Although Sonic Youth started long before, they would rise to fame with the popularity of the so-called Grunge bands but following a more Punkish style. Starting in 1991 with founding members Thurston Moore (vocals/guitar) and Kim Gordon (vocals/bass) they would quickly replace an embryonic rhythm section of Lee Ranaldo (vocals/guitar; replacing Ann Demaris) and Richard Edison (drums; replacing Dave Keay) to release several efforts on German only indie label Neutral', including the live mini album debut Sonic Youth (1984) and Confusion Is Sex (1984; with new member Jim Sclavunos replacing Edison). After several label changes and another mini Kill Yr. Idols (1983), along with the replacement of Sclavunos with Bob Bert, they would sing to U.K. based Blast First' to launch their first trans-Atlantic release Bad Moon Rising (1995), an album that showed them at their most menacing, especially on the infamous Death Valley 69 track, a song with references to infamous serial killer Charles Manson, featuring with guest singer Lydia Lunch.
While Blast First' still represented them in the U.K. their main interests were now handled by the now legendary Grunge homeland label S.S.T.' to produce the Thrash-like effort Evol (1986) as a follow-up. But before another could be completed Mike Wait (of Firehose) stepped in to assist them all on the side project Ciccone Youth, with a spin-off of Madonna's Into The Groove(y), a one-off that became a surprise dance hall hit and later featured on the album The Whitey Album (1988), getting them their first charting at 63 U.K.
The follow-up albums Sister (1987), Master-Dik (mini; 1988) and Daydream Nation (1988) were enough to get them a major deal on D.G.C.' (David Geffen Company) for the Goo (1990) album. Daydream Nation got a 99 U.S. chart position, but Goo saw a definite increase in their market value by getting 32 U.K./96 U.S. Goo featured Chuck D. (of Public Enemy) on the track gone single Cool Thing, as well as a haunting tribute to Karen Carpenter titled Tunic (Song For Karen). The album sweetened their sound with melodic hooks and got them listed with the Grunge crowd. The Youth would support both Neil Young and Public Enemy on tours in 1991.
The follow-up, Dirty (1992), was widely considered an under produced album; it was further hindered by the arrival of Nirvana. Regardless of the critical comments, the album managed a respectable 6 U.K./83 U.S. In 1995 A&M' released their Superstar track on the Carpenters tribute album, but after that they took a decided back-step into their traditional styles and acoustic psychedelia with Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star the year before, followed with Washing Machine (1995) and A Thousand Leaves (1998), all of which charted in the top 100. While all the members continued with side-projects they would release the appropriately titled Goodbye 20th Century (1999), an album that took on the styles of Christian Wolff, John Cage and Cornelius Cardew. NYC Ghosts And Flowers (2000) was another tribute of sorts by paying homage to the New York Beat poets whose work was once heard on New York's mean streets. Allen Ginsberg influenced the album's title while the cover art was William Burroughs, but the album as a whole only managed to capture part of the feeling of the era.