How the Ramones Inspired Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ Video

The Ramones and Nirvana are very different classic rock bands, however, the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” might not be the same without The Ramones. They inspired Kurt Cobain in a very specific way while he was crafting the video. Here’s a look at the thought process behind the video.

The Ramones with cups
The Ramones | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The connections between the Ramones and Nirvana

According to The Guardian, Cobain wanted to play in a band like the Ramones. In addition, producer Butch Vig — the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind — says the Ramones changed his life. He told Loudersound he’d listen to their self-titled album five times per day.

“It really was a startling sound for that time,” Vig opined. “It was a breath of fresh air, an adrenaline shot. In some ways I look at it as an analogy to when I produced Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s the same kind of thing, where the music sounded fresh and vital and really shook up the music scene.”

“Blitzkrieg Bop”

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Why the video for Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ wouldn’t be the same without a Ramones movie

The connection between Nirvana and the Ramones didn’t end there. Speaking with Interview Magazine, Samuel Bayer, the director of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, discussed collaborating with Cobain. Cobain drew inspiration from the Ramones while Bayer drew inspiration from a Matt Dillon movie.

“At the time, Kurt had an idea to do a rebellion at a high school,” Bayer recalled. “He wanted it to look like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) by the Ramones, mixed with a movie that Matt Dillon did called Over the Edge (1979). I heard him say that and came up with something very dark and gritty. Most of the time, when you get some recognition, you’re allowed to come up with the ideas. [‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’] was much more my interpretation of what Kurt Cobain’s idea was.”

The Ramones’ song “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”

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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a cult classic from the 1970s that starred the Ramones. The film is a comedy in the vein of Animal House. It’s interesting that Rock ‘n’ Roll High School inspired a music video that Bayer called “very dark and gritty.”

The cultural impact of the video for Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

The video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became iconic. “Weird Al” Yankovic parodied it in his video for “Smells Like Nirvana,” one of his most famous parodies from the 1990s. In addition, Bob Sinclair recreated elements of it in his video for “Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now).”

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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The video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Bayer’s first. He became a prominent music video director, directing videos for The Cranberries, Green Day, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Maroon 5, as well as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an MTV classic — and it wouldn’t be the same without the Ramones.

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