4"Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- Nirvana
When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released in August of 1991, it virtually changed mainstream music overnight, allowing us to finally forget about the popular music of the 1980s.
Nirvana would go on to inspire a whole new generation of artists, with their breakout single eventually ranking in the top 10 of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list (which is a fine pedigree, but before we proceed it should be noted that the list recently dropped Iggy Pop in favor of Kelly Clarkson).
The world dropped Iggy Pop quite a while earlier.
The name of the song came about when Cobain walked into his bedroom one day to see that his friend Kathleen Hanna had spray-painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the wall. Being somehow totally unaware of Teen Spirit deodorant, the brand that his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore, he thought it was some kind of badass revolutionary slogan and didn't realize that Hanna was actually making fun of him.
Surprisingly, this was not in Kurt Cobain's wheelhouse.
When he finally found out, Cobain didn't care, because he felt the song had been a joke from the start. He said in a Rolling Stone interview that he was trying to rip off the Pixies and write the ultimate pop song, and came up with his version of the riff from Boston's "More Than a Feeling." When he showed the riff to the rest of his band, bassist Krist Novoselic instantly dismissed the song as "ridiculous," so Kurt made the band play it repeatedly for an hour and a half because his ability to write music was eclipsed only by his ability to be a shithead.
Then he started writing the lyrics, which may sound deep and full of imagery but according to him were "just making fun of the thought of having a revolution."
"Load up on guns and bring your friends. Who are idiots. Like you."
When "Teen Spirit" became a hit, Cobain resented having to play it all the time, and would sometimes lead into it with "More Than a Feeling" just to tell everyone exactly how much of his ass they could kiss. Damn, Kurt, you should have asked the Beastie Boys about the dangers of sarcastic music. Then again, both of them could have asked Quiet Riot ...
3"Cum On Feel the Noize" -- Quiet Riot
"Cum On Feel the Noize" was originally released by the glam rock band Slade in 1973, but the version everyone knows is the one done by Quiet Riot in 1983, which reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and propelled their album Metal Health to the #1 spot. This is truly an amazing accomplishment, because the band tried their best to make sure it was the worst song they'd ever recorded.
When their producer took the idea of doing a cover of "Noize" to them, the band was less than thrilled. Lead singer Kevin DuBrow hated the song outright, to the point where he and drummer Frankie Banali conspired to sabotage the recording and make it impossible to release. The band didn't rehearse the song at all and let their production engineer, Duane Baron, in on what they were planning to do. When the time came, he really only hit the record button for shits and giggles.
Banali tooled around on the drums, making things up as he went along, and when it came time for DuBrow to sing the lyrics, he tried his best to make it sound terrible. He screamed loud and off-key, doing his best not to give a fuck while ironically forgetting that rock music is all about not giving a fuck.
Well, that and "actually making good music." A lot of bands forget that.
So DuBrow's vocals just ended up sounding like raw, hard rock awesomeness to everyone else, especially once backing vocals were added to smooth things out a bit, and the track went on to enjoy massive success. Years later, he admitted that covering "Noize" had been good move for the band.
"The rest of our songs were all terrible by accident."