That Smell

Album: Street Survivors (1977)
  • This song is about Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington, who bought a new car (a Ford Torino), got drunk, and crashed it into a tree, then a house ("whiskey bottles, brand new car, oak tree you're in my way"). The band was supposed to start a tour in a few days, but had to postpone it because of Rossington's injuries.
  • Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins wrote this song. They were not pleased with Rossington, whose drug and alcohol problems were affecting the band.
  • The band fined Rossington $5000 for holding up the tour. Skynyrd made an effort to stay sober on this tour. Drugs and alcohol were banned from the dressing rooms.
  • Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines were killed in a plane crash a few days after Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1977 tour started. Some of the lyrics in this song refer to death, and the cover of the album, which had just been released, showed the band enveloped in flames.
  • This song features the famous whistle of Ronnie Van Zant. He learned to whistle very loud so he could call the dogs when he went hunting.

Comments: 44

  • Rob C from San Jose, CaAs several people have commented it is my understanding that the song "That Smell" was inspired by Gary Rossington's drug and alcohol abuse. The reference to "Whiskey bottles", "Brand new cars", and "Oak trees" in the way most certainly refers to the car wreck drunk driving incident that delayed the start of one of the bands tours... What I will add to this conversation is the interpretation of the song's line "The smell of death surrounds you!"
    When you shoot Heroin in tar form it must be melted (or mixed with water and heated) to a liquid form in order to inject into the bloodstream with a syringe. Before disposable butane lighters were ubiquitous addicts often would use matches lighting 2 or 3 at a time to heat the spoon with the Heroin in it, often burning a book or more of matches in quick succession. This can result in the sulfur smell from the match heads lingering in a persons hair and clothing after they have 'shot up'. Reportedly Gary Rossington was not only drinking excessively but also shooting heroin, which the other band members became aware of by the smell of matches, 'the smell of death', when he would enter the room.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 5th 1976, Garry Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd falls asleep at the wheel of his brand new Ford Torino and hits a oak tree and then a house in Jacksonville, FL...
    "That Smell" was track two of side one on the group's fifth studio album, 'Street Survivors', and the album peaked at #5 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart.
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaWhy was I so sure this was an Alice Cooper song? The chorus sounds like the spittin' voice image of Cooper! Just found out it's Lynyrd after googling for the lyrics! Good tune -- great ringtone for your friends who really stink!
  • Jorge from Bronx, NyI came to follow this band work,by listening to Rossington Collins band Dont Misunderstand me song,Then I'd learned they were surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tha Smell was my favority and so is Simple Man.
  • Jim from Minneapolis, MnI believe that at the time of the crash, if it didn't happen, that smell and the whole album would have propeled skynyrd into the super star rock band status. I finally got to see them live a couple of years ago on the frynds tour with hank williams jr. first out was the warm up guy chris jenson??? then skynyrd the williams. The warm up guy was the best. skynyrd looked tired and beat up. they just went thru there song list as fast as they could and got the hell out of there. williams was so loud half the crowd got up and left. JT mpls
  • Sarafina from Kenosha, Withankyou oldpink!!!! now i just feel stupid though.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InTo sara from Kenosha, United Kingdom,
    "Blow" in this song is slang for cocaine. There is a direct reference in the line "There's too much coke, and too much smoke..."
  • Deb from Jacksonville, FlAllen Collins wreck was on Plummer Grant Rd almost a mile from his home. He was my neighbor. And a good one.
  • Sara from Kenosha, United Kingdomi love this song, and it is crazy with the flames and everything. but im confused on one line, what does he mean by blow? whats that mean?
  • Tyler from Greeneville, Tnfreaky, they sing about death and the album has a pic of the band in flames. then some members die in a plane crash.
  • Randy Howe from Mobile, Al, AlSo, skynyrd, the group, they had their ups and downs. Like everyone. yall people talk too much. its annoying. Quit the arguement. Listen to music. Hear the color. Grow up. Just listen to the much. Accept it. don't argue it.
  • Alan from Rochester, NyI learned something today about this song...thanks, guys. (that it may have been a reference to something wider than Rossington's drug problems)

    Rossington being the only surviving Skynyrd member, in spite of what this song represents, reminds me of how Paul is one of the remaining Beatles, despite the whole "Paul is Dead" shtick.

    I certainly could call this the best Skynyrd song I know of. Flew in under the Freebird/Sweet Home Alabama radar, that's for sure...that seems to happen a lot: even if the Big Hit(TM) was a solid song, look closer and find some hidden gems.
  • Reed from New Ulm, MnI never knew the lyric said: the smell of death surrounds you ------i always thought they said:
    the smell that's around you.
  • Brad from Long Island, NyHey Randy, didnt Billy Powell die like 2 days ago. I guess he wouldnt be considered an original member technically anyway. But given the impetus for this song, it is ironic that only Gary survives
  • Jami from Redding, CaAfter all these years it's still a song I just have to crank up and jam to, even if it does bother the hell out of my kids.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InAnyone who thinks that Skynyrd wrote fluff needs to listen again to Ronny's clear words on this.
    The guitars are also incredible.
    Great song, great album.
    Essential, alongside Pronounced, and Second Helping.
  • Mark from Springfield, MaProbably my favorite Skynyrd song, overall. Not to mention the best anti-drug song ever.
  • Jenelle Canevari from New Orleans, LaThis song is awesome! Some of the best guitar playing ever! and Ronnie is the best ever. one of the greatest Skynyrd songs ever. Cajun Queen, from Louisiana
  • Jeanette from Mcgrady, NcCassie Gaines, Steve's sister, was a back up singer for the band. She was the reason Steve had a chance to try out for the band.They band agreed to let him try out for the band, more or less, as a favor to Cassie. To their surprise he was just what they were looking for. The two other back up singers were Jo Jo Billingsly and Leslie Hawkins.
  • Prad from Pondicherry, Indiaanyone know a song similar to this by lynyrd?
  • Randy from Colerain Twp., OhAndre, unless you have actually heard this song, don't knock it. And from reading your postings, it appears that you had nothing else to do on a computer. And Mark from Marion, In., I have viewed that "Street Survivors" album cover from every aspect- and I simply do not see such an image of a grinning skull from that window above Ronnie. Please don't tell me that you also like spending time viewing bibical images from potato chips.
  • Randy from Colerain Twp., Oh1977 definitely was not a good year for Gary Rossington. How ironic is it that despite both horrific crashes he is the only surviving original member of 'Skynyrd left. I also notice that there's that loud 'whistle' on the song "Call me the Breeze".
  • Rick from Tuscola, United Statesmy favorite skynyrd song. sure freebird is a classic but that smell has real life lyrics and great music. how many great musicians have we lost to plane crashes.
  • Sanitarium from Sharon, Kstobacco had nothin to do with the song. It was about drinkin and drugs, plain and simple.
  • Mark from Marion, InFor those of you who have the original "flames" album/cd cover. Van Zant is wearing a t-shirt that is a copy of Neil Youngs' Tonight's The Night; an album rife with drugs and death. Neils dark classic. If you have the Street Survivors cover...look at Van Zant. Above him is a flaming window. Turn the cover upside down and it becomes a grinning skull. Very eerie.
  • Steven from Boca Raton, FlI produced the song, it was about Allen and his Herion problem. There is a saying among "H" users that the smell of cooking the Heroin brings you right back to shooting it. Everyone was able to kick except for Allen. After the car accident Allen's habit was worse than ever and caused him to die of pneumonia. Rolling him on stage was killing us all and he just gave up..
  • Jeanette from Mcgrady, NcGary and Allen were actually in car accidents, separately, in the same weekend. This song expresses Ronnie's disgust with drinking and driving and the Rock n Roll lifestyle in general, that they were very much a part of. This song was released on Street Survivors, their last album. This is not the crash that paralyzed Allen Collins. The crash that paralyzed Allen occured some time after the plane crash and the death of his wife. Sad, Allen was a guitar GOD.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThis song is about Ronnie Van Zant getting tired of the Rock'n'Roll lifestyle. The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd took so many drugs (There's too much coke and too much smoke). He stopped and tried to convince other members to do so. (Stick them needles in your arm I know I been there before) but drugs were to addicting for the other members he knew it if they didn't stop they'd meet a cruel demise (Stuck a needle in your arm So take another toke, have a blow for your nose One more drink fool, will drown you Just one more fix, Lord might do the trick, One hell of a price for you to get your kicks ). Unfortunately, it did. RIP Ronnie. You could see the future in this underrated song.
  • Garrett from Clermont, FlThe first time i listned to this song I was trying to figure out the words like "toke" and phrases like "blow for your nose" meant.of course I was 5 when I heard it
  • Carrie from Roanoke, VaThe first time I listened to the song, I couldn't help laughing at the title...I thought it was about a person who lived in a dirty house with a moldy refrigerator. Once I listened to the lyrics, though, I learned to really appreciate the song and how serious its meaning was, even though the slang and sarcasm make its tone a lot lighter. Impressive guitar work, and I've never heard anyone who could whistle for as long as Van Zant could. It's a unique song, and an easy one to appreciate because unlike most rock songs it's not all about newfound love, lost love, or sex (well, at least not primarily). For this reason, this was the song I sang when my sorority sisters dared me to sing a favorite song as part of my induction. Great effort.
  • Kevin from Jacksonville , FlI was one of the first people on the scene of Allen Collins last car crash which killed his girlfriend and left him in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. The wreck occured on plummers cove road in Mandarin Florida just a half mile from Collins' house on Julington Creek road.
  • John from Cudahy, CaWasnt this song released a year before the accident happened?
  • Tom from Bridgeport, CtLynyrd Skynyrd were very much into drinking drugs and ETC.... The reason Ronnie wrote this song was that he himself was getting sick and tired of being wasted all the time.And to send a message to Gary Allen and Billy that their drug and drinking binges and crashing cars were ruining the group.As a matter of fact Garys Accident ruined a chance for them to co headline a tour with Aerosmith.As Ronnie said about the Car wrecks "they were just plain dumb and stupid"
  • Mark from Bourbon, Mofrom the information that i have is that gary rossington has change his life and has two little grils
  • Samantha from Janesville, WiAwesome song! Lynyrd Skynyrd didn't want to be involved with alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. That is not common during those days. It just shows that they did everything to make a difference. Lynyrd Skynyrd is the best band that ever played!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Nick from Milwaukee, WiMy favorite song ever. It is featured in Joe Dirt twice
    ~Nick, Milwaukee, WI
  • Michael from Greensboro, Ncactually, there were three female backup singers on this track.....Cassie Gains, Jo Jo Billingsly and Leslie Hawkins.

    michael/greensboro, nc
  • Michael from Greensboro, NcTo me, this song has a lot of meaning. Not only from a musical standpoint, but lyrically as well. In my opinion, Ronnie Van Zant is a "poor man's poet". Also, "I" like the guitar parts, the way that they arranged, mixed, and the general feel of everything together. Boyyom line, as with all their songs......I can relate. I would venture to say that most people can relate.
  • Adam from Durham, United Stateslol i didnt get this at first, thought it was about a smelly dude, but yeah the message really speaks to me ither way, we've all met our share of drunks and smelly pple, and yeah i like it no matter what my sister says
  • Angie from Rockmart, GaAlways loved this song, as well as it's message.
  • Greg from Asheville, Nc"About Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington"


    is it really? the first two lines may be, but the rest of the song is about addiction (drug, alcohol, tobacco). Was not Gary intoxicated? thence the reference to "whisky bottle, brand new car"

    that seems to more accurately describe the song, but please correct me if i'm wrong.
  • Mick from Corpus Christi, TxIn my view, one of the best rock-n-roll songs ever. Artistically, this song was the best Skynyrd wrote. Very good lyrics, guitar lines, bass, vocals, and a variety of dimensions.
  • Victor from Vienna, VaAppears in the movie "Blow" (2001) as George Jung (Johnny Depp) is getting ready to go to the hospital with his wife, who is about to give birth to his baby girl.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesSteve Gaines' guitar playing on this song was absolutely amazing! What a pity tragedy struck so soon afterwards... This track also featured a rare female vocal behind Van Zant's own vocals - presumably they were those of Steve Gaines' sister, Cassie.
see more comments

The Real Nick DrakeSong Writing

The head of Drake's estate shares his insights on the late folk singer's life and music.

Phone Booth SongsSong Writing

Phone booths are nearly extinct, but they provided storylines for some of the most profound songs of the pre-cell phone era.

The 10 Bands Most Like Spinal TapSong Writing

Based on criteria like girlfriend tension, stage mishaps and drummer turnover, these are the 10 bands most like Spinal Tap.

Matt SorumSongwriter Interviews

When he joined Guns N' Roses in 1990, Matt helped them craft an orchestral sound; his mezzo fortes and pianissimos are all over "November Rain."

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo LyricMusic Quiz

In this quiz, spot the artist who put Romeo into a song lyric.

Colin HaySongwriter Interviews

Established as a redoubtable singer-songwriter, the Men At Work frontman explains how religion, sobriety and Jack Nicholson play into his songwriting.