. . .
And so while Sonic Youth spent their first decade bouncing from indie label to indie label to indie label, after Daydream Nation was released, they followed in the footsteps of peers like X, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and most recently, R.E.M., and signed with a major label. While that trio all ended up at Warner Bros or their subsidiary Sire, Sonic Youth went with DGC, the newest label formed by David Geffen.
Yes, the same David Geffen who once sued Neil Young for the sin of not making what Geffen considered “Neil Young Albums,” but of course I’m assuming that as the underground burbled above the surface, Sonic Youth had ironclad artistic freedom in their contract — which they threatened to test by considering naming their debut Blowjob? but wisely changed to Goo.
Of course, at the time, there might have been accusations of “selling out” or some shit, Sonic Youth signed to a major for two practical reasons: they wanted their music to be heard, and they wanted to be paid for making it. Their previous label, Enigma, had distribution issues, depressing the sales of Daydream Nation, and SST, their label for Sister and EVOL would send them royalty statements, but not so much the actual royalties.
So why not try with a major? In my mind, the issue was more of how they were going to follow up the album that was universally acclaimed as their masterpiece, which was the same issue the Replacements had with their major label debut, Tim. And, in my mind, they solved it in the same way: by making a record that utilized the bigger budget they now had, but was still light years away from being slick. And while Goo & Tim weren’t as great as their immediate predecessors, they were still better than just about everything else out there.
And so Goo opened with Thurston Moore’s life on the road song “Dirty Boots,” which faded in with feedback and an arcing guitar riff, as Steve Shelley shook a maraca rather than hitting a hi-hat — his version of an alternate tuning — and Moore instantly linked his new album to the previous one.
Here we go to another candle I know
All the girls, they’re playing on a jelly roll
Time to take a ride, time to take it in a midnight eye
And if you wanna go, get on below
Pinking out the day
Dreaming out the crazy way
Finger on the love
It’s all above
“Dirty Boots” is a great album opener because it’s nearly all coiled menace for the first part of the song, both musically and lyrically. It’s also calm enough that it could initially be seen as a concession to a major label, but weird enough so that only the true indie believers would think that.
Everywhere it’s six-sex-six by luck
A satellite wish will make it just enough
You’ll be making out with a witch in a coffee truck
Time to rock the road
And tell the story of the jelly rolling
Dirty boots are on
Hi di ho
Then, a few minutes in, all of the tension breaks, and suddenly it’s release time: the drums pound harder, the guitars noise up and Moore goes from calm to crazy as he yells:
I got some dirty boots
Yeah, dirty boots
I got some dirty boots, baby
After which the guitars do the thing you’ve come to expect in a Sonic Youth song: scrape against each other while creating a soundscape equal parts glorious beauty and glorious noise before eventually breaking down and restarting the opening riff, which takes the song to its end.
“Dirty Boots” was released as the third single from Goo, but it didn’t get any airplay outside of College Radio, but as an album opener, it was aces.
“Dirty Boots” Official Music Video
Bevis and Butt-Head discuss “Dirty Boots”
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