Sonic Youth

  • Alternative/experimental rock band formed in 1981 from New York New York. The core line-up was Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass guitar, guitar, vocals), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Steve Shelley (drums). All members contributed to songwriting.
  • Moore dropped out of college to join the post punk rock scene in New York City in 1977. He formed a band named Room Tone with his roommates, and later, the name of the band was changed to The Coachmen. At the final performance by The Coachmen, he met Gordon, who at the time was the bass player for a punk rock band named CKM. Soon, Moore and Gordon started a romantic relationship. They started their own group, using the names Male Bonding and Red Milk & the Arcadians, before settling on Sonic Youth in June 1981. They performed at the Noise Fest in New York, and they were impressed with the guitar work of Ranaldo, who was playing with another band at the festival. Ranaldo was invited to join Moore and Gordon. The trio performed together without a drummer, until later that year, when Richard Edson joined.
  • The group signed to an independent record label, and in 1982 they released a self-titled EP. It was their only album where their used crisp production and standard guitar tuning. Edson soon left and over the next 3 years, two different drummers were used, until Shelley joined in 1985. Before Shelley joined, 2 studio albums were released, and the band’s music evolved to a “noise rock/no wave” sound, where much of the music was screechy noise. Meanwhile, Moore and Gordon married in 1984.
  • In 1986, they signed with a national indie label, and the album EVOL was released. The album showed an evolution to more melodic material, and the national exposure increased their visibility in the music industry. Critics compared the original guitar work of Moore and Ranaldo to that of Jimi Hendrix. Still, their music remained so unique and non-commercial that they remained an underground act on the national stage.
  • In 1988, they finally charted with Teen Age Riot, from the Daydream Nation album – the song peaked at #20 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. It was chosen by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
  • Sonic Youth’s 5 albums released in the 90s all charted on the Billboard album chart. Their songs continued to be experimental and unique, with unusual guitar tunings. In 1995, they were the headliner performer for the Lollapalooza festival, and in 1996 their voices were used in an episode of The Simpsons titled “Homerpalooza.” Singles that charted on the Modern Rock Tracks chart during the 90s were Kool Thing (#7), 100% (#4), Bull In the Heather (#13) and Superstar (#26 – a very unique cover of the song by the Carpenters).
  • Starting in 1997, the group released a series of experimental and mostly instrumental recordings under their own record label. These recordings were called the SYR series (Sonic Youth Recordings), and from 1997 to 2011, nine were released. The music on these recordings was improvisational noise rock.
  • In 2011, the marriage between Moore and Gordon fell apart, and this effectively ended Sonic Youth. Their final album, The Eternal, was released in 2009, and it was their highest charting album on the Billboard album chart, reaching #18.
  • While never a commercial powerhouse, Sonic Youth was highly regarded as pioneering in alternative rock, grunge and noise rock. They wrote music that was atonal and avant garde, with altered guitars that created sounds in ways never heard before. The guitar skills of Moore and Ranaldo were so appreciated that Ranaldo was ranked #33 and Moore was ranked #34 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, as chosen by critic David Fricke. Here’s the video for their alt hit Kool Thing.

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