In doing so, the band dragged many of its contemporaries out of obscurity and onto MTV and commercial radio.
Daydream Nation was Sonic Youth’s final album on an independent label and helped propel the band onto big stages throughout the world, including a European tour which would change musical history.
Sonic Youth had to choose an opening band for the gigs, and selected another group which had just signed to the same major label, Geffen.
This band had released one album but, really, had almost no following. Geffen hoped the success of Sonic Youth might open the doors for other rock bands from the underground, and if this new band could gain some followers from touring with Sonic Youth, maybe it could be sell a few copies of its new record as well.
That band was Nirvana, which released the classic Nevermind, and lead single Smells Like Teen Spirit, just a few months later.
A documentary about the tour was aptly named 1991: The Year Punk Broke, as it sparked an era in which alternative and often raucous bands could top the charts alongside the Michael Jacksons and Madonnas of the world.
The explosion that started this wave was Sonic Youth’s magnum opus, Daydream Nation.
The band formed in the early-’80s and combined punk spirit with a huge appetite for experimentation, using unusual guitar tunings and creating searing, noisy rock. At their best best, the guitars of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo would build up like a symphony around the rhythm section of bassist Kim Gordon and drummer Steve Shelley.
The band increasingly added elements of traditional rock and pop songwriting, as Moore, Gordon and sometimes Ranaldo took turns on lead vocals. The combination of actual songs, with actual hooks, mixed with musical experimentation emerged fully formed on the band’s 1987 classic Sister.
Daydream Nation took the formula to perfection.
Opening track Teen Age Riot is the seminal Sonic Youth song, and the first track in the band’s discography which could be considered a singalong anthem.
The next song, Silver Rocket, is concise, energetic, and even features the band’s first chorus. That is apart from a section in the middle when the music dissolves into a wall of unbridled aural chaos.
The balancing act between abrasion and catchiness, pop and inaccessibility, rock and art, continues for 70 glorious minutes.
The band’s follow-up and major label debut Goo led to that fateful tour with Nirvana and within a year everyone wanted to throw money at hot young rock bands no matter how obscure they might have been.
A lot of bands made a lot of money, but very few of the ’80s acts which started it all were among them. Bands which would have fit perfectly with the mainstream alt-rock push such as Husker Du, the Replacements and the Pixies broke up before they could cash in.
Sonic Youth was different, maintaining festival headline status throughout the rock boom and beyond.
The band released 10 more albums and all were good to great but none had quite the magic, or the impact, of Daydream Nation.