‘Death Valley ‘69’: The Sonic Youth song inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Rising out of the vibrant no wave scene during the early 1980s, Sonic Youth were the ultimate champions of the New York underground scene. For the most part, Sonic Youth largely drew inspiration from the world of no wave experimentation and noise rock that had fostered them in the early years, but they certainly were no strangers to the mainstream sounds of classic rock either.

Dedicated to championing independent and DIY music making, the group fronted by Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon created some truly groundbreaking music over their long career, finding some decent mainstream success during their later years with records like Goo and Dirty. Even during their major label era, during the 1990s, Sonic Youth remained dedicated to their own principles and ways of operating. However, it was their earlier period that first captured the attention of audiences.

One of the finest moments in the early period of Sonic Youth came in 1985, with the release of their second studio album, Bad Moon Rising. A dark exploration of American society at the time, the album covers a variety of topics ranging from Charles Manson to the extermination of the indigenous population within the US. If you were to look only at the lyrical content of Bad Moon Rising, you might assume that it is a hardcore punk rock record, but in reality, it is awash with lo-fi experimentation and discordant no wave styling.

Within the album, a definite highlight comes with the final track, ‘Death Valley ‘69’. Featuring guest vocals from no wave icon Lydia Lunch, the song is set among the desert landscape of California and uses sporadic imagery of Americana – mentioning Chevy cars – contrasted with a dark and haunting atmosphere. The uneasy atmosphere of the piece comes with its subject material, as it evokes images of the Manson family murders of the late 1960s.

Reportedly, both the track and the wider themes of Bad Moon Rising were initially inspired by the classic rock stylings of Creedence Clearwater Revival and their defining anthem. Discussing the record with Mojo, Thurston Moore revealed, “The Creedence song ‘Bad Moon Rising’ was all about the negative energy of America around the time of Vietnam and to revisit that was exciting and subversive,” adding. “It allowed us to continue our interest in nihilism.”

While Moore might paint an image of a group simply attempting to be edgy and shocking, Bad Moon Rising remains perhaps the greatest musical exploration of the dark underbelly of the United States. Just as Creedence Clearwater Revival had held a mirror up to American society during the politically divided period of the Vietnam War, Sonic Youth did the same during Reagan’s oppressive administration in the 1980s.

Setting Sonic Youth apart from the deluge of cheap and overly patriotic bubblegum rock being released around the same time, it was this album which firmly established the band as masters of both the underground music scene and the subversion of normality. Their later efforts may have eclipsed Bad Moon Rising in terms of mainstream appeal and commercial success, but their 1985 album remains a firm favourite among fans.

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