Dirty (Sonic Youth album)

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Studio album by Sonic Youth
Released July 21, 1992
(see release history)
Recorded Early 1992 at The Magic Shop and Sear Sound in New York
Genre Alternative rock, noise rock
Length 58:45
Label DGC
Producer Butch Vig and Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth chronology
Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Singles from Dirty
  1. "100%"
    Released: July, 1992
  2. "Youth Against Fascism"
    Released: December, 1992
  3. "Sugar Kane"
    Released: February, 1993
  4. "Drunken Butterfly"
    Released: August, 1993

Dirty is the seventh studio album by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was released on July 21, 1992, through record label DGC. In 1991, the band sent a series of cassettes of instrumental demos they had made, which would later have lyrics added. Most of these demos were featured on singles from the album. The band recorded and produced the album with Butch Vig in early 1992 at the Magic Shop studios. The album's songs had to be trimmed down from eighteen tracks, and they agreed that Ranaldo's "Genetic" and Gordon's "Hendrix Necro" would be omitted, though these were featured on the "100%" single. The sound on Dirty was inspired by the grunge scene of the time they were in. Some songs on the album mark the first appearance of three guitars in Sonic Youth songs. The album was remastered and released on quadruple vinyl and double CD in 2003.

The album spawned four singles. The first single was "100%", but it was not the crossover hit the label anticipated; Geffen Record executive Mark Kates admitted the single "was not a great radio song", however the single did chart well. The next was "Youth Against Fascism", although it did not chart well. The last two were "Sugar Kane" and "Drunken Butterfly", released in 1993. "Sugar Kane" did better commercially than "Youth Against Fascism". The album did exceptionally well, going at number 6 in the UK Albums Chart, being their highest charting album in the UK, and 83 in the US.

In support of the album, the band went on the "Pretty Fucking Dirty" tour of 1992 and 1993, where most of Dirty was played. In late 1992, they played in North America and in early 1993 they played in New Zealand, Australia and released the Whores Moaning EP which featured most of the "Sugar Kane" B-sides.


Live in the Netherlands, 1991

Following the release of Daydream Nation in 1988, Sonic Youth were interested in signing with a new record label. By the middle of 1989, the top contenders for the band's new label were A&M Records, Atlantic Records and Mute Records.[1] Between late 1989 and early 1990, Geffen Records announced its interest in signing the band.[2] Sonic Youth eventually signed a five-album deal with Geffen for at an estimated $300,000.[3] However, the band was disappointed when they discovered that the albums would be released on the newly created Geffen sub-label, DGC Records.[4]

In 1990, the band released Goo and received moderate commercial success, peaking at number 96 on the Billboard 200 in the United States and charting in the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Critical reception to the album was positive. To support its release, Sonic Youth toured Europe and North America twice in 1990.[5] Following the mainstream breakthrough of alternative rock and grunge, the band toured Europe again in fall 1991 with Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Babes in Toyland and Gumball.[6] On this tour, they premiered "Orange Rolls, Angel Spit" and "Chapel Hill" and the latter tour was chronicled on the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke, directed by Dave Markey. In November, they began demoing songs on 8-track at their rehearsal space in Hoboken.[7]


For Dirty, Sonic Youth worked with producer Butch Vig and mixer Andy Wallace, the same roles as on Nirvana's Nevermind although this was not why the band chose them.[8] On the album's sound, Pitchfork Media opined that "they weren't entirely catering to the new ears Nirvana's success was sending their way", but "were at least taking it into consideration on a semi-conscious level."[9] During his first meeting with the group, Vig told the band that he wanted to tighten the song arrangement and focus on crafting the guitar sounds. Vig quickly landed the producer job for the record.[10] During a visit to the apartment of Sonic Youth members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, Moore told Vig he wanted the album to sound like an obscure Mecht Mensch single Vig had produced.

The band sent a series of cassette tapes to Vig in late 1991 featuring its new compositions. Vig was pleased but also uncertain, as the tapes consisted of long instrumentals where the producer was unable to discern the song structures.[11] The second batch of cassettes Vig received demonstrated that the band had performed some self-editing with its compositions.[10] Vig moved to New York City for three months in early 1992 and the band began recording the album at The Magic Shop in March.[8] The last song on the album, "Crème Brulee", was recorded when Gordon was randomly playing guitar and singing with Shelley playing the drums, while Moore was trying to turn on his amplifier and Ranaldo was recording the whole thing.[12]

After recording was completed, the album needed to be trimmed down from eighteen tracks. Moore, Gordon and the band's A&R person, Gary Gersh, agreed that the song "Genetic" by guitarist Lee Ranaldo would be removed. Ranaldo did not react well to the decision: coupled with personal issues he was facing at the time, it led him to consider leaving the group. After a few weeks the matter settled and Ranaldo stayed with the band.[13] Another track recorded in the sessions, "Stalker", was put on the vinyl release.

Lyrics and themes[edit]

The opening song, "100%", was written about the murder of the band's friend, Joe Cole, and how it affected many people, including Sonic Youth.[14] The next song, "Swimsuit Issue", is about a then-current Geffen employee who was remanded to therapy for his sexual nature, hence the lyrics "Don't touch my breast, I'm just working at my desk." The last section of the song features Gordon naming all of the models in the March 1992 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.[15] The lyrics to "Drunken Butterfly" were completely taken from song titles and lyrics from Heart songs, and was originally titled "Barracuda" after one of their songs.[16] The final title was taken from their song "Dog & Butterfly", which sounds a bit like drunken butterfly. "Sugar Kane" is said to be about Marilyn Monroe and "Orange Rolls, Angel Spit" was one of the first songs written for Dirty.[17][18] Another of the first songs written for the album, is about the town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the murder of bookseller Bob Sheldon, in 1991. The vinyl only track, "Stalker", seems to show what a stalker is like. "JC", like "100%", was written about Joe Cole. The songs working title was "Moonface".[19]


The front cover of the album was taken by Gordon's friend Mike Kelley shows an orange stuffed toy with Sonic Youth written down the sides. The theme goes on through the booklet with pictures of a bear, rabbit and other teddies. The credits are also found in the booklet. The back cover has individual members of the band with the track listing. The vinyl version is different as the back features the stuffed toys and the inserts have the band photos. Some versions of the CD have a "dirty picture" of Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose defiling stuffed toys while naked.[7]


Promotional photo of Sonic Youth, in 1992

Prior to the album's release, they did a short north-east tour in which most of Dirty was premiered. Dirty was released on 21 July 1992 on double LP vinyl, CD and Cassette. The LP version of the album came with an extra track titled "Stalker".[7] The album went at number 6 in the UK Albums Chart, being their highest charting album in the UK, and 83 in the US.[20][21] In the wake of the success of Nirvana's 1991 album Nevermind, DGC pushed Dirty heavily. In the same month, "100%" was released, but was not the crossover hit the label anticipated; Geffen Record executive Mark Kates admitted the single "was not a great radio song". Despite this, the single charted well going at number 4 in the Alternative Songs and number 28 in the UK Singles Chart.[22][23] In September, the band appeared on Late Night with David Letterman performing "100%".[24] At Kates's urging, "Youth Against Fascism" was released as the album's second single, in December. The single did not sell well or receive airplay; Kates referred to the decision as "one of the biggest professional mistakes of my life".[25]

In late 1992, the band began their "Pretty Fucking Dirty" tour, starting in North America. All of the songs from Dirty were played at least once, except for "Crème Brulee". They also played "Genetic," but occasionally swapped it for "Eric's Trip" or "Mote". They changed the set lists frequently, but kept "Shoot" as the opener. In November and December, they went to Europe on the tour, also appearing on Later with Jools Holland performing "Drunken Butterfly" "Sugar Kane" and "JC".[7] At Kates's urging, "Youth Against Fascism" was released as the album's second single, in December. The single did not sell well or receive airplay; Kates referred to the decision as "one of the biggest professional mistakes of my life".[25] The single charted at number 52 in the UK Singles Chart. In January and February, Sonic Youth went to Australia and New Zealand on the tour and released the "Sugar Kane" single and did much better than "Youth Against Fascism", going at number 26 in the UK Singles Chart. The same month, they released the Whores Moaning Australia-only EP to coincide with the tour. The EP practically contained the B-sides to the "Sugar Kane" single, but the tracks have been switched around and "Tamra" added on the end. The last single from the album, "Drunken Butterfly", was released in August, 1993, on CD.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[26]
Robert Christgau A[27]
Entertainment Weekly A[28]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[29]
Pitchfork 8.6/10[9]

Dirty was generally well-received by critics. AllMusic called it "a damn good rock album, and on those terms it ranks with Sonic Youth's best work. "[26] Entertainment Weekly praised the album, calling it "possibly the finest hour (59 minutes, actually) from this New York noise & roll band. It is also much-needed proof that the old-fangled concept of a rock guitar band can still result in vital, undeniably moving music", ending the review with "At this point, every other rock & roll album that visits our planet this year will have a hard time topping [Dirty]. "[28] Rolling Stone opined that Dirty "easily rank[s] with Daydream Nation and Sister" as "the band's most unified and unforgettable recorded works. "[29]

Trouser Press saw Dirty as a big improvement over Goo, which the publication saw as "failing miserably".[30]

Music videos[edit]

The first music video from Dirty was for "100%". It was directed by Tamra Davis and Spike Jonze. Much of the video footage is shot by Spike while riding on a skateboard following others in the streets (including then skateboarder, now actor Jason Lee). The video also alludes to the shooting death of their friend Joe Cole, but is not specifically about him, and more about friendship between two skateboarders. Sonic Youth is shown playing a house party throughout the film. Kim Gordon plays a yellow Fender bass guitar, which she borrowed from actor Keanu Reeves.[31][32] All of the video was shot in Los Angeles. The second music video was for "Youth Against Fascism", directed by Nick Egan. The video was shot in the concrete flood control channel of the Los Angeles River with the band playing while FMX Bikers are riding around. Spliced into the video is imagery of fascism, Nazism and communism plus an insurrection mixed with pictures of punk bands and fashion.[33]

The third music video was for "Sugar Kane", and was, like "Youth Against Fascism", directed by Nick Egan. The video is shot in New York City and portrays Sonic Youth performing in the midst of a fashion show showcasing "grunge" clothing. The clothing, in fact, is one of the collections done by Marc Jacobs, "Grunge Collection", for Perry Ellis in 1992.[34] Marc is also a close friend to Kim Gordon and the band. The video also marks the first film appearance of Chloë Sevigny. The fourth video from Dirty was for "Drunken Butterfly", and was directed by Stephen Hellweg, the winner of a 120 Minutes contest in which fans were to send in videos for any song on Dirty. It features puppets and dolls made up to look like Sonic Youth performing the song onstage. The fifth and sixth was from the same contest. The fifth being for "Swimsuit Issue", which featured shirtless men smoking together in a room listening to Dirty. The sixth was for "Nic Fit" showing someone running around in a field holding up a flaming stuffed animal.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Sonic Youth, except as noted. 

No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. "100%"     Moore 2:28
2. "Swimsuit Issue"     Gordon 2:57
3. "Theresa's Sound-World"     Moore 5:27
4. "Drunken Butterfly"     Gordon 3:03
5. "Shoot"     Gordon 5:16
6. "Wish Fulfillment"     Ranaldo 3:24
7. "Sugar Kane"     Moore 5:56
8. "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit"     Gordon 4:17
9. "Youth Against Fascism"     Moore 3:36
10. "Nic Fit" (Untouchables cover) Alec MacKaye Moore 0:59
11. "On the Strip"     Gordon 5:41
12. "Chapel Hill"     Moore 4:46
13. "JC"     Gordon 4:01
14. "Purr"     Moore 4:21
15. "Créme Brûlèe"     Gordon 2:33
Vinyl and Japan CD bonus track
No. Title Lyrics/vocals Length
16. "Stalker"   Moore 3:01
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
No. Title Lyrics/vocals Length
16. "Stalker"   Moore 3:01
17. "Genetic"   Ranaldo 3:35
18. "Hendrix Necro"   Gordon 2:49
19. "The Destroyed Room"   Gordon 3:21
Deluxe Edition bonus disc
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Is It My Body" (Alice Cooper cover) Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, Glen Buxton 2:52
2. "Personality Crisis" (New York Dolls cover) David Johansen, Johnny Thunders 3:41
3. "The End of the End of the Ugly"     4:19
4. "Tamra"     8:34
5. "Little Jammy Thing"     2:20
6. "Lite Damage"     5:22
7. "Dreamfinger"     7:41
8. "Barracuda"     4:22
9. "New White Kross"     1:29
10. "Guido"     3:50
11. "Stalker"     3:37
12. "Moonface"     4:44
13. "Poet in the Pit"     2:41
14. "Theoretical Chaos"     3:07
15. "Youth Against Fascism"     5:03
16. "Wish Fulfillment"     3:50


Sonic Youth
Additional personnel
  • Butch Vig – production, engineering, mixing (track 15)
  • Andy Wallace – mixing (all tracks except 10 and 15)
  • Edward Douglas – engineering
  • Fred Kevorkian – engineering assistance
  • John Siket – mixing assistance
  • Peter Beckerman – mixing assistance
  • Howie Weinberg – mastering
  • Mike Kelley – sleeve artwork
  • Kevin Reagan – sleeve art direction
  • Richard Kern – sleeve photography

Chart positions[edit]


Chart (1992) Peak
Australian ARIA Albums Chart 22[35]
Austrian Albums Chart 37[36]
German Media Control Charts 59[37]
New Zealand Albums Chart 5[38]
Swedish Sverigetopplistan 26[39]
UK Albums Chart 6[40]
U. S. Billboard 200 83[21]


Year Single Peak chart positions
UK singles
1992 "100%" 4 28
"Youth Against Fascism" 52
1993 "Sugar Kane" 26
"Drunken Butterfly"

Release history[edit]

Region Date Distributing Label Format
US, UK, Canada 21 July 1992 DGC Records 12" vinyl, CD, Cassette
Europe, Japan, Australia 1992 Geffen, DGC 12" vinyl, CD
Australia 1995 Geffen CD (includes the "Burning Spear" 7")
US, UK 2003 Geffen 4 x 12" vinyl, 2 x CD


Dirty was deemed the best album of 1992 by Entertainment Weekly.[41]


  1. ^ Browne 2008, p. 194.
  2. ^ Browne 2008, p. 195.
  3. ^ Browne 2008, p. 197.
  4. ^ Browne 2008, p. 202.
  5. ^ "Sonic Youth Concert Chronology – 1990". sonicyouth.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Sonic Youth Concert Chronology – 1991". sonicyouth.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Sonic Youth Dirty". sonicyouth.com. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story
  9. ^ a b Hreha, Scott (May 14, 2003). "Sonic Youth: Dirty: Deluxe Edition | Album Reviews | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Browne 2008, p. 236.
  11. ^ Browne 2008, pp. 234–235.
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  13. ^ Browne 2008, pp. 239–242.
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  15. ^ "Sonic Youth Swimsuit Issue". The Sonic Youth information database. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Sonic Youth Drunken Butterfly". The Sonic Youth information database. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "Sonic Youth Sugar Kane". The Sonic Youth information database. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  18. ^ "Sonic Youth Orange Rolls, Angel Spit". The Sonic Youth information database. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  19. ^ "Sonic Youth JC". The Sonic Youth information database. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Sonic Youth | Artist | Official Charts". officialcharts.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b "Dirty – Sonic Youth : Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. AllRovi. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Sonic Youth Alternative Songs charts". Billboard.com. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  23. ^ "Sonic Youth | Artist | Official Charts". officialcharts.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Sonic Youth "100%" at Late Night with Letterman". Late Night with David Letterman. September 1992. 
  25. ^ a b Browne 2008, p. 260.
  26. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "Dirty – Sonic Youth: Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards: AllMusic". AllMusic. AllRovi. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  27. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau: CG: Sonic Youth". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Browne, David (August 14, 1992). "[Dirty review]". Entertainment Weekly (131). Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  29. ^ a b Palmer, Robert (January 31, 1997). "[Dirty review]". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
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  31. ^ Biography for Keanu Reeves at the Internet Movie Database
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  33. ^ "Sonic Youth - Youth Against Fascism music video". SonicYouthVEVO. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  34. ^ "Sonic Youth - Sugar Kane music video". SonicYouthVEVO. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  35. ^ "australian-charts.com – Sonic Youth – Dirty". australian-charts.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Sonic Youth – Dirty – austriancharts.at". austriancharts.at. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  37. ^ "charts.de". charts.de. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
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  39. ^ "swedishcharts.com – Sonic YOuth – Dirty". swedishcharts.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  40. ^ "Sonic Youth | Artist | Official Charts". officialcharts.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  41. ^ Browne, David (December 25, 1992). "1992: The Best & Worst Music | ew.com". ew.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 

External links[edit]