Lee Ranaldo favourite albums
Credit: Rosario Lopez

The sounds that shaped Sonic Youth: Lee Ranaldo’s 13 favourite records

Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo shares a comprehensive list of his favourite albums of all time as he delves into the inspirational records that helped shape him and the band.

Ranaldo is not only a founding member of Sonic Youth he is also an undoubted mercurial and influential guitarist. He, alongside Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, moved the collective guitar sound into brand new areas as part of the no wave scene in New York. We were excited to find this list of Ranaldo’s most influential albums and we’ve brought it all together in one perfect playlist.

While there’s no question about Ranaldo’s running influence in the guitar world, when we met with him in 2017 we were still curious if he had ever considered himself as such. “I never really thought about it on that level. Of course, I have been influenced by a lot of guitar players, some of whose work I hold really dear.” And some of those albums feature in this epic playlist of Lee Ranaldo’s favourite records 

The playlist shows the myriad of influences that would contribute to one of the most singular guitar sounds in rock. Ranaldo’s guitar acted as a crucible for artists like Talking Heads, Pavement, and The Beatles all records that he singled out as among his favourites.

He told Quietus in their Bakers Dozen feature when selecting The Beatles’ somewhat obscure American release of Meet The Beatles!: “I’ve been talking about Sgt. Pepper and Revolver recently because those records are to the fore in terms of my new record.”

While the instances of the band’s pop sensibilities appearing in SY’s iconic no-wave sound are few and far between, the guitarist notes them as a serious influence on him as a musician. “The Beatles are such an undying, unending influence and that’s the record I heard first.”

That early penchant for pop strains running through alternative sounds had a lasting effect on Ranaldo as he was soon finding more artists in that category. Talking Heads’ Talking Heads: 77 is an album deeply rooted in this juxtaposition and rang out across Ranaldo’s early moment in New York: “I was inspired by all this stuff coming out of CBGB’s, and Talking Heads was one of the hugest influences at that time.”

Though it wasn’t a record that he instantly connected with after seeing the band’s live show it suddenly all made sense. “As soon as I saw them it was like everything clicked. This was one of the most impressive concerts I’d ever seen and all of a sudden their music became super important to me.”

Also picked as some of Ranaldo’s most informative records was Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon which he simply sums: “I love her words, I love her guitar playing and the tunings, and it’s just constant inspiration for me, especially in that very, very personal ‘writing about your own life as subject matter’ stuff. She’s the queen of it in a way”

Another wordsmith that found it’s way on to the list of Lee Ranaldo’s most essential records is Leonard Cohen. The singer’s 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate, clearly held a place of high esteem for Ranaldo, “I really just love the title of the record because it’s ‘Songs of Love And Hate’ and that puts it all into perspective and kind of defines Leonard in a way, that the music is about emotion.”

Ranaldo may not necessarily acknowledge himself as a similar mythic tapestry weaver as his fans (and we) do. But he did acknowledge that his work with Sonic Youth, easily one of the most subversive, artistically driven bands of the ‘90s, had affected swathes of people. He told us in 2017, “You know Sonic Youth have been around long enough that people from a bunch of different generations have come up to us and said I started playing guitar because of you.” 

He’s quick to ground himself again though, “We’re definitely aware of the fact that people have been influenced by our work but it’s never something I thought about in terms of ‘oh I wonder if I’ll be an influence on somebody else’, it almost seems preposterous to think along those lines.”

We imagine that some of the great artists mentioned on this list like Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, and Joni Mitchel would say the same thing. That’s because that’s the mark of a singular sound; it is completely organic. It is the artist expressing themselves with utter honesty, incorporating the influences and sounds which shaped them into something entirely unique in their image. That’ something Lee Ranaldo has does. No matter how much he denies it.

Listen below to the sounds that shaped Sonic Youth with Lee Ranaldo’s 13 favourite albums of all time. 

  • John Fahey, Blind Joe Death  
  • Glenn Branca, The Ascension 
  • Einstürzende Neubauten, Kollaps
  • Sibylle Baier, Colour Green
  • Joni Mitchell, Ladies Of The Canyon
  • Leonard Cohen, Songs Of Love And Hate
  • Ornette Coleman, Dancing In Your Head
  • The Grateful Dead, Anthem Of The Sun
  • The Beatles, Meet The Beatles! 
  • Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77
  • Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model
  • Pavement, Slanted And Enchanted
  • John Cage, The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage

Source: The Quietus 

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