Today we’re taking it back to late 1988 with Sonic Youth’s most recognizable song. “Teen Age Riot” is the opener off of Sonic Youth’s classic album Daydream Nation and, boy, does it jam.
The song opens up in an ethereal space not uncommon to Sonic Youth’s discography. It begins with some swirling guitars and Kim Gordon reciting some stream-of-consciousness that would be most likely found on a playground: “You’re it, no you’re it/say it, don’t spray it…” which lasts for about 80 seconds until the song breaks open. Frontman and co-lead guitarist Thurston Moore jumps in with a distorted, high energy riff that is more or less the melody of the song. The instrumentation shows the classic one-two punch of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo who know exactly how to play off of one another.
The lyrics touch on the apathy of teenage years, make reference to the idea of idolization, and some other things that even I am not sure about after listening to this song for weeks on end. “It better work out/I hope it works out my way/’Cause it’s getting kind of quiet in my city’s head/Takes a teen age riot to get me out of bed right now.” Those are some generation defining lyrics right there.
This song may be a bit wordy to sing along to, but that hasn’t stopped me from belting this whenever I hear it. The next time you’re at a teenage riot, maybe keep this song in mind.