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Even after about a decade of the split-up of Sonic Youth, the songs from this American rock band remained evergreen and loved by the people. The band formed in 1981 and called it quits in 2011.
Up until now, four of the core members of this group remain a household name in the world of music. These members dedicated themselves to a new music project after Sonic Youth’s disbandment. These four are bassist and vocalist Kim Gordon, guitarists and vocalists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, and Steve Shelley, the drummer.
It is a quite daunting task to dive into the discography of Sonic Youth, especially if you are new to the band.
Here are the 21 best Sonic Youth Songs to catch a glimpse of the uniqueness and beauty of the band’s sound.
List of the Best Sonic Youth Songs
Superstar is a cover of Carpenters’ classic tune, originally a cover of Delaney and Bonnie’s song in 1969. Sonic Youth recreated this song in 1994 for the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter. The result was a tender but noisy rock, a typical nature of the band.
I find this track quite unusual of what I have known the band to produce; since they are extremely underground, it was a bit surprising to see them do the carpenters. All the same, this song by Sonic Youth was so emotional and lovely at the same time that you could listen to it all day.
Sonic Youth’s version of Superstar captured the creepiness of the song’s lyrics, which made this version the best of the best.
2. Kool Thing
Kool Thing was the first single from the album Goo, and Sonic Youth released this after they kissed the indie world goodbye and signed with major label DGC. This song came with so many positive reactions from listeners and critics; this ultimately made the song to be acclaimed as the biggest hit of Sonic Youth’s career.
In this song, Kim gave sneering sarcastic references to an interview she had with LL Cool J for SPIN in 1989 over an almost danceable backdrop. This attribute resulted in one of the best feminist alt-rock anthems of the 90s. Thus, this song is one of Kim Gordon’s best songs to this day. Great noisy guitars were used to produce a fun jangly melody in this song.
3. Teen Age Riot
The Daydream Nation, the 1988 double LP of Sonic Youth, is termed by fans and critics as the masterpiece of the band. This first song in this album is the Teen Age Riot, one of the greatest opening tracks in rock history.
This song is one of the band’s most recognizable songs because it received heavy airplay on modern rock stations. This attribute thereby helped to increase this band’s audience.
The tune of this song was written as a pro-indie battle cry of teenage feelings of insecurity and anxiety in the face of Baby Boom Nostalgia. As a result of the valuable role this song played, it has become an all-time statement that helps showcase the youth movement’s power anywhere and everywhere.
Among the repertoire of songs by Sonic Youth, Teen Age Riot is quite different; this is because it features a traditional verse/chorus structure while it excludes the distorting feedback, which is common to the band’s songs.
Incinerate was part of the band’s 2006 LP Rather Ripped, and it is considered the track that best encapsulates the essence of the album. This song was done with reduced wilder impulses, thus resulting in a great indie-pop anthem.
Singer and guitarist Thurston Moore sang this song in a slacker fashion, which is typical of him. Altogether, this song features a vocal melody, quick beats, and appealing indie rock riffs.
The lyrics of this song follow a simple theme of showing a similitude between love and fire that incinerates. This lyric makes the song capture the true essence of nostalgia.
The song’s music video features the band playing live with lighting from warm, red lights giving a fiery tone; this video was directed by Claire Denis, a French arthouse filmmaker.
5. Silver Rocket
Silver Rocket, the second single of the 1988 Daydream Nation album, was a great song that was ranked no 79 in the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. This song features the main riff, helping to make evident the influence of punk rock.
Few minutes into the song, the guitars were detuned, and the song became a noise rock soundscape, and then after this was the final verse and chorus. Based on the review of Stewart Mason of AllMusic, Silver Rocket is the first genuinely catchy chorus of Sonic Youth’s career.
6. Dirty Boots
The music video of the Dirty Boots song features a young woman entering the Sonic Youth concert at the beginning, then spots a boy about the time the band began playing. and then the lady and the boy fell in love with each other. In this video, the band performs on the stage while the audience dances.
This song is the third single of the 1990 Goo album. It balances the soon-to-explode grunge movement with the intricate guitar patterns and explosive noise buildups unique to this band.
The sound, lyrics, and fun-filled video of this song make it hold a special place in the heart of Sonic Youth’s fans.
7. Sugar Kane
Sugar Kane is another amazing song from Sonic Youth. This song features ominous chord progressions, deadpan vocals, and a great struggle between melody and noise. Thus, it is safe to say that this song comes with many of the best attributes of Sonic Youth.
It is the third single from the exceptional and classic 1992 album, Dirty.
100% was one of the accessible songs of Sonic Youth. This song came with a clear sound and was cleanly recorded. Also, its quality was similar to that of Dirty Boots.
In the 1992 Dirty album of Sonic Youth, this song discusses the murder of a friend of the band, Joe Cole, who was shot and killed by armed robbers on December 19, 1991. In other words, 100% was dedicated to Joe Cole.
This is a huge performance by this amazing band in the 1987 live album. Steve Shelley sounded so loud and precise in this track. As is common to Sonic Youth, Schizophrenia comprises both melodic and noisy elements, resulting in a cohesive soul-stirring beautiful whole.
The beginning of this song was a soft-spoken word taken by Kim Gordon, then came in with his vocal melody. After this, the song fractured into a chaotic noise, resulting in a gentle melody, and finally gave rise to an appealing alternative rock riff.
10. Bull In The Heather
Bull In The Heather is considered the single most recognizable song at the earliest Sonic Youth’s career stage. This song was the band’s alt-rock anthem at this time. The scrapes of Gordon’s pick against the strings of her bass gave chunks of noise; this was the key feature of this song.
This song gave the band a slight foothold with a quirky, noise-splattering minor masterpiece comprising various wild wordplay.
11. ‘Cross the Breeze
This song is one of the tracks in the Daydream Nation album of 1988. Kim Gordon was the lead vocalist in this song while Lee and Moore’s dueling cacophonous guitars howl over the high-speed drum beat of Shelley.
This song features various phases of mellow with hardcore punk and alternate tunings. The song rounded off with Gordon’s soft and intense vocals.
12. The Sprawl
This song was inspired by the works of William Gibson, a Science fiction writer. This writer used the term, Sprawl, which is the title of the song, to mean a future megacity stretching from Boston to Atlanta.
The lyrics for the first verse of the song were from the novel by Dennis Johnson, The Stars at Noon. This property was used to express the unbound female desire.
This song revealed the drone elements of the band. The latter part of this song features broken riffs, a wind-down of pounded guitar strings with noisy but not loud feedback.
When looking for the song, it indicates the stretching out and extrapolating properties of Sonic Youth; The Sprawl is the song. It is the longest track on the Daydream Nation album of 1988.
This song is quite unconventional because it features a great off-pitch melody which is not a typical attribute of Sonic Youth. In this song, Moore, Ranaldo, and Gordon settled into an ominous groove, thus preventing the fingers on the writhing, keyed-up chords.
14. Tunic (Song for Karen)
Tunic (Song for Karen) was one of the tracks in the Goo album, which was Sonic Youth’s first major label. This song was written about and titled after Karen Carpenter, the singer/drummer of the soft rockers called the Carpenter.
In this song, there were repeated switches in perspectives between the voice of Carpenter and hectoring, belittling mother. This property resulted in a combination of sweet and airy passages with a sad and unforgettable chorus. The latter part of this song features the band’s heavy riffs.
This song comprises Moore’s piano solo recorded using a Walkman at his mother’s house and the sound of a Peavey Roadmaster amp overheating. It also comprises Moore’s replays of some phone message snippets left by Mike Watt, a former Minutemen member.
The directness, uniqueness, and memorable sound of this song single it out to highlight the Daydream Nation album. In other words, out of all the tracks in the Daydream Nation album, the Providence song dwelt truly in Sonic Youth’s self-produced limbo. The features of this song make it to be acclaimed as both music but timeless artistry.
16. Total Trash
Thurston Moore sang about the widespread crack epidemic in New York City in this song. The epidemic discussed in this song was the cause of the War on Drugs, which claimed the lives of about 40% of the black population in New York City in the 80s/90s.
This song is the second-longest track in the Daydream Nation album.
17. Hey Joni
This song title is used as a tribute to Hey Joe, a rock standard Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer, and songwriter. This song features surreal lyrics, which Ranaldo sang, and it sounded distinguished without being irregular.
Hey Joni comprises bright harmonics, shrieking distortion, and a drive to outrace the past. These features make the song balanced.
18. Eric’s Trip
Another great track in the 1988 Daydream Nation album is Eric’s Trip, written and sung by Lee Ranaldo. The elements in this song are indie-rock beats and catchy guitar parts. This song also features a surreal spoken word about a man called Eric and his acid trip.
This song is loaded with energy, a beat peculiar to a hardcore punk song, and alternate tunings. It also has a unique psychedelic punk sound; this is as a result of the poetic vocal and prepared guitar in the song.
One of the most thematically direct songs of Sonic Youth is Kissability. Kim Gordon’s vocalism in this song emphasizes female sexuality as a powerful and intimidating force of its own. This feature thereby helped to draw more young women to this band.
Kim’s most addictive vocal matched with Thurston and Lee’s most clamoring guitars, as well as Steve’s most furious drumming in this song.
This is another great song from Sonic Youth which comes with almost instantaneous smashing through the walls. This attribute is because the vocal used by Thurston Moore in this song is similar to the sardonic sneer, which made him an alt-rock superstar.
After over three decades, this song still sounds unique and fresh.
21. My Friend Goo
This is a powerful pop-tinged track from the 1990 Goo album. This song reflected that Sonic Youth was taking on the mainstream. Even though this is quite unusual for the band, it didn’t reduce their power or remove their unique rallying call.
Alexandra loves playing the piano and guitar. She has always been a music lover, but it wasn’t until she was in high school that she realized how much she loved to play. It allowed her to express herself without having to be verbally expressive, which is something she found very empowering.