Song 47: “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Smells Like Nirvana” (1992)


I’m not sure why my parents gave me some Weird Al tapes for Christmas (I’m guessing my dad heard about him somewhere, and had a hunch), but I’m glad they did. I thought he was hilarious, and just edgy enough to be interesting without scaring me away. And you know what? I stand by that opinion. I know it’s kind of a hipster thing to be into Weird Al again, but I think that rediscovery is genuine. I’m happy he’s still around.

“Smells Like Nirvana” marked the first time I heard a new Weird Al song and completely understood the reference. Everything until this point were exercises in figuring out the references later (including his parodies of “Beat It” and “Bad,” which I knew but was a little too young to fully connect). I loved the whole Off The Deep End album, especially the Extreme-skewering “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” which remains Yankovic’s finest work (though alas, the “official” video on YouTube cuts off the intro).

I think this song is a perfect example of Weird Al’s strengths: finding an angle, cleverly and gently exploiting it, and leaving ’em wanting more. In this song’s case, it’s skewering Nirvana’s penchant for passionate disinterest and Cobain’s unintelligible vocals. My favorite thing about this song may be its origins: Weird Al was given the runaround by Nirvana’s people, so he contacted Cobain directly. Cobain was thrilled, and considered the gesture a sign that Nirvana had “made it.” (He also asked warily if the song would be about food, as many of Weird Al’s songs are, and Al replied that it would instead be about the fact that Nirvana is impossible to understand. Cobain supposedly replied, “Oh sure, of course, that’s funny.”)

Another amazing fact: this song was written after Yankovic became uncomfortable with the “Black Or White” parody he wrote (“Snack All Night”, of course), because the Michael Jackson song was a political statement.

One more thing: the video. The video!!


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