20 Songs About Smell

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Written By Julia Mehalko

Julia is a music journalist with a passion for retro songs. She holds a degree in journalism from University of Nevada.

Artists have learned long ago that by adding smell to poems and songs, the story is instantly enhanced.

Below, we’ve listed 20 great songs about smell. These songs vary in meaning and genre!

In some, you’ll get songs about smell in a metaphorical sense. In others, musicians will reference smelling in a quite literal way!

1. “That Smell” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd released their hit song “That Smell” on their 1977 album Street Survivors. This song was written as a result of the band’s guitarist facing alcohol and drug abuse. By discussing his struggles, the band also talks about the smell that surrounds him.

They sing the lyrics, “That smell / The smell of death surrounds you”. The band knows what he’s up to and knows that he’s struggling. However, if he doesn’t stop, they’re worried he might ultimately die from his addictions.

2. “I Heart?” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s 2008 song “I Heart?” also discusses smell. In this song, Swift details a breakup that she’s trying to get over. However, she’s clearly going through a hard time, which has led her to question who she loves — and love itself.

In the chorus, she sings, “Wake up and smell the breakup / Fix my heart, put on my makeup / Another mess I didn’t plan”. Again, we have an example of an artist using smell to better describe their state of mind — even though they don’t actually smell anything!

3. “I Think I Smell a Rat” by The White Stripes

The White Stripes released their song “I Think I Smell a Rat” on their 2001 album White Blood Cells. Throughout this entire song, the band sings about how they think they smell a rat, which could be interpreted in a variety of different ways.

The band also discusses their neighborhoods and the kids that live in them. There are not many lyrics to this song, which leaves the meaning up for interpretation! However, the band does once again use smell here in this song to better get their story or meaning across!

4. “Senses Working Overtime” by XTC

XTC’s 1982 song “Senses Working Overtime” discusses the joy of living and how we all should do our very best to live our lives. The band explains that they have all of their “Senses Working Overtime”, as they want to joyfully live and truly experience life and situations.

As a result, they mention smell — as well as all their other senses. They sing, “And all the world is football-shaped / It’s just for me to kick in space / And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste”.

5. “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots

In Twenty One Pilots’ 2016 song “Heathens”, the band also discusses smell. Here, the band sings about how they, and all their friends, are “Heathens”. However, they also call for people to be more empathetic to others.

By talking about themselves and their friend group, the band discusses how they can “smell” when people are being fake to them. They sing, “We don’t deal with outsiders very well / They say newcomers have a certain smell / You have trust issues, not to mention / They say they can smell your intentions”.

6. “Lips Are Movin’” by Meghan Trainor

Meghan Trainor released her song “Lips Are Movin’” on her 2014 album Title. In this song, Trainor details a romantic relationship that comes to an end because her boyfriend is both lying and cheating on her.

When discussing this, Trainor explains how she was able to smell the other woman on her boyfriend. She sings the lyrics, “But I smell her on your collar / So goodbye”.

7. “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots

Stone Temple Pilots’ 1992 hit song “Plush” can be interpreted in many ways. However, the band has said in the past that it follows an obsessive relationship — and all the problems that can arise from these types of toxic relationships.

The band also says that this song was inspired by a missing person case of a young woman. So, this song follows a relationship that is no longer safe. By detailing this relationship, the band also mentions smell by singing, “And I feel, and I feel when the dogs begin to smell her / Will she smell alone?”.

8. “Blood On Me” by Sampha

In Sampha’s 2016 song “Blood On Me”, Sampha discusses his struggles with guilt and intense anxiety. In this song, he details how worried he is that someone is out to get him, which drives his guilt. He’s done something wrong, and he knows he must soon deal with the repercussions.

However, he can’t stop running and hiding from his issues. In discussing this story, he references how others can seemingly smell this guilt and anxiety on him. He sings, “I swear they smell the blood on me / I hear them coming for me”.

9. “Hollywood” by Madonna

Madonna’s 2003 song “Hollywood”, which appears on her album American Life, discusses America, greed, fame, and Hollywood. Madonna begins this song by explaining that everybody wants to come to Hollywood and be a star.

She sings, “They like the smell of it in Hollywood / How could it hurt you when it looks so good?”. However, she goes on to say that this place did hurt her, and she’s now over it. Others still may cling to it, but she can’t.

Therefore, while others are only smelling good things in Hollywood, Madonna smells bad smells metaphorically instead.

10. “Lounge Act” by Nirvana

Nirvana’s hit song “Lounge Act” was released on their 1991 album Nevermind. This song was inspired by lead singer Kurt Cobain’s ex-girlfriend. Throughout the song, he sings about how he feels she smothers him and tries to change him.

Both of them also deal with jealousy and other issues in the relationship. As a result, he also sings, “I’ll go out of my way to prove I still / Smell her on you”.

11. “Lost and Found” by Brooks & Dunn

Brooks & Dunn’s 1992 song “Lost and Found” also references smell! The duo sing about their girlfriend who has seemingly up and left them. She’s gone away to have more adventure — and now the singer is trailing her, trying to find her, and hoping that she doesn’t find another.

The song follows the singer as he goes around asking if anyone has seen his girl. Even though everyone says they haven’t, he feels they’re lying. The band sings, “But I know she’s been here lately / I can still smell her perfume”.

12. “Smell the Roses” by Roger Waters

In Roger Waters’ 2017 song “Smell the Roses”, Waters talks about anti-war messages and how humanity should stop destroying everything beautiful in the world. Through this message, he discusses smells.

At the beginning of the song, he sings the lyrics, “Wake up and smell the roses”. He wants people to smell the beautiful nature.

However, later in the song, as he begins to talk about war, things change. Instead, he sings, “Wake up and smell the phosphorus”.

13. “I’m Real (Remix)” by Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez released her remix song “I’m Real” on her 2001 album J.Lo. This song, which features Ja Rule, details a romantic relationship. Lopez sings that when she’s with her man, he needn’t worry about anything else. So, he doesn’t need to worry about what she’s doing when they’re not together.

Ja Rule’s verses explain the relationship from the man’s point of view. Through his POV, he talks about how much he loves this girl — including how she looks, what she wears, how she smells, and more!

14. “I Just Wanna Be Happy” by Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan’s 1998 song “I Just Wanna Be Happy” also mentions smell! Estefan sings how she just wants to be happy, both in her life and in her romances. She wants to do everything, even if she doesn’t have money. After all, she sings that money can’t buy the kind of happiness she yearns for.

She sings the lyrics, “I wanna dance the whole night through / I wanna smell the flowers too”.

15. “Wreak Havoc” by Skylar Grey

Skylar Grey’s 2016 song “Wreak Havoc” was written for the movie Suicide Squad. Therefore, Grey sings from the perspective of all of the villains of the movie in this song. She sings about how everybody is jealous of her — and scared of her at the same time.

She says, “I can smell your fear / The only reason that I’m here / Is to wreak havoc”.

16. “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana

Here’s another Nirvana song! “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana was inspired by the character from the novel Perfume. Therefore, this song tells the story of a murderer and perfumer who cannot smell anything.

At the beginning of the song, the band sings, “His smell smelled like no other / He was born scentless and senseless / He was born a scentless apprentice”.

17. “Social Disease” by Elton John

Elton John’s song “Social Disease” was released on his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This song tells the story of an alcoholic man who has become something of a parasite to society. Therefore, many people feel as if he’s a “Social Disease”.

Elton John sings from the perspective of this man. Therefore, the man knows that he’s a “Social Disease”. However, the man doesn’t do anything to change his life. He sings, “I dress in rags, smell a lot, and have a real good time / I’m a genuine example of a social disease”.

18. “Cheap Whiskey” by Patty Loveless

Patty Loveless’ song “Cheap Whiskey”, which appears on her album Mountain Soul, also talks about alcohol — and the smells that come with it! Loveless sings about a man who is haunted by a smell.

This man used to be an alcoholic. However, ever since this partner left him, he hasn’t had a drink. Finally, he realized that he couldn’t love both alcohol and his partner. He had to choose one — and he chose the wrong one.

Now, he misses his partner and is haunted by the smell of cheap whiskey. Loveless sings the lyrics, “Now the things that still haunt him / Till the day he dies / Is the smell of cheap whiskey / And the sound of goodbye”.

19. “Perfume” by Britney Spears

Britney Spears released her song “Perfume” on her 2013 album Britney Jean. Spears sings about a romantic relationship that is facing infidelity in this song. Spears is worried that her current man is perhaps cheating on her with another woman.

However, she doesn’t want to leave his man, especially if these are just her insecurities talking. Instead, she wears her perfume — and hopes that the potential other woman smells it on him! She sings, “I hope she smells my perfume”.

20. “One Fine Face” by Sesame Street

Finally, our last song on this list is a song about smell for kids! “One Fine Face” from Sesame Street details a face, explaining to children the different features of their own face. Therefore, they talk about smell and taste, as well as other senses and features.

The lyrics state, “I’ve got a nose (one little nose) / So I can smell (a nose can smell)”.