Damn near a fistful of years have elapsed since my last attempt to rank my personal 30 favorite Sonic Youth songs.  Times change, tastes change–thirteen songs from that initial compilation are absent this time ’round, including three from the top ten.
To set this new list apart from the last, I’ve dropped the “highlight” section.  After each review of the song I chose, I’ve added thoughts on why I chose that track over another, similar one (often from the same album).  This hopefully illuminates my thought process and swings some shine on other songs that weren’t fortunate enough to get a number in front of them.  For me personally, it elevates this entire endeavor from enjoyable to ecstatic. 
None of which should suggest this task was easy.  My initial list of songs for consideration was 64–more than double the allotted spaces.  Some genuine gems had to be excluded.   Much easier, however, was determining the ten worst songs in the SY oeuvre.  Indeed, only eleven tunes were even up for consideration. That speaks to the quality of the artistry far more than any scribe alive ever could.
But we try anyway.
30.  “Wildflower Soul”
APPEARS ON:  A Thousand Leaves (1998)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not included
Love effects the spirit, which in turns effects the body, which naturally transfers to…the guitar?  A peculiar squall kicks off what is actually a gorgeous ballad.  Of course, Sonic Youth never forget who they are, and take care to stretch their limbs.
Thurston Moore was four years into the fatherhood thing by the time A Thousand Leaves was released, and nearly every song on said record that he voices evokes warm domesticity.  To his credit, these offerings are sweet without being cloying and palliative without inveigling the listener.  “Snare, Girl” treads much of the same plaintive pathways, but never unravels.  It’s self-containment is superb, but the puffs flying in “Wildflower Soul” are an unforgettable sight.
 29.  “Flower”
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)
PREVIOUS RANKING: Not included
“Support the power of women
Use the power of man
Support the flower of women
Use the word:  fuck
The word is love”
Forget that these lyrics are courtesy of a dude, in this case, uber-dude Thurston. Kim brought them to fierce life, and that’s what matters most.  You can discover Sonic Youth, order all of their records you can afford at once, and boy aren’t you in for a treat, buuuut….if the FedEx fella doesn’t get it to you at all, much less in a timely manner, you aren’t going to enjoy the experience of holding vinyl/tape/CD in your hands, thumbing through booklets, examining visuals and aurals simultaneously.  You’ll have to make do with mp3’s of shady bitrate and JPEG scans of varying resolution.  
In other words…it’s down to the delivery.
“Halloween,” which buttresses “Flower” on the DGC reissue, is certainly a boss number.  (I mean, Mudhoney covered it.)  The woozy sensuality oozes back into the cracks quick as it came out.  “Flower”‘s petals are sharp to the touch, and draw blood.
28.  “Doctor’s Orders”
APPEARS ON: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  11
Half-life as so many women knew it then, and to this day.  Kim’s breathless tale of mama’s li’l helpmates is made twice as arresting with the lilting menace behind her blunted language, creeping studiously until finally it breaks the fifth wall (the one separating the performer from themselves) and treats the audience to the spectacle of a party of one being crashed.
Jet Set is Kim’s album whether she owns up to it or not, and this isn’t even her finest moment.  Neither is “Bone,” which suffers in comparison simply because of structure.  “Bone” is maelstrom to blues to back again.  Perfect for Kim’s bipolar delivery.  But the sustain of “Doctor’s Orders” is what convinces me it’s best to adhere to medical advice.
27.  “Anti-Orgasm”
APPEARS ON:  The Eternal (2009)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not even born back then
Inspired by a German film called The Wild Life, which featured among other scenes a hippie radical suddenly struck impotent, so immured he was with society’s conspicuous over-consumption.  A friend cracks that he must be “anti-orgasm.”  Now that’s source material. 
Thurston, Kim and Lee singing on the same song is in fact pro-orgasm.  “But, but, ‘Renegade Princess’!”  Okay, but that song doesn’t send my blood rushing through my body.   Hell, it doesn’t even make my blood walk a little bit faster.  “Anti-Orgasm” rocks out with everything out, and if that sentiment seems hoary, it’s also true.  To bear ear-witness to such crackling urgency and insistent force coming from a band 27 years into their recorded life is equal parts inspiring and intimidating.  
Of course, the lyrics are obtuse and quotable, as hell to both.  The unison grunting could been super off-putting but thankfully SY have made the air too thick for such a misstep to occur.
All three vocalists reunite for “Poison Arrow” later on in the album (albeit only Thurston for the verses).  Another clear-cut winner amid eleven other champions, but it doesn’t cause me to misplace my shit.  “Anti-Orgasm” does.  Helps me find it again as well, ’cause I’m just a loop cat, and the process makes me wanna purr.
26.  “Expressway To Yr Skull”
APPEARS ON: EVOL (1986)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not included
So not only does Rolling Stone omit Lee Ranaldo from their 100 Greatest Guitarists list, they include Thurston, and they cite “Expressway” as an example of his exemplary work!  Lee is responsible for 90% of everything that sounds interesting on that song!  The other 10% is of course that cloud-combing blow-out that the song is best known for, and maybe what the editors had in mind, but that’s pretty stupid if you ask me.
Enrapturing as that torrent of noteage is, the name of the game is slide-work, and yep that’s Lee during the chorus, puttin’ in that time.  “We’re gonna kill the California girls” is a great opener–and even greater misspelled on an official shirt–but really, the guitars are the tenacious voices in their heads telling ’em they should fuck and kill in the first place.
Fellow bookend “Tom Violence” has the sharper lyricism–arguably my favorite set of words to a Sonic Youth song, maybe I’d put “Rain King” above it, but that’s it–but it’s not precisely compelling (!) enough for me to forget my dreams are empty ones.  “Expressway” fills the holes to capacity.
25.  “Cinderella’s Big Score”
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  18
Thurston’s behind-the-bridge action fools trolls and trolls fools.  I can hear new things or things in a new way with nearly every listen of this underappreciated mini-masterpiece.  Every element on display burns underneath the magnifying glass:  Lee’s chopper blade gut, Steve the lunatic gentleman at the kit, Kim’s disillusionment over and disgust at the habitual misbehaviors at someone who may or may not represent her troubled older brother (the video seems to support this interpretation), you’ve never seen an accusatory finger pointed so poignantly.
Kim G. voices a more positive tribute on “Tunic (Song For Karen),” a sympathy call to the late Karen Carpenter.  But however much one of the most nuanced voices of 20th century pop deserved canonization, it’s almost a little too reverential, even dare I say a bit trepid.
24.  “Intro/Brave Men Run”
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  12
Kicks off SY’s second full-length and also signaled the start of their concert of Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn last August, which may or may not have been their last North American gig/last non-festival gig/last show in New York, oh the potential designations are multitudinous.  I will from now until the day I abandon this cumbersome shell o’ mine associate this song with the sight and sound of an overjoyed young man just in front of me at said show, gripping the top of the stage barrier, leaping up and down and shrieking in glee, “This is my favorite song ever!  Oh my God!”  
A song the band had not busted out in a live setting for 25 years, a song that may very well be older than that deliriously happy fan.
The “Intro” piece deserves its titular status, featuring glistening arpeggios that musta shocked fans of Confusion Is Sex and that albums dank experimentation.  In context, “Intro” marked a turning point for the band.  “Brave Men Run” continued the inaugural proceedings:  inspired by the work of an artist in another medium (the paintings of Ed Ruscha) instead of just citing the same rote influences; a simple but brilliant bass part that anyone could play but not just anyone could think up; and a hesitance to leave the playground even though the sun is setting and dinner’s steaming on the kitchen table.
I don’t want ’em to leave either.  Come on guys, one more game of tetherball.
Of all the songs on the cusp of inclusion for this list, the one that hurt the most to leave out was the one that ranks no. 31–“I Love Her All the Time.”  They also played this one in Brooklyn, and unsurprisingly it added three years to every attendees life.  
How do you turn a hazy declaration of love hopefully everlasting into an outright apotheosis of the beloved?  “I Love Her All the Time” could be difficult to swallow nowadays, given what transpired some 26 years after its creation.  I won’t fib, a few Sonic tracks are hitting me in a very bittersweet way recently…but not this one.  I think that’s down to Thurston’s unconventional word choices.  It’s not transparently romantic to say you don’t comprehend the words coming out of your lovers mouth; it’s actually closer to honorific.  Imagine being with someone who has you instantly transfixed and intoxicated by dint of their presence, who can turn the world into frost and sparks by being next to you.  Such a sensation is ephemeral, but electrifying.  
23.  “The Wonder”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
The beginning of SY’s beloved “Trilogy,” I separated “The Wonder” from its siblings because, um, I play favorites.  (You can’t fathom my process!)  
Shit gets mad pachyderm-y in the middle, which is when I adore it the most.  Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite’s grandson, who was a squeegee man at the time.  To hear those who were actually there tell it, NYC was much dirtier, scuzzier, wilder and scarier in the late 80s, that period of time that served as a midwife for  SY and their ballyhooed baby.  “Your city is a wonder town.”  And I would say, as a frequent visitor, it still is.  Stop by Otafuku if you don’t believe me.
So why “The Wonder” and not the others?  Well, “Hyperstation” isn’t hyper in the least bit, and “Eliminator Jr.” is too fuckin’ short.  Also, I respect the songs as individual entities, although I acknowledge their seamless connection on the album.  It’s absolutely the same as when I eat a Mexican meal at my mom’s, and I start off  with the lusciously decorated taco, go to the sublimely stuffed enchilada, make my way over to the perfectly cooked rice, and finally bite into a hot buttered tortilla.  (If you aren’t hellhound hungry after reading that, that’s the real wonder right there.)
22.  “Shaking Hell”
APPEARS ON:  Confusion Is Sex  (1983)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  26
There are a handful of genuinely skin-prickling moments on Sonic Youth’s first full-length but none more chilling than–“Shake!  Shake!”  I sure hope Kim Gordon isn’t actually unaware of why people tend to be intimidated in her presence.  I mean other than her being bracingly intelligent and eternally stylish.  
“Shaking Hell” is either the prelude to a lust murder or a snapshot of your everyday subjugation within an ostensibly loving relationship…either way somebody needs to get the fuck outta that house.  
Kim also provides vox to “Protect Me You,” a scary story that features Lee Ranaldo on the bass playing a rather Gordon-esque pattern of notes.  That song is akin to an ice cube sliding down your back.  “Shaking Hell” is the blade of a knife taking the same path.
21.  “Candle”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Candles give light where none existed before.  They can be symbols of sober remembrance when held in one’s hand, or a lovely decorative piece when in the home.  No matter where they are, or the purpose they serve, candles give light where none existed before.   The solace they provide, however, ensures their impermanence.  
Nothing on Daydream Nation is really like “Candle,” so I’ll use “Total Trash” as an example of how all over the place Thurston can be lyrically, and still not come off like a goddamn lunatic who uses ketchup packets to write poems on Burger King Whopper wrappers.  “Candle” is the marriage of light and mist; “Total Trash” is not that.  How you go from “Keeps me up awake/A crystal cracking” to “It’s a natural fact that I’m not now cow” is amazing to me.  That’s Sonic Youth.  Aptitude, attitude, and altitude.

Songs 20-11 will be up on Tuesday; 10-1 on Wednesday; and the Worst list on Thursday.

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