History in the mix
Learn about Sonic Youth’ past through songs that define it
In the same spirit as the Thurston Moore-edited book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, here is a Sonic Youth collection representing this writer’s opinions on the songs that have defined the band’s history:
“Within You Without You” (Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, 1988)
George Harrison’s meditative drone drowns in bee-swarm guitars and shards of feedback.
“Kool Thing” (Goo, 1990)
Tangled guitars twist and twirl around Kim Gordon’s suggestive exchange with Public Enemy’s Chuck D.
“Pattern Recognition” (Sonic Nurse, 2004)
Opening notes spookily recall The Doors’ “LA Woman,” obliterated by a noise meltdown two-thirds of the way through.
“Sugar Kane” (Dirty, 1992)
Thurston’ Moore’s tribute to Marilyn Monroe is sweetness suspended with time stops. One can hear the amplifiers sighing in relief, only to find volume and greater intensity via the classic competing of Lee Renaldo and Moore’s strings.
“Schizophrenia” (Sister, 1987)
“The future is static / It’s already had it … I could tuck you in and we could talk about it …"—Sonic’s twin to Depalma’s Sisters with creepy lyrics, haunting harmonics, crescendos climax, recede.
“Flower” (12”, 1985)
“Support the Flower of Women / Use the word ‘Fuck’ / The word is love…"—Kim Gordon’s noisy treatise against the objectification of women.
“Teenage Riot” (Daydream Nation, 1988)
SY’s most popular, instantly appealing pop anthem: “It takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed…”
“Expressway to Yr Skull” (EVOL, 1986)
The Beatles’ “Day in the Life” blueprint that would be revisited time and time again: build, rise, ride the ecstatic wave of noise indefinitely, climax, denouement. Perfection.
“She is Not Alone” (Sonic Youth, 1981)
Weird rhythms, Thurston’s atonal singing, chiming notes, fragments and shards of sound.
“Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” (Murray Street, 2002)
“Fuzzy peach, teenage computer … here comes something, you are Lou Reed.” Saxophones snort and squeal amidst the noise meltdown on Thurston’s freedom poem.
“Tremens” (Anagrama, 1997)
Spooky, atmospheric instrumental representing SY’s playful and reverent approach to exploring new sounds.
“Bull in the Heather” (Experimental Jetset, 1994)
Kim Gordon sings, Kathleen Hanna dances, encircled by harmonics and abstract guitar noise. A hit.
“NYC Ghosts and Flowers” (NYC Ghosts and Flowers, 2000)
Lee Renaldo’s spoken word is a long journey supported by gorgeous imagery between sound and words that disintegrate in the heat of unrestricted white noise.
“Catholic Block” (Sister, 1987)
Fantastic, hard charging, Thurston-fueled punk: “I got a Catholic Block / Do you like to fuck?”
“Sunday” (A Thousand Leaves, 2002)
Check it. Child-star Macaulay Culkin macks. Thurston cracks: “Oh why can’t I set you free / Will you do the same for me?”
“Eric’s Trip” (Daydream Nation, 1988)
“I can’t see anything at all, all I see is me….” Thurston joyfully hammers a drum stick to his strings. Lee’s artistic apex replete with wah-wah pedals, and jet plane hum and buzz inspires a Canadian Band to steal the title as its name.
“Shaking Hell” (Confusion is Sex, 1983)
Kim Gordon’s disturbed vocals driven by piston pushing noise: “Come closer and I’ll take off your dress … shake off your flesh.”
“Brother James” (12”, 1989)
Massive guitar swarm spits hell and fire atop Gordon’s howl: “ ‘Take my hand,’ he said to me, ‘follow now or you’ll be damned’ “
“Death Valley ‘69” (Bad Moon Rising, 1985)
The band’s malevolent zenith examining the very heart of terror and darkness—a Manson family narrative with Lydia Lunch guesting on vocals with Thurston: “I wanted to get there … but I couldn’t go faster … So I had to hit … Hit it….”
“Kill Yr Idols” (Kill Yr Idols 12”, 1983)
The band disses New York Times rock critic Robert Christgau, who slagged SY in a review. The song’s title spells out the anarchic mission statement in embracing the new, and the death to the staid traditionalists.
“Incinerate” (Rather Ripped, 2006)
Hooks, melody, as Thurston softly croons. If radio were actually good, this song would reign the charts forever and ever amen. The band’s most commercial song since “Teenage Riot.”