Genetic by Sonic Youth: Great B-Sides

In The Beatles, George Harrison often suffered the indignity of being limited to two songs per LP. It worked fine at the start of the group, when he was the junior partner in the band. By the end of The Beatles’ tenure, the rule had become a severe limitation on their potential. By 1969’s Abbey Road Harrison was pumping out classics and the album would have benefited from more Harrison songs as opposed to ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and seven minutes of I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’.

Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo described his experiences in the band as George Harrison syndrome. Most vocals were handled by the husband and wife team Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, and Ranaldo was generally limited to a couple of songs on each studio album.

Tensions reached a head on 1992’s Dirty – when the album was trimmed from 19 tracks, one of four songs removed was Lee Ranaldo’s ‘Genetic’. Unusually for Sonic Youth the song was personal for Ranaldo – he was going through a separation and the song addressed his feelings for his son.

Moore argued that Sonic Youth usually released songs that the quartet worked up together, and ‘Genetic’ deviated too far from the template. Some sources suggest that Ranaldo considered leaving the band over the issue, although according to Ranaldo in David Browne’s Goodbye 20th Century, “it never got that extreme.” Band politics eventually settled down, although Ranaldo didn’t contribute any songs to followup album Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star as a result of his disappointment at having his songs cut from Goo and Dirty.

In hindsight, Dirty was an intermittently excellent but somewhat compromised album from Sonic Youth. Production was handled by Butch Vig, who’d recently taken Nirvana from the fringes to the big time, and it felt like a similar gambit for Sonic Youth (the album peaked at #6 in the UK, but was less successful in the US charts). Like a lot of albums from the CD-dominant era of the early 1990s, Dirty is a little long, but ‘Genetic’ would have been a great fit, toning down the uncomfortable strain towards mass acceptance.

Genetic Lyrics

Let me tell you every thought that I’ve come to
When I think of all the things that you do
I can’t see if you’re the only one, it’s hard to say
And I think it’s all the same to me today

I can see you too
If I can just see you this one time
I sit alone everyone’s at home
I see it, I believe
Somehow I know it’s true
Your genetic kiss to me
I live inside of you

I have heard it said before it’ll never happen
Had it drilled in since a kid it makes my head spin
I’m still looking for these thing that I can’t find
Thought just come and go swirling through my mind

I see me and you
Then it’s him, I’m thinking of
We sit alone, no one else at home
I taste it, I feel
And now I know it’s true
Your genetic kiss reveals
I’ll always be with you

Hey baby,…

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  1. Haven’t given the song a listen yet but re Beatles – George always wrote, I think, good songs but Paul admitted that he and John were just “egomaniacs” but also never thought George’s songs were as good. It’s arguable whether if George had, say, three songs per album that would or would not have improved those albums. Overall I think that yes, Lennon and McCartney’s were stronger and it took a while (though not as long as John indicated) to come up to their level. And the Fab Two seem to overlook the fact that they had each other to bounce ideas off of whereas George was on his own. And let us not forget that with all those pent-up songs, George released one of the best of the solo albums.
    As to Abbey Road, yes, drop ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and while we’re at it, ‘Octopus’ Garden’ and add another George song in. But I rather like “I Want You.” Maybe it didn’t have to be quite that long but it’s funky and bluesy (and fun to play) with that great McCartney bass riff. A lot of music was like that back then so for me anyway – as the album now stands – it’s a nice antidote to (John’s words) Paul’s granny song and Ringo’s children’s song.

    • I think All Things Must Pass is my favourite Beatles solo – I was reading up on it, and some of those songs go back to 1965.
      I don’t really like ‘Oh Darling’ much either. Side one on Abbey Road, IMO, is a bit of a trainwreck except ‘Come Together’ and George’s songs.

      • Oh, man. ‘Oh Darling’ is one of my favorites. You are just not a blues guy at all. (It’s actually kind of R&B-ish but still quite bluesy.) For me, take out ‘Octopus’ and ‘Maxwell’, put in a George song (“Isn’t it a Pity?”) and then maybe some other Ringo tune written by Lennon/McCartney and it’s just better. BTW, John didn’t much like the medley

  2. I like the sonic (pardon the pun) quality with Sonic Youth’s recordings. A guitar player I played with was a big fan of them. He told me they played with so many tunings on guitars that they had to take a huge amount of guitars on tour with them…they also would mess with guitars just to get new sounds. This song sounds really good and I’ve learned more about Butch Vig in the past year watching some clips of him being interviewed and producing a Foo Fighter’s album. He makes the sound really fat.
    I think one of the problems with George was the way he presented his songs. In a business meeting recording from 69 with Paul, John, and George he admitted he basically pitched them without much confidence and John agreed with him. Isn’t It a Pity was voted down by John in 66 and later on All Things Must Past was voted down. Who knows how they sounded when he did play the songs to them…but they still should have worked with him more.
    I do agree with Jim on Paul’s bass on She’s So Heavy…it’s probably one of the most adventurous bass recordings he did with The Beatles…I didn’t like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer either at all. I do like George’s guitar playing in Octopus Garden. His guitar playing also took a huge leap on Abbey Road along with his songwriting.

    • I read that George basically prioritised sitar etc for a while, and came back to guitar in the late 1960s. He hung out with Dylan and The Band at Woodstock for a while, and that improved his confidence.

      • I think Clapton helped his guitar playing also…I noticed a difference between The White Album and Abbey Road. Yea Dylan and the Band I agree helped him.
        That new 8 track solid state recorder at EMI also had an effect with their sound on Abbey Road.

        • I think a lot of people gravitate to Abbey Road because it sounds more like a 1970s rock album with the production and the longer running time allowing for solos etc. Stuff like Revolver and Sgt Peppers are very 1960s, pop and psychedelia.

          • Yes I can see that. It sounded more modern and a little slick. The sound difference between the White Album and Abbey Road is huge. It was a huge progression in sound. I always thought the White Album was too muddy sounding (love the 2018 remixes) and Abbey Road almost too slick but I still liked it.

  3. I was really into Sonic Youth for a while in the 90s, but haven’t ever heard this one. I’m not sure how it would have fitted on the album, but maybe that’s because I knew that album a fair bit (listened a lot back then… though I haven’t listened to it in a while).

    • I haven’t listened to the 1990s stuff as much, although it’s generally pretty good. The one from the 1990s that I really enjoy is Washing Machine. The Diamond Sea is great, and there are lots of fun album tracks.

      • You are up on their music more than me. Thing is I really like this sound and still trying to catch up on their music.. Always interesting what albums turn people’s cranks. I have a concert I recorded (along with the Black Keys) a few years ago from Austin City Limits. You have nudged me to give it another watch.

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