Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Secret Girl

Track 4 on Side 2 of EVOL is called "Secret Girl."

Secret door opening? The start of the track is quite spooky. The song begins with some loud hollow noises that sound as if a box or door is being opened to reveal something beautiful. The slow piano sounds like a music box with Kim's soft vocals over them. The listener begins to unravel the mystery of the song "the boy who enjoys invisibility, the pleasure is everlasting."

Thurston recorded the piano part for the "Made In The USA" soundtrack. The instrumental was slowed down and added Kim's vocals for EVOL. Listed as "Secret Girls" on the vinyl. The piano was often played through the PA while Kim sang over it. The boys typically took a break or provided melodic feedback to the tape.

"Secret Girl" was debuted sometime in 1985 after the recording of the "Made In The USA" film. It was played as an instrumental until it was re-recorded with vocals for EVOL.  "Secret Girl" has made a few appearances post-EVOL but has not been played live since 1993.

Guess what? Another video from 11-3-86!!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Marilyn Moore

Track 3 on Side 2 of EVOL is called "Marilyn Moore."

Strange noises. That describes "Marilyn Moore." Even though Sonic Youth has dived into a world of structured songwriting, they still managed to get some new sounds out of their instruments. "Marilyn Moore" employs the use of a tape delay a lot like "Shadow of a Doubt". Lee begins a somewhat melodic pick scrape and slide to create a riff. Thurston's hollow yet poetic yell carries the melody of the song while Lee continues to use the pick scrape delay.

Lydia Lunch wrote the lyrics. This would Sonic Youth's third collaboration with Lunch. More to come.

Often used as the set opener during the '86 EVOL tour but has not been played since 11-22-86.

Video from 11-3-86. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Death To Our Friends

Track 2 on Side 2 of EVOL is an instrumental called "Death To Our Friends."

So far, a Sonic Youth record wouldn't be complete without an instrumental track. The difference between this song and other instrumentals is that "Death To Our Friends" lacked lyrics and it just stayed the way it was. Plus, this song was actually played live for a change.

Lydia Lunch once said her favorite thing about Sonic Youth is the build ups in all the songs. "Death To Our Friends" takes advantage of using the "build up" theory by starting with a simple riff and speeding up and then slowing down. Another progression starts and then builds up again, starting another progression using the build up then slow down mold. In 1985, the song contained the lyrics to "Marilyn Moore."

The song uses the classic F#F#F#F#EB and has not been played live since the end of the '86 european tour.

Another video from 11-3-86.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Green Light

Side 2 of EVOL starts with "Green Light."

A typical Sonic Youth song. Thurston and Lee build the song around a basic riff while Kim and Steve carry the song. There is no "real" chorus in the song but Thurston repeats "I see a green light!" after every few lines. In a typical Sonic fashion, the song builds and builds until it falls into a dark black hole of never ending reverb, something the band is becoming known for and is able to pull off quite well. 

Reverb is also what makes this record sound a little more unique to the others. Lee began using a tape delay unit to get the deep vortex type sounds. The drums and vocals are very "roomy" and everything either chimes or rings. Perfect for this band. The use of reverb even improves the vocal performances making them quite spooky, For "Green Light" Thurstons usual spoken melody style of singing makes him sound more like he's really singing. Echo?!

"Green Light" was the first song composed with drummer Steve Shelley and one of the first to be played live before the record was made. The original title was "Green Love" and was often used as the set opener during the '86 tour. "Green Light" has not been resurrected since 1987.

This is another video from St. Louis 11-3-86:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking A Break

My posts have been quite sparse these last two weeks. I have been extremely busy and haven't had much time to think about the blog. A break is needed.

The Blog will return on Monday July 21st with "Green Light". The rest of EVOL will be finished by the end of next week also.

Thank you for reading and sorry for the delay on posts.


Friday, July 11, 2008

In The Kingdom #19

Track 4 on EVOL is called "In The Kingdom #19"

This is Lee Renaldo's first lead vocal appearance and first vocal of any kind since singing back up on "I Dreamed I Dreamed."

Much like "I'm Insane" and "Justice Is Might", Kingdom #19 reads like a poem. In fact it is a poem. Mike Watt provides bass on this song while Thurston noises it up with some new effect pedals. He also says he "plays Lee's amp" whatever that means. Instead of just improvising, and then laying down the spoken word, the band  played along to Lee's long winded poem. The full piece can be found on lee's book "Road Movies."

Like many of Lee's poems, this one is rather dark and depressing. It depicts a car crash and the after of the dying and surviving victims.

The screaming, crackling and angry yelling is from Thurston setting off firecrackers in the vocal booth while Lee was reading. The track was saved and cut up for the song. Lee was so angry he almost quit the band.

This gem has never been performed live.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Track on EVOL is called "Starpower."

Why do great song stem from tragic events? On November 22 1985, Minutemen guitarist D. Boone died in a car crash. He was 27 years old. His best friend Mike Watt fell into a deep depression and traveled to New York City to be with his friends Sonic Youth. Shortly after arriving, the band started work on EVOL.

Watt was invited to come stay with Kim and Thurston and to sit in and hang out during the EVOL sessions. It was during this time the band convinced Watt to continue playing as it was the only way to heal himself emotionally from the tragic loss.

Watt made three major contributions to the EVOL record. The first was the song "Starpower." The intial riff came from Watt himself jamming on one of Thurston's bass guitars. Te song was worked out and Thurston provided the lyrics. During this time Thurston had turned Watt onto pop music such as Madonna and Bruce Springstein. Watt claims "Starpower" came from him jamming with band trying to write a pop song. The influence of Madonna gave way into Sonic Youth's recording. Alot like the first two tracks "Tom Violence" and "Shadow of a Doubt" the song contains a catchy riff with a verse/chorus structure with a start and finish. Kim later claimed the song was inspired by Joan Jett. But who knows....

The song is presented in the universal Sonic tuning of F#F#F#F#EB.

Even though Thurston wrote the words, it was fitting that Kim sing it in her dark, yet sexy drone voice. Its a love song. Live, the song was sung by Thurston and during the '86 tour with fIREhOSE, Watt joined the band onstage for the song.

"Starpower" has not been played since 11-23-1986. Its a shame. Maybe the band we revive it on their next tour? They have proven that anything is possible......

Tis video features members of fIREhOSE playing horns and Mike Watt on bass. 11-3-86.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shadow of A Doubt

Track 2 on Sonic Youth's 3rd LP is called "Shadow of a Doubt."

Towards the end of 1985, Lee and Thurston began working on new tunings for the upcoming record. Thurston and Lee sometimes would play the same song in two different tunings in order to expand the palette of sounds for any single song."Shadow Of A Doubt" is one of those songs.

Most of the record uses the F#F#GGAA tuning, but this song also incorporates the F#F#F#F#EB tuning we discussed with "Death Valley '69." The band also uses a tape delay machine to create that creepy staccato intro.

This is one of the few songs in the sonic catalogue where the lyrics and the title are very obvious in origin. Kim wrote the lyrics word for word based on the Alfred Hitchcock film "Strangers on a Train" but takes the titles from a different Hitchcock film. Kim says at the time the band was really into old black and white Hitchcock films and its no secret that the lyrics are exactly the movie! The band adds a few interesting twists to the song with a very emotional breakdown of Kim yelling "it was just a dream! it was just a dream!"

May 22nd 1998 saw the return of this song after a 12 year hiatus. The song was also played nightly on the 2002-03 Murrary Street tour and has had a few revivals since. I was lucky to witness this one in 2003!!

This video is taken from 11-3-1986 in St Louis. Notice the Janet Jackson playing in the beginning?? Sonic Youth was famous for playing Top 40 pop in between song during a guitar and tuning change! More on that later!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tom Violence

The first song on Sonic Youth's 3rd LP is called "Tom Violence."

1986 was the turning point in Sonic Youth's career. After a busy touring schedule of both sides on the Atlantic, Sonic Youth took a few weeks to catch their breath before starting on their 3rd LP EVOL.  At the end of the of the '85 european tour, Bob Bert announced he was leaving the band, this time for good. Steve Shelley was the first and only drummer to audition, and played his first show having only a few practices. As Thurston states "something clicked, and thats why we've had the same drummer since."

Another big change occurred during this time, the band chose to leave Homestead and join the ranks of SST. A change that was not easily made and left many at Homestead feeling "dumped." Gerard Cosley took it personal. 

EVOL is a dark record, and the opening "Tom Violence" does its job by getting that across. The band was interested in pop music at the time and began writing songs in a more traditional format. "Tom Violence" is presented with a verse that repeats a tag line as a chorus and then comes equipped with a traditional Sonic breakdown only to return to the original verse to end the song.

The word "violence" is used very differently, referring to the protagonist "life." Thurston croons "my violence is a dream, a real dream." "I left home for experience, carved Suk for honesty on my chest." One could think Thurston is writing about himself and his experiences of playing music and leaving home to go to New York. The asks the question is he made the decision yet doesn't really seem to care if it truly was the right decision. Some people think the song is about Tom Verlaine from the New York band Television.

This song is presented in another classic Sonic tuning of F#F#GGAA. This tuning is used often on EVOL and the next few records.

This song remains constant at Sonic Youth shows. One of the only three that are still played from this album. I have been lucky to witness this neat little tune three times.

I could not find a decent video of the song but found a video where someone had dubbed the original track. Here you go: