By Christopher Scapelliti
In an interview with Howard Stern, Weird Al Yankovic reveals how he convinced Kurt Cobain to let him record a parody of Nirvana’s 1991 hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“My manager was having a tough time getting through to his people, so I find out that he’s going to be doing SNL, and thought, I’ll just call him up,” Yankovic remembers.
“I told [Kurt] I want to do a parody of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and his first thing was: ‘Is it going to be about food?’” (Yankovic’s previous releases included “Eat It” and “Fat,” which are parodies of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Bad,” respectively.) “And I said, ‘No, it’s going to be about how no one can understand your lyrics.’”
Cobain liked the concept and gave his permission. Yankovic titled his version “Smells Like Nirvana.”
Strangely enough, when making the video for his parody, Yankovic was able to find many of the same people who performed in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
“We got the same janitor, some of the same cheerleaders, and a lot of the same crowd,” he tells Stern. “I don’t know how we found them, but we found a lot of the same people that were, like, in the moshing scene.”
“Smells Like Nirvana” was a hit, and it even ended up helping sales of Nevermind, the album that featured “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“I was talking to an executive from Nirvana’s record label, and they told me that after my parody came out, they sold another million units of Nevermind,” Yankovic says. “One of my favorite quotes is Kurt Cobain said he didn’t realize he’d made it until he saw the Weird Al video.”
You can check out the interview clip below, as well as the video for “Smells Like Nirvana.”
In the same interview, Yankovic explains how he was unable to persuade Prince to let him record parodies of his songs, and how he was told to never look Prince in the eye. You can hear that clip at bottom.