Nirvana’s seminal anthem ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ saw the grunge heroes transition from having a small cult-like fandom to emerging as the biggest band in America in a matter of months. This footage, taken from their pre-fame days, shows the band performing the sleeper hit in a shop just a matter of weeks before it began to become the sensation we all know and love.
The Seattle based group had released their debut record Bleach through indie label Sub Pop in 1991 and had moderate success, but nothing in comparison to what they were about to receive with the timeless Nevermind which marked the band’s first major-label release on Geffen.
Prior to the release of Nevermind, the band treated fans to a special glimpse of record and performed live in local record stores before it was even released. Nirvana, who were only meant to sign records on this occasion, expected around 50 fans to show up to Beehive Records. However, they quickly realised that the true number would be significantly higher than that.
This event arrived somewhat of a turning point in the career of Nirvana, albeit a very small one. That said, the fact remains that over 200 people queued around the block to meet the group and it showed something was beginning to happen and that their fortunes were about to change. Rather than simply sign the records, the band decided to play an impromptu 45-minute set which would be a moment that the crowd will have never forgotten.
Upon first release, Nevermind only charted at 144 in the Billboard charts which signified that the band were still that cult act from Seattle. However, this soon changed with prolific effect. Over the next few months, sales increased significantly as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ unexpectedly became increasingly popular. The song’s video had received a world premiere on MTV’s late-night alternative show 120 Minutes and soon proved so popular that the channel was forced to meet demand by adding it to their daytime playlist.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘ would end up peaking at number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. The album was soon certified Gold, by the Christmas of 1991, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week in the US.
In January 1992, the album displaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at number one on the Billboard album charts and was the standout record of the year worldwide. Nevermind eventually sold over seven million copies in the United States and over 30 million worldwide.
For now though, watch where it all began with the iconic set, below.