There are few bassists who have had such an impact on music as Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. As a founding member of the innovative noise-rock group, alongside Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Gordon has since become an icon of the genre for an entire generation.
Too often confined to the vomit-inducing “female bassist” category, Gordon’s defiance to stick to mainstream ideals has always seen her triumph artistically. Below we’ve gathered 10 of her best songs to revel in.
Starting in the depths of New York’s art scene is always a difficult place to begin. Not only is your output strangely warped by the Big Apple bubble, but once you do release your debut album to then move on musically without any kind of furore is nigh on impossible. Somehow, Sonic Youth managed to do just that.
In the eighties, the group garnered a potent fandom that applauded their every anti-establishment move. From the band’s songs being deliberately sonically confrontational to their longtime rejection of big cash—Sonic Youth were the posterboys of the alt-rock scene. Soon enough they would transcend from underground no-wave royalty into mainstream successes, still somehow remaining credible throughout.
It’s a testament to a stringent band but also to Gordon’s prowess. Not only is she the driving rhythm of the band but she’s the steely resolve too. Unflinching and never afraid to push herself, or anyone in her way, we thought today was as good as any to celebrate the best songs of Kim Gordon.
Kim Gordon’s 10 best songs
‘Freezer Burn’/’I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – Confusion Is Sex (1983)
When Sonic Youth released their debut album in 1983 the underground rock world stood up and took notice. SY had a new sound, casually being called no wave, and a potent delivery system. They were fiery and unafraid. But perhaps more importantly, they were smart.
Not only could the band perform a droning noise-rock juggernaut like ‘Freezer Burn’ but they could match it with the same kind of energy that lit Iggy Pop’s fires as they marry it with The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Sheer dynamism.
‘Shadow of a Doubt’ – EVOL 1986)
On Sonic Youth’s third album EVOL is where the group truly defined their archetypal sound. The band’s furious pedal work and fuzzed out riffs were now providing a degree of meditation as well as menace.
“Kiss me in the shadow of a doubt,” sings Gordon on ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, the song revolving around this plea. It’s a fitting phrase considering the duality of the song and the band’s forward-thinking style.
”Cross the Breeze’ – Daydream Nation (1988)
Daydream Nation is where many people begin their Sonic Youth journey. Widely considered the finest album in their catalogue, on ”Cros the Breeze’, Gordon is in her element. “I wanna know! Should I stay or go!” she sings on the powerful ist-pumping track.
This was yet another statement of intent from SY as they showed they had now perfected their sound. They were the advantageous punks for a new generation, always asking you to challenge everyone and question everything. Gordon is the strong winds that fuel the tempest.
‘Kool Thing’ – Goo 1990)
An almost annoyingly catchy track ‘Kool Thing’ from the band’s seminal record Goo is actually written about rapper LL Cool J, a mand Gordon previously admired before conducting an interview with him where he said a man “has to have control over his woman.”
Naturally, Gordon was embued with a new emotion upon leaving the interview and channelled her anger into ‘Kool Thing’. It works as a punk diss track ready to bring down any MC in its pathway.
‘Swimsuit Issue’ – Dirty (1992)
Sonic Youth signed themselves up to Geffen Records and were set to embark on a mainstream mission of turning the radio rock again. But they weren’t there to shut up and look pretty, Sonic Youth were still the art-punks they had always been.
As proof, visit ‘Swimsuit Issue’ from 1992’s Dirty, which sees Gordon train her crosshairs on an alleged incident of sexual harassment that was emanating from the band’s own label, Geffen. As a reflection of how executives see women, Gordon even reads off the name of every model in the 1992 edition of the Sports Illustrated Issue. It’s a powerful message.
‘Bull in the Heather’ – Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star (1994)
As SY took on the mainstream their artistic endeavours were naturally a little dulled, or perhaps more accurately, reshaped. They were still intent in putting their more radical ideas into their music but now they had to do it a little more covertly.
One such song is ‘Bull in the Heather’, which may well be one of the more popular songs from this period and likely soundtracked enough suburban teenage meltdowns for an entire generation. But beyond that, and it’s catchy chorus, the song is really hinged on Gordon’s triumphant noise-rock homages.
‘Little Trouble Girl’ – Washing Machine (1995)
“Remember, mother? We were close,” Gordon keeps repeating in Washing Machine‘s ‘Little Trouble Girl. “Very, very close.” While Gordon takes the verse with a spoken-word monochrome delivery. Kim Deal take over the role of guest vocalist with a sinister underbelly.
As the two singers trade-off on vocals, they create a shadowy place full of eerie terror and underhanded motives. Written as a subverted reflection of the Phil Spector-esque girl groups of the sixties, it sees Gordon become the artistic mastermind once again.
‘I Love You, Golden Blue’ – Sonic Nurse (2004)
Of course, Sonic Youth had mastered the drone by the time of 2004’s Sonic Nurse but still on ‘I Love You Golden Blue’, the group find a new tone to the drone that marks it out as one of their best songs. A guided meditation of music, the gentle drums are only upstaged by Gordon’s bass.
Moving against the musical grain Gordon creates a sonic sphere that feels both inescapable and dystopian, only highlighting the subtlety of the rest of the band’s movements. Her whispered vocal completes the project and makes it a truly remarkable piece.
‘Massage the History’ – The Eternal (2009)
The final Sonic Youth album would always be a difficult one. the group would close the doors on the project after The Eternal and judging by the entirety of the record, it wasn’t a bad idea. Their music feels a little more hit and miss than ever before and perhaps the thoughts to close the curtains on such an enthralling show was a good one. But that doesn’t mean the band, and Gordon, didn’t have an ace up their sleeve.
One such ace was ‘Massage the History’ which was not only a meandering 10-minute opus that includes acoustic guitars and fuzzed-out amps, but allowed Gordon to travel back in time and share her treasured vocal one last time.
‘Paprika Pony’ – No Home Record (2019)
It’s safe to assume that not many people expected an overdriven trap banger with an African thumb-piano melody as one of the highlights of Gordon’s solo debut—but here we are, and “Paprika Pony” is enthralling: druggy and hypnotic, the kick drum like a cross between a sheet of thunder and a crumpled paper bag. Over an ominous, skulking beat, Gordon half-mutters, half-whispers a free-associative path through the alleys of her mind.
When Gordon announced her debut solo album, the idea of indie noise-rock began swirling around our heads. A natural thought process that Gordon would return to her wheelhouse. But clearly we haven’t been paying attention—Gordon never stays in her wheelhouse.
One highlight from the marvellous record is ‘Paprika Pony’ which wouldn’t look out of place on a serial producer’s beat album. It’s hypnotic and a little druggy, the drums are pumped up like a thunderous cloud and Gordon takes us all on a lyrical journey through her mind.
It proved, despite detractors, Kim Gordon was just as good without Sonic Youth. Probably better.