Rarely does a band name so aptly describe what is actually being bottled and sold.
Sonic Youth is a perfect expression of early nineties zeitgeist – both in name and music. Of the many influential groups making music at the dawn of an era where Nirvana/grunge and alternative rock began to dominate the nineties musical landscape; Sonic Youth encapsulated the social mores of an entire generation in flux – in as little as just one song. Sonic Youth’s sixth studio album Goo (1990) is essentially a distortion-fueled time capsule that even after 26 years never gets old.
Goo arrived just in time for the alternative explosion that was to follow the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991. While other albums such as 1988’s Daydream Nation and 1992’s Dirty are also important Sonic Youth offerings (with fan-favourite songs such as Teenage Riot, 100% and Sugar Kane) – it is Goo’s first track (and third single) that perfectly represents what it felt like to be young during the first half of the final decade of the 1900’s.
“Time to take a ride, time to take it in a midnight eye
And if you wanna go, get on below…”
In the early nineties fans of alternative rock knew they were among legion judging by the requisite flannel, band tees and eyelet holes on each pair of boots in the room. Sonic Youth’s Dirty Boots immediately calls to mind impressions of an endless parade of 14-hole Dr. Martens, Nirvana t-shirts, bed-head bleached hair and the smoky (pre-tobacco ban) venues where alt-rock fans could catch an amazing show for a relatively low ticket price. A sexually-charged song that singer Thurston Moore has indicated is actually about touring and being on the road; the music video for Dirty Boots only further cements impressions of early-nineties youth, futility, frustration and the desire to escape via any vice possible.
In addition to Dirty Boots, Goo included what has become one of the band’s most recognized songs, Kool Thing. The track includes Public Enemy’s Chuck D (who also appears in the music video). Kim Gordon’s sex-kitten vocals as she sings tongue-in-cheek lyrics about “male white corporate oppression” are rumoured to be the result of an awkward interview between Gordon (who was writing a piece for SPIN magazine at the time) and rapper LL Cool J. Sonic Youth’s video even parrots the style of one of LL’s own music videos. In recent popular culture, the song was used in an episode of Gilmore Girls (likely to show us that Rory Gilmore is as selective in her musical tastes as she is in her literature) and also appeared during the first season of the fairytale odyssey Once Upon A Time.
While Dirty Boots takes us back to rock concerts without cell phones or political correctness, where a boot to the face would be worn like a badge of honour rather than evidence to commence legal action – Kool Thing shines a big spotlight on the varying social and political attitudes that different musical genres propagate. In particular Kool Thing makes us think about hip-hop attitudes towards women. In this regard, hip-hop and rap have not changed much since the early nineties – perhaps this is one of the reasons that Kool Thing and Goo remain so influential to this day. Judging by the likes of women in rap such as Nikki Minaj, we definitely still need women as outspoken as Kim Gordon to let the world know that not all ladies love cool James…