Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cotton Crown

The second to last song on Sonic Youth's 4th L Sister is called "Cotton Crown."

This song represents another first for the band, a duet! Kim and Thurston must be one of the most famous couples in rock history, strange how it took 4 records to make a duet happen. Strangely enough "Cotton Crown" is not a  typical love song.

The first line of the song makes a declaration of love "love has come to stay in all the way" as if love has come and gone all this time. "feels like a wish coming true, feels like an angel dreaming of you." Ok maybe it is a typical love song. Not something easily pulled off though. This song represents love for the city that bore the music the band has been playing, New York City. A bond that can't be broken and a city that has yet to fall. "Angels are dreaming of you" could that the city is being watched over and taken care of and wearing a "cotton crown" could be Thurston taking responsibility for the city's well being. King of New York?

Typically sung only by Thurston when played live. "Cotton Crown" often gets spelled as "kotton krown" on setlists. The song was used frequently as an opener during the 2002 Murrary Street tour. "Cotton Crown" never really went on hiatus either. It often popped up in sets from 1990-1996. 2000-03 saw the song back again in rotation.

video soon!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pacific Coast Highway

Track 3 on side 2 of Sister is called "Pacific Coast Highway."

People love horror films. slasher films, serial killers, and supernatural murderers. Does Sonic Youth like horror films? I have always gotten that impression from the song "Pacific Coast Highway." 
One of Kim's darker compositions, it depicts the story of a serial road killer told from the killer's point of view. "Come on get in the car let's go for ride some where, i'll make you feel real good you'll make me feel so crazy."

This song has a sort of "mellow" break in the end right before the final chorus. I like to think of it more as a "lounge act." A few moments to let the listener calm down before the final end. The dream like guitar sound makes you feel as if you are running from the killer himself and manage to find a few moments of peace where you feel as if he's gone. But not for long!!

The band has a tendency to title a song before they REALLY title a song. "Pacific Coast Highway" appears on the track listing of Sister but the liner notes has an additional listing that titles it "PCH." The spelled out version could have been a working titles because live sets list the song as "PCH."

Sonic Youth has always had a way of playing nothing but the current release live and then on the next tour only play a song or two from the previous record. PCH was last played in '87 before it came back as a regular from '93-'96. Often used as a encore. A ten year gap went by and PCH got some play in 2006! With many of the older forgotten tunes getting another go around in 2006, it is no surprise this little gem got resurrected. 

no video. sorry!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hot Wire My Heart

Track 2 on side 2 of Sister is a cover song called "Hot Wire My Heart."

Sonic Youth's first officially released cover song! Originally recorded by the punk band Crime and written by Johnny Strike. Unlike the Kim Fowly cover of "Bubblegum" that appeared as the b-side to Starpower, the band took the time to learn this song! One of the few songs in this era that were played in standard tuning. 

Rarely played live. Last known performance is 9-30-87.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tuff Gnarl

Side 2 of Sister begins with one of my favorite songs "Tuff Gnarl."

"Tuff Gnarl" was an ever evolving song. Some of the working titles were "Sea Smart" and "Really Fast." The band manages to give youa great image lyrically and then crash it down with a noise jam. Typical? Yes. But "Tuff Gnarl" is a song that belongs to this collection.

The song depicts a sort of punk rocker or hard core kid coming of age. "He's running on a tufff gnarl in his head, he's got a fatal erection in his head, he's really smart and he's really fast, he's got a hard tit killer fuck in head." Thurston uses images of sex to describe this coming age. The character in this little story seems to have discovered the joys of sex and is trying to channel the urges somewhere else. Hardcore advocates were typically straight edge which usually meant no smoking, drinking, drugs of any kind and even no sex. The young man finds solace in music as a way to calm down "mental tool box explodes in music creates utopia, gnarls out the nerves."  Thurston even makes a Big Black reference by using the words "sonic pig pile."

"Tuff Gnarl" has not been played since 1987. This is upsetting because its one of my favorite songs. Maybe it will make a triumphant return someday.

Funny performance from 10-13-87.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pipeline/Kill Time

The 5th song on the LP Sister is called "Pipeline/Kill Time."

Like many records to come, Lee takes the vocals! By this time Lee's writing has bene evolving and his songs have begun to take shape from simple spoken word noise jaunts to full blown melodic noise jaunts.

This song has several parts to it. After each set of lyrics a different break in between verses is used until the song does a build up, but doesn't come to a crashing end! The then moves into an entirely different song accompanied by a MOOG. Thurston claims that the band began trying to extend out some of the jams in places but "Pipeline" allowed for an extra noise jam which ebcame "killtime" which could easily be what the band calls it, just killing time? filling up space?

Pipeline/Kill Time" wasn't exactly a staple in the set in '87 and was often "fucked up." Lee explained later the band could never get it right and he could never remember the words. The song also could have had a short life due to the fact it is the most reminiscent of the "Confusion" days. Last known performance was on 10-16-87.

Video from 10-13-87.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stereo Sanctity

The 4th song on the LP Sister is called "Stereo Sanctity."

Sister is just like any other Sonic Youth record in that its plagued with its own "sound" issues. EVOL (as I mentioned before) had a very hollow reverberated sound. Sister claims a more muffled sound. In fact, one of the attracting factors in using Sear Sound Studio to produce Sister was the fact the soundboard was an old 24 channel board that still used vacumm tubes. Thurston claims you can "hear" the tubes humming in several places of the songs. In fact, the sound of the electricity pumping through the tubes can be heard ALL OVER the record. Total silence is actually in the key of A-flat, I wonder key tubes hum in? The guitars on Sister get a more "raw" sound with some grit. The drums in fact come out muffled. Despite the bands best efforts to "cool off" the drum sound, they came in too warm! make sense?

"Stereo Sanctity" could easily be a pre-cursor to grunge. Its fast and abrasive and leaves little time for thought. Again, we are dealing with the idea of "cyber-punk" or futuristic punk rock. The grunge explosion is only a few years away. The drums are very pounding while the guitar utilizes a more noise riff rather that the three previous songs that have recognizable riffs. The breakdown though is quite melodic and creative.

The lyrics are what drive this song the most. Alot like "Schizophrenia," this song takes inspiration from writer Phillip K. Dick. "I can't get laid cause everyone is dead!" is one of many exact quotes from Radio Free Albemuth.

Although is was performed nightly in 1987, the song never really made it past the initial touring outing for Sister. It came back briefly in 1993 but has not been played since.

This video is another from 10-13-87.

Beauty Lies In The Eye

Track 3 on the LP Sister is called "Beauty Lies in the Eye."

Lee uses an acoustic guitar on this one. That should be an indication of where the song could go or not go. "Beauty" follows two upbeat songs and why? Why place the exotic violent love ballad third? For the first time, Sonic Youth actually takes some time to place the songs in a cohesive running order.

The music is slow and loud. Lee composed the music using 4 guitars all in F#F#C#C#C#C#. A wall of sound type method was used layering each guitar along with some droning on the top two strings. The track was completed  solely by Lee but Kim provided the vocals. Kim sings a melody along with the C# strings and paints the picture of a violent love story. "Do you want to see the explosions in my eye?" she asks in a very powerful manner as if the person the question is being directed to is in for something terrible. Power of woman?

When played live, Thurston played bass, Lee played guitar and Kim sang. Steve got a break. The live version on "Hold That Tiger" bootleg is rather different mostly because of the fewer sounds from the band. It still holds up but not enough to come back into the set. "Beauty" has not been played since 10-24-87.

The band made a video for this song. It can be found on the Screaming Fields of Sonic Love video. I found it on YOUtube but it won't let me post it. If you are that interested in seeing it, just check it out on youtube.

This video is from 9-14-87 Atlanta, Ga.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Catholic Block

The second song on Sister is called "Catholic Block."

"Sister" was recorded at NYC's Sear Sound Studio. Sear Sound would also be the home to Experimental Jet Set Trash No Star and Rather Ripped. During the rehearsal stage of the album he band began not only focusing on making their songs more structural and cohesive, but they even came up with a system for putting a song together. The bad would number every part of the song with  a letter staring from A to Z. The charts would be laid out on the floor or taped to the wall. Some songs went all the way to F! "Catholic Block" went only to "C" but Lee admits that several songs on the record had parts removed. The band got so into "building" a song they sometimes built too much! This same process would be used during the making of Daydream Nation.

"Catholic Block" begins with a low sound of guitar plugging in. The song is the most "single" sounding on the album. Once again, a "hooky" riff is used to drive the song along with a definable verse and chorus. A breakdown is used but doesn't "noise out." Its used mainly as a transitional part of the song.

Thurston wrote the song based upon his catholic upbringing, but mostly in a joke sense of humor. Thurston often felt that catholic school boys and girls were the most punk because of their rebellious manner. Essentially, he's singing from the point of view of a rebellious teen punk! Youth?

This song uses two tunings. Lee is laying DDDDAA and Thurston is using F#F#F#F#eb.

Catholic Block saw its first appearance in April '87 and became absent from the set until 1992. The song was played regularly in'95-'96 but began collecting dust until the 2003 Murray Street tour where it was played almost nightly. It springs up in live sets every now and then.

The first video is from 10-13-87 Madison, Wi. The second is from 8-8-06 Toronto.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


The first song on Sonic Youth's 4th LP "Sister" is called "Schizophrenia."

By the end of 1986, Sonic Youth saw themselves extremely busy with a nearly 6 month tour schedule. November saw the end of EVOL and the beginning of a new era for Sonic Youth. Little time was taken in between albums as the band along with Mike Watt put together an experimental piece titled "Ciccone Youth." Sonic Youth's evolving appreciation for pop music began to not only grow in their record collection but also in their own music. Instead of rejecting pop music, they embraced it in their own way. Prince, Micheal Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and especially Madonna were all in heavy rotation. It was only a matter of time Sonic Youth was capable of channelling those elements into their music.

The word "cyber-punk" had been thrown around by Thurston at the start of 1987. Sonic Youth had branched out of their avant garde days to arrive to a newer medium of punk rock. It wasn't just punk rock, it was something else, music not for today but for the future. "Cyber-Punk" was used to describe the sounds of "Sister."

"Schizphrenia" starts with a really upbeat drum intro. Almost 80's. But then again, its the 80's right? SO why not? Who cares if Sonic Youth wants to actually keep a beat now? The song also contains the bands first ever "hook." A riff that not only carries the song but the vocal melody when Thurstons sings (and yes sings) "I went away to see a an old friend of mine, her sister came over, she was out of her mind!" The song then switches to a Kim part with her singing "the future is static, its that we have." The theme for the record is set in the first song. In a matter of 4 minutes the band manages to give you a glimpse of a newer kind of Sonic Youth, alot like EVOL, songs YOU CAN AND WILL REMEMBER!

Lyrically, the song is based on the life of Phillip K. Dick, a science fiction writer that Thurston has been obsessing over for a few years. Dick is most well known for the avant garde science fiction novels "The Scanner Darkly," "Radio Free Albemuth," "Man in the High Castle," and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Thurston learned a bit about his life from Wharton Tiers and tied his life into the song referring to fraternal twin "Jane" who died shortly after her birth. Thurston manages to remove himself and place his own thoughts into the mind of Dick and speak in a first person point of view. This is when Sonic Youth begins to leave their abstract lyrical thinking behind.

The working title was called "Sister," and was often announced that way for years. Alternate title maybe?

"Schizophrenia" was debut in April 1987 and became the bands opener for the entire '87 tour. The song became a staple in the live set especially during the breakdown. The song was not played during the '88-'89 Daydream Nation tour but came back into regular play in 1990. The song disappeared from '96-'99 but has been played quite frequently since 2000, mostly as an opener or an encore song. I have seen the band play this song twice. Quite possibly my favorite Sonic Youth track.  On May 2nd 2001, During Kim's part, she pointed at me during she sang "i could tuck you in and we could talk about it." I was flabbergasted!

This video is from 1987. Not sure on the date.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Expressway To Yr Skull

The last song on Sonic Youth's third LP is called "Expressway To Yr Skull."

EVOL has been a record of many firsts. "Expressway" could easily be considered Sonic Youth's first epic opus. "Expressway" would also be the staple closer for many years to come.

The song begins with a rather off beat strum but launches into a grand scale intro. The bright sounding chord progression gives off an almost happy feel when Thurston sings "we're gonna kill the california girls!" The keeps the upbeat pace going strong while melding into another Lee riff that sings the chorus "mystery train freeway plane expressway to yr skull". This doesn't ;ast long as the band takes the song into double time launching into quite possibly the best orchestrated noise jam to date. Hanging on a dronign F# chord then descending back into and E, a hollow vortex of noise is soon to follow. Quite and calm, the song ends and leaves you with sound of echoes. The subject of the song has been disputed for years, but with Sonic Youth you never really know. The song was written during the bands first visit to the west coast, so you know......

EVOL was released with rather mysterious etchings. Some copies of the vinyl had "expressway to yr skull" or "we're gonna kill the california girls" etched into the sides of the record. The track name of "expressway" on the back cover names the song as "Madonna Sean and Me" while the listing on the inside of the sleeve reads "The Crucifixion of Sean Penn." The song has always appeared as "Expressway" on setlists but was not officially listed until the released of Screaming Fields of Sonic Love in 1991.

"Expressway" was debuted on 6-12-1985 in the middle of the Bad Moon Rising tour. The song was also played on 8-1-1985 Columbus, Ohio. This video was released through Atavistic and was considered to be the first known performance of the song until the 6-12-85 video surfaced. This also one of the first songs written with Steve Shelley.

"Expressway" became a staple at the end of the set from '86 til '88. The song rested a few years and then came back in 1990 during the Goo tour. "Expressway" can also be found on the 1991: The Year Punk Broke video. Once again it rested a few years only to be played again in 1993. "Expressway" collected dust during the years '95-'99. The song has come back into the many times since 2000, but got constant play in 2004 and 2006. I got to see this song played in Atlanta on 8-21-04. Jim played an accordion during the final noise jam! Pretty amazing!

Only three songs from EVOL have continued to be played throughout the years "Tom Violence," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "Expressway." Maybe the band will bring "Starpower" back?

This video is from The Bonnaroo Festival in 2006 and features Stephen Malkumus from Pavement on vocals.

This next video is from the aforementioned 8-1-85 video. This tape can also be found at the Middle Tennessee State University library!