Sonic Youth's "Teenage Riot" single
Sonic Youth’s history began in early 1976 when Thurston Moore moved to New York City. Interested in punk, Moore joined the Coachmen, a guitar-based quartet. Les Renaldo, an art student at Binghamton University, became a fan of the Coachmen and he and Moore became friends. Renaldo was a member of Glenn Branca’s electric guitar ensemble, which toured Europe and the United States. After the breakup of the Coachmen, Moore began jamming with Stanton Miranda, whose band, CKM, featured local artist Kim Gordon. Moore and Gordon formed a band, which went through several name changes before settling on Sonic Youth by June 1981. Moore asked Renaldo to join the band, and he agreed. Initially, each member took turns playing the drums, until they recruited drummer Richard Edson. Branca signed Sonic Youth as the first act on his record label Neutral Records. In December 1981, the group recorded five songs in a studio in Radio City Music Hall. The material was released as the “Sonic Youth” mini-LP, which, while not commercially successful, got generally favorable reviews. Edson then quit the group and was replaced by Bob Bert, who was the drummer for Sonic Youth’s first full-length album, “Confusion Is Sex” (1983). Later that year, the band released “Kill Yr Idol” (1983), a German-only EP. During the early 1980s, the band was well-received in Europe, but the New York press largely overlooked Sonic Youth and other noise rock bands. But after another tour of Europe in 1984, the band got rave reviews in Sounds an NME, resulting in the band reaching new levels of popularity in New York City, playing shows almost every week. That same year the band released their first live album, “Sonic Death”, on the Homestead label (Moore and Gordon also married that year); the band had a dispute with Branca over royalty payments and defected from Neutral Records. Their next studio album, “Bad Moon Rising” (1985) was critically acclaimed in the U.K., yet the band was still largely ignored by the New York music press. Bob Bert quit the band after the supporting tour for the album and was replaced by Steve Shelley. The band switched labels again, signing with SST Records in early 1986 and began working on “Evol” (1986) with Martin Bisi. They released a concept album, “Sister” (1987), before switching labels again, this time to Enigma, which released their double album, “Daydream Nation” (1988). The lead single from the album was “Teenage Riot”/”Silver Rocket”/”Kissability”. This is today’s featured single.
"Teenage Riot" flexi-disc from The Catalogue magazine (U.K.)
“Teenage Riot” starts off with Moore and Renaldo playing a repetitive, almost staccato melody, accompanied by Kim Gordon’s mumbling of phrases like “spirit desire” and “say it, don’t spray it”. This opening slowly builds and develops until, 1 minute and 22 seconds into the track, it gives way to a popish hook, which is soon supplemented by Thurston Moore’s vocals: “Everybody’s talking ’bout the stormy whether/And what’s a man to do but work out whether it’s true?” The song has a genuinely catchy melody and arguably represents a turning point in the band’s history as their first real pop song. Looking at mainstream pop culture through a decidedly interesting prism, “Teenage Riot” was quite popular on college radio, and was one of the signature tunes of “Daydream Nation”, and indeed of Sonic Youth’s entire career. With tunes like these, it’s not surprising that Sonic Youth was soon signed by a major label (Geffen), presaging the alternative rock explosion of the early 1990s.
“Silver Rocket” begins with a minor key melody, which gives way very quickly to the songs punk-flavored main riff. Moore’s vocals begin 50 seconds into the track, which switches to a cacophony of detuned guitars 1 minute 32 seconds into the song, which is what one would typically expect from a Sonic Youth song. After a little over a minute of this, however, the band returns to the main riff for the final verse of the song, briefly returning to the noisy soundscape of the middle part before coming to a conclusion at the 3 minute 47 second mark.. Overall the track has a garage-like feel to it, but it is much more mainstream alternative than many of Sonic Youth’s earlier material, and along with “Teenage Riot” is one of the band’s more accessible songs.
“Kissability” rounds out the 3-song maxi-single, and is a fast tempo song with driving guitar rhythms punctuated by Kim Gordon’s tuneless vocals: “Look into my eyes, don’t you trust me/You’re so good you could go far/I’ll put you in a movie, don’t you want to/You could be a star”. Throughout the song, Shelley’s insistent drumming provides a solid backbeat to the song. The band’s noise rock roots show through much more clearly on this track than on the other two, but even so, the main riff is quite catchy and even the instrumental break is only moderately indulgent. “Kissability” fits in well with the other tracks on “Daydream Nation” and is a worthy addition to the Sonic Youth catalog.
This 12-inch single was issued in October 1988. No picture sleeve was included with this release. In 1990, Sonic Youth released their first album on for Geffen, “Goo” (released on Geffen subsidiary DGC), which continued the trend of recording more accessible material than their earlier work. In 1992, they released “Dirty”, which featured the song “100%”. The band reached new levels of popularity with “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” (1994), which was their highest-charting album up to that point, peaking at #34 on the Billboard album chart. In 1995, the band released “Made in USA”, a movie soundtrack made up of previously unreleased material recorded in 1986. That same year, the band headlined the Lollapalooza music festival; shortly afterwards, their ninth studio album, “Washing Machine” (1995) was released, containing several tracks with Kim Gordon playing guitar. In 1996, the band established their own label, SYR Records, which would be utilized to release a series of experimental, avant-garde EPs. Their next full-length album was “A Thousand Leaves” (1998), which was also the first album recorded in the band’s private Manhattan studio, which was dubbed Echo Canyon.