A Musical Journey with Nicklas: Part 15 – Ciccone Youth – The Whitey Album – 1988
There had been a long running joke within Sonic Youth that they would one day record a song by song cover of the Beatles Eponymous White Album in its entirety, much the same way as Pussy Galore did with Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street for their debut in 1987. It has to be said that I find the idea of a Sonic Youth cover of the Beatles White Album somewhere around the mid-eighties very interesting and titillating, though I doubt it was ever under any serious consideration. What they did instead was to incorporate a snippet of Madonna’s single Into the Groove played through an amp as part of their live show in 1985 and played on top of it. This has been documented on for instance the official live bootleg Walls Have Ears. Eventually they actually recorded the song in studio, along with an early version of Tuff Titty Rap on the tail-end of the EVOL sessions in 1986. Both songs were then released on the flipside of Mike Watt’s demo version of Burning up, another Madonna song. With this, in context, most peculiar single the ball was in motion and rolling down the hill towards what would eventually become The Whitey Album Which would slowly become an inevitable result of the bands experimentation with “new” musical technology such as samplers and drum machines.
During the recording of their next album Sister they would continue to experiment with these types of ideas, which resulted in the flip side of the Master=Dik ep. Even though Master=Dik is not released as a Ciccone Youth record and even though a non-beatbox version of the title track made it onto the cd release of Sister as a bonus, it becomes more than obvious on the flipside of the record which kicks off with a cover of the Ramones Beat on the Brat before going into a weird playful and noisy collage of
interviews, sound clips and general whimsy that the ep has more to do with The Whitey album than with Sister or any other Sonic Youth album of the time. And that’s without taking into account that Thurston lays the groundwork for the Ciccone Youth mythos in the lyrics to the title track. Master=Dik is experimental indeed and you can clearly hear The Whitey Album as a concept beginning to take shape on this ep.
I have to admit that not only did it take me a while to find and acquire this album, it took me a bit longer than I’d like to admit to find out that it was even out there. In fact it wasn’t until the summer of 1992 when the band had their second minor hit, 100% from the album Dirty, playing on Mtv that I caught a glimpse of the video for Addicted to Love squeezedin between Dirty Boots and 100%. I was awestruck with the simplicity and the sheer brilliance of the video to their version of addicted to love which is really just Kim singing on top of a karaoke version of Robert Palmers original and for a while I actually thought it was either a new Sonic Youth single about to be released or a single I had somehow missed even though at the time I had most of the stuff they had officially put out plus a few bootlegs like the semi-official or rather post-facto approved double live lp. At the end of the video the label with name of the song and band came up, and I did raise an eyebrow … Ciccone Youth eeeh?
The next morning I was banging on the door to my local record dealer at 10 to 10. Well. No, I wasn’t actually banging on the door but I was pacing restlessly back and forth outside his shop, smoking one cigarette after the other trying to pass the time before he unlocked the door and opened for business.
When I asked him for the single he nodded in his usual pensive way that I had leared meant that there was something more and said there was an album too. Did I want to order it? DID I WANT TO ORDER IT? I can only assume he was having me on when he asked me if I wanted to order this mysterious Sonic Youth album that officially wasn’t even a Sonic Youth album. I replied with some sarcastic remark to the effect that “Do the pope wear a funny hat”. So he ordered the Into the Groove(y) single, the Whitey Promos ep and the album for me and I picked them up about a week later.
I don’t really know what I had expected. A regular cover album with Sonic Youth interpreting artists like Madonna that I personally couldn’t see the band having any kind of relations to? An ironic wink at Mtv and the prevailing commercialism of pop culture perhaps? I had certainly not expected all of what I got but what I got it was indeed a pleasant surprise.