Nirvana felt uncomfortable with their new-found fame following the explosion of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in 1991, the power of the song elevating the band to godlike status, and it didn’t sit right with Kurt Cobain. When they appeared on Jonathan Ross’ chat show later in the same year, they took a stand and decided to play the wrong song in order to starve the television audience from hearing their most famous hit.
Following Nirvana signing to Geffen and releasing Nevermind, they found themselves in a situation that they never thought for a minute was possible — or even that they wanted. The seminal album only reached 144 in the Billboard charts during the first week of sales, then thanks to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ emerging as the sound of Generation X, Nirvana would become the voice of a disgruntled generation who were kicking back at the mess that Reaganomics had left behind on America and beyond.
Over the next few months after the album release, sales increased significantly as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ unexpectedly became more and more 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.
The track would end up peaking at number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. The album was soon certified gold and, by the end of 1991, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week in the US. With the new-found fame, the band headed overseas to appear on Jonathan Ross’ primetime chat show. With obligations to impress, the band opted against playing their hit track and, instead, Nirvana decided to blow the roof off and play ‘Territorial Pissings’ at the last minute. This cavalier act epitomised precisely why so many fell in love with the band because of their no fucks given attitude.
The performance is one of the most iconic performances in British TV history as Nirvana smash up the stage following letting all hell break loose as the trio play like their lives depended on it. However, in 2009 when Dave Grohl appeared with Them Crooked Vultures on Jonathan Ross, he had some explaining to do about that performance almost twenty years before.
Grohl recalls: “I remember, we were supposed to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and instead about two minutes before going on we thought, you know what let’s play ‘Territorial Pissings’, which is about two minutes shorter and we smashed the gear then ran out of the back door.
“The gear was with just feedback (does feedback impression), and the first thing he (Ross) says is ‘Nirvana will be available for bar mitzvahs and weddings. It was great,” he added wistfully.
This kind of raucous performance and carefree stunt is exactly why so many fell in love with Nirvana in 1991. Their attitude was infectious; whilst most bands would use this platform to impress as many people by performing their hit, Nirvana couldn’t care less. Instead, they showcased themselves at their rawest and most brutal, which only made them more enchanting. This performance is Nirvana saying take us or leave us, this is us at our bedlam best, and we don’t care what you think.
See the clip, below.