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Nirvana butchering Smells Like Teen Spirit on Top Of The Pops is still hilarious over 30 years on

Nirvana
(Image credit: YouTube)

From David Bowie's spellbinding 1972 Starman performance to Travis' impromptu mid-show food fight in 2001, Top Of The Pops, Britain's best-loved music show, supplied countless unforgettable moments across numerous decades.

Despite it's popularity though, many artists on the show weren't so thrilled with the show's miming policy, which dictated that they could not play their instruments live. Bands and artists were only permitted to play to a pre-recorded backing track, which we imagine, felt a little silly. 

In 1991 however, one live aspect was introduced, which permitted vocalists to sing over the pre-recorded material.

Like the previously mentioned Travis, Nirvana were one of the many who found the rules pointless, and took the show's policy, along with the new live vocal rule as a opportunity to inject some havoc into the programme's pedantic regime. 

Invited onto the show to perform their hit song Smells Like Teen Spirit that same year, after selling over a million copies of the single in six weeks to rise to number nine in the UK charts, Nirvana registered their distaste for the policy by very deliberately butchering their own performance. As the backing track played out, Kurt Cobain decided to play his guitar as stiffly as a robot whilst barely touching the strings, Krist Novoselic swung his bass over his head like a cowboy with a lasso and Dave Grohl fumbled around aimlessly on the drums.

When it was Cobain's moment to sing, the weirdness escalated. Delivering each line with as much gusto as a Tesco bag fumbling through the wind, Nirvana's frontman dropped his voice numerous octaves to mimic The Smith's Morrisey while changing the lyrics of the opening line to 'Load up on drugs, kill your friends'. He then pretended to try eat the microphone, as you do.

A few years later in 1995, Oasis' Gallagher brothers, in true Gallagher brother fashion, stuck it to the rules themselves by switching places as they performed their charting song Roll with It. There have been a couple moments where bands sacked the policy off altogether though, such as in 1980, where Iron Maiden played Running Free live after refusing to mime. These days, as and when TOTP is resurrected, artists have the option to decide whether they want to mime or not, which, while sensible, leaves us with less opportunities for golden TV moments like this one.

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music. '10 bands that rip off Black Sabbath but get away with it' is her favourite article she's written with Louder so far. When not writing, Liz enjoys various creative endeavours such as graphic design, as well as reading about rock’n’roll history, art and magic.