As pioneers of the New York underground musical landscape in the early eighties, Sonic Youth emerged through the years as one of the most influential and beloved alternative rock bands on the planet. Much of that was down to one game-changing album and its artwork. Released on this day in 1990, we’re celebrating Goo.
Together, the band unintentionally set the pace for a new musical genre, a genre that has been the inspiration for many bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Nirvana, Pavement, Blonde Redhead, Yo La Tengo, Beck, Sigur Rós, Weezer, Deerhunter and countless others. They ‘created’ a sound, a benchmark, that defines the band – no wave.
The group, who formed in 1981 with a name that merged that of MC5 guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith with dub pioneer Big ‘Youth’, included Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo on the guitars with Kim Gordon on bass. The band’s first drummer, Richard Edson, started things off before the band rolled through some replacements until, eventually, settling with Steve Shelley in 1985 who became the everpresent.
In 1990, the band went big time and delivered a record, their first on a major label, that would not only change their lives but send Sonic Youth to the top of the alternative-rock pile. In doing so, they created a new wave of no-wave devotees—and it all started with the band’s sixth record, Goo.
The band, which until that point had published its material only through independent labels, ended up with their singles on MTV as their sound was softened and more accessible by Geffen Records. Sonic Youth managed to bring to the masses alternative rock. Daydream Nation may have suggested Sonic Youth’s importance but Goo rubber-stamped it.
Below we’re ranking the songs on that seminal record and offering up a new way of listening to the record.
Ranking the songs on Sonic Youth’s Goo:
11. ‘Scooter and Jinx’
A rearing and snorting no-wave gem sees Sonic Youth’s fuzzy ferocious trademark land heavily in your ears from the very first notes. It’s a typical SY track, filled to the brim with fearsome noise.
Of course, there isn’t much ‘song’ beyond the menacing noise but this is Sonic Youth, after all.
10. ‘Cinderella’s Big Score’
A powerful track from Sonic Youth comes near the end of the record and has all the heart and power which made the band alternative rock’s ultimate darlings. The song is actually a reference to Kim Gordon’s brother.
In an interview with Rush magazine, Gordon said: “My brother was a genius poet who belonged to another century and became schizophrenic.” There are also images of her brother in the video below.
9. ‘Titanium Expose’
Ever found yourself in love but searching throughout their character hoping to find a small crack in the armour? Well, this is the song for you as Sonic Youth search for a fault on the otherwise indestructible titanium.
Vibrant and fiery, the song is full of hard rock motifs and unrelenting punk rock revelry, a classic song to lose your mind to.
8. ‘Mildred Pierce’
An absolute juggernaut of a riff opens up proceedings and never really slows down on ‘Mildred Pierce’. One of the band’s stand-out numbers, the track is everything that Sonic Youth is about. Unrelenting, uncompromising and unbelievable. The middle eight alone is the perfect summation of their insanity.
If you were looking for proof of how SY affected your favourite shoegaze or indie band from 2010 onwards then all you need to do is revert back to ‘Mildred Pierce’ a phenom of a song.
7. ‘My Friend Goo’
A song allegedly about groupies, something half-confirmed in the below video, may well have the adverse effect of encouraging more to be waiting at the stage door. A powerful pop-tinged number that showed SY were taking on the mainstream.
It doesn’t detract from their power though and the Sonic Youth rallying call was still present throughout the song. “Goo is every side mouse who had a boyfriend in a punk rock band.”
Another steaming train of a song. Smashing through the walls almost instantaneously, Thurston Moore takes on vocals with the kind of sardonic sneer that made him an alt-rock superstar.
Still sounding remarkable unique and fresh 30 years alter is no mean feat and one that Moore, Gordon and Co. we’re sure are pretty proud of. There are two alternative meanings to the song, one sees Moore imagining dating Jesus’ mother Mary, the other says it spawned from a violent argument between him and Gordon. Either way, it’s charged like no other song on the album.
5. ‘Dirty Boots’
The third and final single to be released from the record, ‘Dirty Boots’ has a special place in the hearts of Sonic Youth fans. A slower number from the album’s obstructive nature, ‘Dirty Boots’ has even been picked up for a cover or two.
A fun piece of trivia about the video below, it’s often seen as a wink to the future as it included Stansbury in a Nirvana T-shirt months before the band really broke. Sonic Youth influencing the grunge movement from the very beginning. Wait for the climactic explosion and enjoy.
Lee Ranaldo, take a bow. Quite possibly his finest performance on record for the band sees the guitarist turn ‘Disappearer’ into his own showcase. The first notes he plays set the tone for the rest of the track and allows Moore’s lyrics to land more distinctly.
With the extra room created with the drop of fuzz, Moore makes use and produces a melody unlike any Sonic Youth have ever created before. It’s a transportive moment and sees the essence of why the band are such a huge influence.
Lee Ranaldo steps up one more time, this time to take on the vocals for ‘Mote’. The track is an often overlooked gem from the record and sees the band reach new heights. This could well be the moment Ranaldo achieved his George Harrison status.
Often behind the couple of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore during songwriting, this track is some of Ranaldo’s finest work: “I’m down in the daytime out of sight/ Comin’ in from dreamland I’m on fire”.
2. ‘Kool Thing’
If there was one song to signify that Sonic Youth had transitioned from indie darlings to major label headliners then the single ‘Kool Thing’ was it. It announced, without a shadow of a doubt, that SY were the new alt-rock behemoths.
Kim Gordon takes on vocal duties and begins the lyrical fight against “male white corporate oppression” before finding herself clashing with none other than Chuck D of Public Enemy in the breakdown. It’s only when Moore and Ranaldo kick back in with the fuzz that you remember who’s playing.
1. ‘Tunic (Song for Karen)’
One of the band’s most highly underrated songs sees Kim Gordon try to connect with a lost soul, Karen Carpenter. “I feel like I’m disappearing — getting smaller every day, but I look in the mirror — I’m bigger in every way,” sings Gordon a reference to Carpenter’s death from anorexia nervosa.
“I was trying to put myself into Karen’s body. It was like she had so little control over her life, like a teenager — they have so little control over what’s happening to them that one way they can get it is through what they eat or don’t. Also, I think she lost her identity, it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine. When people come and ask me about being famous or whatever and I don’t feel that, it’s not me. But it makes me think about it. The music is definitely about the darker side. But I also wanted to liberate Karen into heaven.”
A heavy meaning and all wrapped up in a fuzzed-out and fucked-up no-wave thrash that makes Gordon’s description of a tortured soul all the more tangible.