvana hits on the radio and they just thought that they knew the sound, but none of them had thought to just go buy the album and listen to it,” he said.

Rose was happy with Zutaut. “I’ve only been asking for that for, like, six f****** months!” he said. “You don’t understand: I’ve been losing my f****** mind! I ask you for something, I get it. I’ve been asking other people and they can’t get it?!”


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The way audiences reacted to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” became Nirvana’s biggest hit in the United States. It peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 20 weeks. Its parent album, Nevermind, was No. 1 for two of its 562 weeks on the Billboard 200.

“Chinese Democracy” was far less successful. It peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for three weeks. Meanwhile, the album Chinese Democracy peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 16 weeks. “Chinese Democracy” was not one of Guns N’ Roses’ bigger hits; however, it has an interesting connection to Nirvana.