When Nirvana’s 1991 single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” began taking over airwaves, listeners fell in love with the song’s powerful vocals, propulsive drums and catchy guitar riff. The latter ingredient felt especially familiar to classic-rock fans, as it bore a similarity to Boston’s hit song “More Than a Feeling.”
Released in September 1976 – almost exactly 15 years before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – “More Than a Feeling” was the breakout single from Boston’s self-titled debut album. Written by the band’s guitarist and founder Tom Scholz, the track soared to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped spur Boston to more than 17 million albums sold in the U.S. alone.
Considering the song’s massive success, it’s unlikely Kurt Cobain had not heard “More Than a Feeling” before he wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” In fact, the Nirvana frontman even admitted he was going for something similar when creating his song’s structure.
Watch Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ Video
“It was such a cliched riff,” Cobain admitted in a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone. “It was so close to a Boston riff or ‘Louie Louie.’ When I came up with the guitar part, Krist [Novoselic] looked at me and said, ‘That is so ridiculous.’”
Even though Cobain was notoriously anti-commercial, he was also well-versed in pop-music structure and knew a catchy riff when he heard one. As “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a generation-defining hit, its guitar became one of the track’s most identifiable components.
For his part, Scholz never felt plagiarized by the grunge giants. “I take it as a major compliment,” he admitted in 1994, “even if it was completely accidental.”
Watch Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ Video
During a 1992 headlining set at the Reading Festival in England, Nirvana indulged in a little tongue-in-cheek fun. The band played roughly 25 seconds of “More Than a Feeling” before launching into a frantic rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Asked later about the performance, Scholz admitted to Music Radar that he wasn’t sure if Nirvana were doing it as a “homage or thumbing their nose” at Boston: “Regardless, Nirvana was, from what I’ve heard, a great band. I was really impressed by the couple of things I heard. Regardless of what the context was, it’s an honor to be heard in the same airspace as Nirvana.”
Watch Nirvana Play a Snippet of ‘More Than a Feeling’ Before Performing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’