Few musicians can boast a CV as lengthy, eclectic and influential as Thurston Moore. As a founding member of Sonic Youth, he helped push alternative rock into the mainstream over a 30-year run that produced as many left turns as it did iconic songs. Regularly polling high in greatest-guitarist-of-all-time lists, his hugely varied non-Sonic Youth discography spans dozens of collaborators and countless genres. Now, as the Thurston Moore band prepare to head to Australia and New Zealand (check the full tour dates), we share five of our fave songs from his career.
‘Teen Age Riot’ – Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation, 1988)
One of Sonic Youth’s most iconic songs from one of their most iconic albums. The seven-minute jam features one of Moore’s best known riffs; the lyrics are inspired by a (day)dream world where J. Mascis is president. Moore told Q Magazine in 2007: “At the time, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr represented our slacker genius, so in tribute we wrote a song called ‘Rock’N’Roll For President’ about him being president, which we eventually named Teen Age Riot”. The band directed the video for the radio edit themselves (check the original version of the song here), splicing band footage in with clips of their musical heroes. “Watch out for Tom Waits and Susanna Hoffs, Iggy and Blixa, D. Boon, Harvey Pekar, and many others,” Lee Ranaldo wrote in the Daydream Nation liner notes. “Almost got sued by Wim Wenders’ people for inclusion of Nastassia Kinski (from Paris TX).”
‘Into the Groove(y) – Ciccone Youth (The Whitey Album, 1988)
A band known for their unpredictably, Sonic Youth threw another curveball with this side project – also featuring Firehose/Minutemen bassist Mike Watt – that took its moniker from Madonna’s long lost surname. Their first single was a loose cover of the Material Girl’s smash ‘Into the Groove’, which incorporated snippets of Madge’s original. Released in 1986, it was included on the band’s only studio longplayer, The Whitey Album, which also featured a karaoke-booth-recorded cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’. According to the reissued Daydream Nation’s liner notes: “The album cover, a b&w xerox enlargement of Madonna’s face, was a brilliant and contemporary design. Sonic Youth had utilized found images in album covers before, but this was testing the limit. We sent copies of the vinyl album to Warners to be passed on to Madonna via her sister who worked in the art department there. Word came back that she had no problem with it acknowledging she remembered the band from her NYC Danceteria days.”
‘The Diamond Sea’ – Sonic Youth (Washing Machine, 1995)
At 19 minutes 35 seconds, ‘The Diamond Sea’ is the longest track to feature on a Sonic Youth studio album. The closing song on Washing Machine, it starts out as a chiming ballad before the extended guitar outro descends into a squall of blistering feedback. An even longer version, clocking in at almost 26 minutes, was ambitiously released as a single.
‘Burroughs’ – Chelsea Light Moving (Chelsea Light Moving, 2013)
As one of the most influential guitarists of all time, Moore’s never short of collaborators. He’s worked with everyone from Beck and REM to John Zorn and Yoko Ono, and is just as likely to dabble in black metal as he is free improvisation. His 2013 project Chelsea Light Moving – a celebration of the beat poets, avant-garde artists and New York counter-culture – recorded their debut album in “two quick fire sessions”, and it’s a loud, raucous and dirty slab of punk rock.
‘The Best Day’ – Thurston Moore (The Best Day, 2014)
Recorded with his old Sonic Youth bandmate Steve Shelley on drums, My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe on bass and James Sedwards from UK math-punks Nought on guitar, Moore’s fourth solo studio album The Best Day was the first ‘Thurston Moore’ album since splitting with his wife and Sonic Youth bandmate Kim Gordon. Featuring a combination of lenghty SY-style guitar explorations and straight-up rock songs, The Best Day is a surprisingly upbeat record. Speaking to Rolling Stone, the now-London-based Moore explains that “Playing with this group made me want to create something really positive, because the music was really positive.”