To catch up on Part 1 of this series, check out “The Guitar Stylings of Grunge, Shoegaze, & Punk: Part One” here.

When grunge came along in the late 80s, they were processing the sounds of hardcore punk (Black Flag, Husker Du), thrash metal (Metallica, Judas Priest), and the beginnings of alternative rock (REM, The Pixies). They were also not afraid to take influences from early rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Combine all of this together, and you’ve got a type of music that’s dark and explores much different harmonic territory than the major key kind of stuff in the Sex Pistols riff.

No riff better exemplifies all of this than Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s set in the key of F minor. It has a funky rhythm heavy with 16th notes ala thrash metal. Finally, it has a very simple melody consisting of 4 notes that it’s harmonizing with power chords.

Like the Sex Pistols, Nirvana wanted to make music that was more real and emotional. They, like other bands in the Grunge genre, thought that hair metal bands like Poison, Motley Crue, and Bon Jovi didn’t adhere to the true spirit of rock music. As moody as grunge music could be, bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam succeeded in making music that better resonated with its audience and gave them the catharsis they needed.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

In part three, we’ll take a look at how this evolution continued its progression into shoegaze!