397 to 50: #23 “Teen Age Riot” by Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth Daydream Nation

Back to New York again for the third time in the 20s of my top 50 songs countdown, with 1988’s “Teen Age Riot” from noisily melodic art rockers Sonic Youth.

After Kraftwerk at #24, another massively significant band feature in my rundown now with perhaps the most influential indie rock act of the last 30+ years, even setting aside their pivotal role in signing Nirvana to Geffen ahead of “Nevermind”.  Sonic Youth’s pioneering guitar screech, alternative tunings and effortlessly cool vocals produced a formidable catalogue of pleasing harmonious noise for nigh on 30 years, before seemingly calling it a day in 2011, due to well documented personal reasons.   A huge inspiration to so many of my favourite bands but always unique and distinctive, Sonic Youth became popular enough on their own terms to skirt the mainstream and even featured on The Simpsons, in the classic Homerpalooza episode.

Sonic Youth photo

Debate can rage about Sonic Youth’s finest record, but for me it will always be their 1988 double album “Daydream Nation”, which was chosen by the US Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2005.  “Teen Age Riot” kicks off the LP in triumphant fashion, Kim Gordon’s sleepy vocal intro ushering in the real core of the song as its iconic guitar riff kicks in after a minute or so, always guaranteed to get an ecstatic reaction when played live; see the video from Rock En Seine linked to below for a prime example.  Also helping to seal the deal for “Teen Age Riot” is the fact that the song is apparently about an alternate reality where Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis is president of the United States – according to Thurston Moore: “It was actually about appointing J Mascis as our de facto alternative dream president”.  Well there could be worse presidents of the USA…

Sonic Youth photo 2

And although they can sometimes become a little too noodly live for my taste, I can recall many occasions when Sonic Youth have been ferociously barnstorming in concert.  I first saw them at Manchester Academy in 1992, when supported by Pavement so a pretty decent double bill, and their tightly controlled aggression really blew me away.  Just ahead of its 20th anniversary, Sonic Youth played “Daydream Nation” in full for a few shows in 2007, when I saw them at the Roundhouse to an exuberant crowd celebrating this masterpiece.  Finally, arguably the best time I saw them was my last – at the Matador@21 Festival in Las Vegas in 2010, an amazing event with an incredibly strong line-up, but Sonic Youth were definitely up there with Guided By Voices as an overall highlight, showing the multiple young(ish) pretenders to their throne who were still the real indie rock kings and queen.



Sonic Youth ticket

Simpsons Sonic Youth

“Hey Sonic Youth, get away from my watermelons…”

2 thoughts on “397 to 50: #23 “Teen Age Riot” by Sonic Youth

  1. Pingback: B100: #55 “Therefore, I Am” by Jim O’Rourke | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

  2. Pingback: Jumping Fences To Wichita: my 100 favourite songs | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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