20.  “JC”
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Kim and Thurston each wrote a song to memorialize their friend Joe Cole, a roadie who had slogged it out with Black Flag and later the Rollins Band.  He was murdered on December 19, 1991, shot at point-blank range outside the home he shared with Henry Rollins, victim of a botched robbery attempt.  Both tracks found a place on Dirty–Thurston’s fried-pig squeal “100%” and Kim’s “JC.”  The former was released as a single and remained a perennial live favorite.  The latter was never put out for the public as a digestible representation of the album that was supposed to break SY in the mainstream, and was dropped from concerts after 1993.  
“JC” doesn’t have the high profile, true, but so what.  It squeezes my bones.  You know how infrequently that happens?  For years Dirty was my favorite album, and while it’s actually fallen in my estimation in the twenty years since, “JC” has risen.  
Adolescents think they know anguish, and they do–but rarely as intensely as they imagine. I’m in my 30s.  A lot has happened since I was 14 and playing Dirty incessantly.  My father died.  I had not one but two medical crises, the last of which was just a couple weeks ago.  I can now grasp and visualize a world where I do not exist.  How many teens can say that?  Come on, the world still revolves around your self-important ass at that stage in life.  As you mature, certain base facts of life finally hit and spread out in a sticky web over the brain.  I used to get so into the resplendent anguish sighing out of “JC” that it invigorated me–I thought I could relate!  Ha.  No.  Now I can, and it doesn’t excite me.  
I get why Kim rushes her delivery; she’s taking control by testing the elasticity of her lungs,  heart still aching over an unfair trial.   Or is it the fact that some eulogists need time to compose themselves between sentences, to catch their breath before it leaves forever, to soldier on and “do right by” their loved ones, while still others just want to get the process over with, so they unleash a torrent of emotions, vacillating between blunted desolation, hysterical disbelief, and grievous acceptance.  To hear the usually self-possessed and imperious Kim Gordon reveal her heart like this is still a shattering experience.
Adversely, “100%” is a raucous tribute that gives insight to Cole’s character.  It is distinctly how a guy would see his friend, and how he would honor his buddy for the benefit of outsiders.  
19.  “Orange Rolls, Angels Spit”
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  10
More Dirty, more Kim.  Empirical evidence indicates that this is indeed the very fucking filthiest thing on that record.  Kim told an interviewer way back when that “Orange Rolls” was about “drug craziness,” and given that until a few years ago I understood approximately 8-10 words in the whole damn thing, I could buy that explanation.  The way Kim forces the words through gritted teeth, the revving guitars…it’s craziness, at the very least, sizzling through the floor to collapse in a sweet sweaty heap.  The process is repeated till the Earth’s core is reached.  From that point on–all bets are off.
“Orange Rolls” is just more terrifying a listen than the other Kim “rocker” on Dirty, the classic rock-pilfering “Drunken Butterfly.”  Oh, that one’s a basket of honey biscuits, no question.  I’ve spasmed something silly to it at many an SY gig.  
18.  “I Love You Golden Blue”
APPEARED ON:  Sonic Nurse (2004)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  19
Wow, I sure like Kim.  Yeah, she’s kinda the hero.  
The description I wrote for “Golden Blue” in my review of Sonic Nurse cannot, for my multi-colored money, be improved upon.
Like watching a loved one, or maybe even the loved one, slowly slip away. Before the color drains away completely, before functions cease and respiration expires, there’s the moment when that which animates us,that essence, reaches the pinnacle before continuing on its peregrination. “Is it time to go? It’s a place I know.”

Kim’s voice is barely there and all the more beautiful for it. She illuminates the chilled terror, the hysteria felt whenever caught in that space between awareness and oblivion. “I can’t feel the thrill. I don’t have the will.”

“I Love You Golden Blue” sounds so precious, so fragile. The introductory instrumental feels like a shroud but when it’s finally lifted there’s just even greater mystery shimmering underneath.

“I don’t glitter like the stars above. I don’t glow like neon alone. Don’t blush. It’s just the wind outside. Don’t rush to be by my side.” 
“Golden Blue” is the second in a so-called “trilogy” of Kim epics that were either the ultimate or penultimate tracks of three of Sonic Youth’s last four albums, the others being “Sympathy for the Strawberry” from Murray Street, and “Massage the History” from The Eternal.  “Strawberry” is the only one to miss this list, but I love it, believe me, all red and white and leafy green, just dying to land in some sugar.
17.  “Beauty Lies in the Eye”
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  14
Over calming acoustic strums and scattered lion yawns, Kim captures the echoes of passionate abandon as they ricochet off the walls and recreates them in her divine image.
“Do you want to see the explosions in my eye?”  I’m already hearing them just fine, but…sure.  Why not?
Kim’s other stand-out turn on Sister is “Pacific Coast Highway.”  Problem with that song for me nowadays, when the band brought it back live in the early part of this century, Kim busted out a trumpet for some decidedly non-marching band heroics during the Beach Boy breakdown.  I keep waiting for that on the record, and it’s not there!  Aw man.  You know else isn’t there?  The drums.  Poor Steve!  Wait a second, he just played drums on an early contender for album of the year, poor Steve nothin‘.
16.  “Cross the Breeze”
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Heroes are disposable and promises are broken records, made to warp over time.  There are many methods one can use to soothe the savage beast…music is the just the most popular one.  You can never chase the demon off, though.  It’s as much a part of us as our tongues.  
Hearing both “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze” back-to-back at certain latterly SY gigs (including the Daydream Nation concert in Brooklyn, 2007) was like a fangirl dream come true.  So much time spent cursing my fate in being born too late, and they go and play the whole friggin’ thing front to back.  Some shows I couldn’t stop moving…other shows I seemed to forget how.  “The Sprawl” lives up to its title a little too much, though; “Cross the Breeze” measures out the moods expertly.  Hence, my decision.
15.  “Stereo Sanctity”
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Oh hi Thurston!  I didn’t forget you.  You got the magic, most tall one, and great taste in sci-fi lit.  Reason #23 To Adore Sonic Youth:  one of ’em’ll read a book, hear a song, see a film or a painting that makes ’em write a song, that in turn makes someone else write a song, read a book, shoot a film, splash a canvas, etc.  Gold connections.
For lifting from Philip K. Dick, using the word “field,” and rocking sans any discernible remorse, “Stereo Sanctity” takes the crown over “Catholic Block,” which hits the red just as strongly, but oh man does Catholic guilt kill my girl-chubby.  Thurston’s not even explicit in that regard, but it doesn’t matter, not one whit, man.  Spending your refractory period in sullen contemplation of whether or not your recent orgasm has doomed your soul is the opposite of “sexy.”
14.  “Hey Joni”
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
And look here, it’s Mr. Lee!  
Of the three songs on Daydream Nation featuring Lee Ranaldo on the mic, three of them kick ass.  This one, most fabulously.  Is it about Joni Mitchell?  The ’70s cop flick Mitchell, starring international sex symbol Joe Don Baker?  “Hey Joe”?  “Hey Bulldog”?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?!
You wanna solve mysteries, go find Encyclopedia Brown and tell him Sally owes me money.  “Hey Joni” is both a devastatingly beautiful renunciation of nostalgia and a word-sick embrace of the here and now.  My favorite line in the song is, all of them.  
Moreso than his bandmates, Lee loves to use his songs to reflect on the meaningful fragments people leave behind of themselves.  The line between stranger and friend is thin as floss, filaments tensed and loosened at an almost-unnerving rate.  Some folks detach themselves and watch the process impassively, while there’s some who just can’t help but jump into the fray, frothing hearts and minds, seeking kindred spirits–even if just for a little while.    Even in “Eric’s Trip,” which borrows dialogue from Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, Lee makes it sound like he’s reciting original lyrics, like this dude Eric is his high school buddy or something.  Fooled me, dude!  “Eric’s Trip” is super-beloved by the fanbase as well, and I like it just fine.  I’ve seen it live about, uh, 900 times.  It’s all about the Drifter, dude, can’t forget Thurston bustin’ out that rode-hard-put-away-harder Drifter.  Drumstick delirium.  But no moment in “Eric’s Trip” approaches, even tenuously, Lee’s putting the motherfucking “Hey!” in “Hey Joni.”  
13.  “Sweet Shine”
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
PREVIOUS RANKING:  8
Really thought this would stay in the top ten, but hey, I gotta rank ’em honest.
Another one that’s hard on the heart nowanights.  I’m likely off by several paces in all directions, but “Sweet Shine” played to me like Kim’s reflection on her (then) decade-long marriage to the world’s tallest 12-year-old.  I broke it down on the old list, and I’m sure it was exhilarating for me to write all that out at the time and pull at my brain like so much soda-flavored taffy, but considering revisiting all of that exhausts me.  
Do not let your babies grow up to be cowboys, is all I’ll say.  
Alongside “JC” and “Massage the History,” “Sweet Shine” is part of the what I call my “tearful triumvirate” of Sonic Youth tunes.  Each of them can get my eyes to well up at least, and more than once they’ve been responsible for some embarrassing full-out bawling.  Kim’s voice is far from delicate and soaring, but where other female singers phonate at a level that wins competitions and tops charts, she’s doing what she must in order to serve the soul of the song.  Too many vocalists aim for the skies; Kim knows the truest target is much closer to the middle.
She hits a little lower than that on “Skink,” a lullaby about having sex by an aquarium.  Lotsa blue, lotsa green, lotsa vision gone black to blue, and oh God I hope neither of them kicks the aquarium.  Freedom will kill the fish, you know.
12.  “Rain on Tin”
APPEARS ON:  Murray Street (2002)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Never shall the rot set in, “Rain On Tin” will endure for the ages.  A kind, thoughtful reflection on fragility in the wake of September 11, 2001, Thurston’s lyrical economy is surpassed only by the medicinal effect of what comes after, when the last word vanishes into the polluted air and the music begins its loom work.  Thurston, Lee and temp worker Jim O’Rourke are not showing off; how gauche to assume otherwise.  Yes, it’s all very impressive.  The three of them sound like they’ve been playing together for longer than two albums worth of material, that’s for sure.  But how does it feel?  A stitch in the heart.  A gentle thought for harsh words. Embracing the inexorable as invaluable.  Forward motion always.
“Rain on Tin” dissolves pain.  I’ve needed it so much lately.  And I know, it’s just a placebo.  But as far as phantom treatments go…I’ve never had one go further.
The next album’s “Pink Steam” gets it all back-assward.  Extended instrumental intro, then lyrics.  Oh, the lyrics!  “I’m the man who loves your mother.”  Well, the average woman would want that special guy in their life to feel fondness towards their mother, right?  Makes Thanksgiving much more tolerable, anyway.  But it’s nothing to put in a song!
11.  “Mote”
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  21
I played the liver-loving onions outta this song and “Titanium Expose” in the days immediately after my brother let me borrow his CD of Goo.  Lee’s lyrics never float so high above the listener that we are unable to make out their distinguishing features, just one of the qualities that endears him to fans who bemoan his dark horse status in Sonic Youth.  To pull off such a feat amid a blanket of mosquitoes is another one.
The last four minutes are akin to slurping from a bottle of Makers Mark in between bouts of vomiting into the toilet you’re leaning against lest you get sucked into a wormhole and die.  And yes…that is a compliment.  Wordless debauchery and paranoia for the flawless victory!  
If “Mote” is not Exhibit A in the case for Sonic Youth arranging dates between love and rackets with a proficiency matched by no other sound-makers, it’s comes no later than “D.”  Further down would be “NYC Ghosts and Flowers,” the glaring highlight on the underwhelming album of the same name. Ten years after “Mote,” Lee would put some more vagabond vandalism in front of a wailing torrent.  Although “NYC” remains stirring–again, it is far and away the best thing about the album–it lacks “Mote”‘s motion and color.
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