'Into the groovey' Ciccone Youth (The Whitey Album, Enigma/Blast First, 1989)

Those opening moments of the deep-Goth bassline, and then the percussive sounds that remind me of a swinging door (I can’t even make out the instruments) strike me as one of the lushest openings in ‘pop’ or alternative music; slap, slap, slap. 

The Allmusic review by Bradley Torreano agreed, saying the cover 'manages to mold a fantastic dirge out of the original. Thurston Moore's lazy vocals pair up with Madonna's sampled voice seamlessly, and the low-quality production only adds to the homegrown feel.'

This piece of music, a tribute to Madonna’s hit, was first released on a 12 inch with two other tracks and then later formed part of the lp, The Whitey Album – by Sonic Youth feat. the Minutemen’s Mike Watt . It also included a very basic rap (‘Tuff Titty Rap’) and Kim Gordon intoning Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’. Not everyone liked it, with one Trouser Press critic stating: ‘This joke doesn’t translate and the disc comes across as a self-indulgent mess.’

Recently, Cameron MacDonald at Stylus spoke of how he felt confused when he first heard the record as a teenager, in that he thought 'Sonic Youth was a skate-punk band' (despite the fact the group had released a number of difficult, challenging records before this, say Evol or Sister). He added: 'I didn’t even know that the “Youth” were in their thirties and forties by then.'

Making reference to how mixed the response was, he adds:

Sonic Youth gave few hints in interviews about why they concocted the 1989 record other than saying that it just happened. Whitey can either be accepted as a sublime moment of pop and hip-hop deconstruction or it can be dismissed as art-rockers with heads full of bad taste and pretension dicking around in the studio.

And as for 'Into the Groovey' when MacDonald first heard it, he dismissed it as the flattest dance song he had ever heard.

The Flashdance beats plodded, the guitars muttered the basic melody, and Moore could barely keep himself awake on the karaoke mic. Samples of Madonna’s off-key serenade remind us that this is a “cover” from time to time. Intentional lameness was not high-art to me.

Well, maybe all of this was intentional, the 'flatness' and Moore's slowed down, sleepwalking delivery (though mot so much the perceived 'lameness' , of course). I love this cover for the way it embodies contradictions (unlike other critics I don’t think it’s a parody, but sincere appreciation; Thurston Moore seems to be singing the lyrics as if he means them and the sound is fab, deep and mysterious) and makes manifest musical layering.

MacDonald says how fans of hip-hop, or even hip-hop artists, might dislike this record and see it as a kind of disrespect, I can’t see why as musically it’s a punk take on the genre, where noise/distortion is used in the same way scratching might be for emphasis, to break something up, to jolt us into awareness or as a way of making connections between the elements. And the way the sample of Madonna comes back, as if she is underwater and rising to the surface like a singing mermaid is pretty lovely and difficult to dislike, I think.

The contrast between her sweet voice and the other, heavier musical elements, as they interact with each other; or gesture towards the other is what keeps this fresh. I liked this song when I first heard it (and bought the vinyl) and still do all these years on. It’s a perfect example of punk deconstruction – and humour, possibly though I don’t hear that so much – that was very much of the era, with other electro-alternative groups such as Consolidated in San Francisco or Bongwater/Kramer in New York.

It's a great example of a kind of deadened disco, nurtured by 70s noise/electronic acts, and no less powerful for that; darkness and light.

To finish, Sonic Youth at their best - during this time - were masters at creating atmosphere, as shown by this song ‘Providence’ from Daydream Nation that I think has influenced other more recent acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's so simple, featuring a cryptic answering machine message from Mike Watt and, what one Youtube poster says, is piano from Chick Corea’s acoustic band. Even if Wiko says otherwise: 

Providence consisted of a piano solo by Moore recorded at his mother’s house using a walkman, the sound of an amp overheating and a pair of telephone messages left by Mike Watt, calling for Moore from a Providence, Rhode Island payphone, dubbed over one another.