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Ciccone Youth

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More of a good-natured prank than an actual band, Ciccone Youth was a short-lived vehicle in which indie underground noisemakers Sonic Youth further explored their obsession with popular culture. In the mid-'80s, the members of Sonic Youth (especially Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon) made no secret of their fascination with Madonna; they were known to discuss her life and career in interviews, and the album EVOL listed "Madonna, Sean, and Me" as an alternate title for the closing tune "Expressway to Yr. Skull." At the peak of their Madonna frenzy, the band decided to record a tribute single to the Material Girl; on the A-side, Sonic Youth performed a dark, ominous version of "Into the Groove" (dubbed "Into the Groovey") that sounds slow, until samples from Madonna's original recording confirm it's being played at the same tempo as the upbeat original. The flip side featured former Minutemen bassist and fellow Madonna enthusiast Mike Watt on a jacked-up rock version of "Burnin' Up," with former Black Flag leader Greg Ginn contributing a bracingly discordant guitar solo; it was one of Watt's first musical projects following the Minutemen's collapse after the death of D. Boon. Released by Watt's New Alliance label under the name Ciccone Youth (in honor of Madonna's surname), the single became an underground success, and a widespread (but unconfirmed) rumor had it that Madonna herself persuaded Warner Bros. not to take legal action against the record for unauthorized use of her sampled voice. The single's success led to a Ciccone Youth album, The Whitey Album (referring to Sonic Youth's often-threatened intention to record an album in which they covered The Beatles in its entirety), but Watt's participation was limited to his original four-track demo for "Burnin' Up" and the disc featured no new Madonna interpretations from Sonic Youth, though Kim Gordon did offer up an intriguingly strange karaoke version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." The rest of the album was for the most part devoted to playful noise experiments, and by the end of 1986, Watt and Sonic Youth had seemingly retired the Ciccone Youth banner; there were no further recordings, and they never performed live using the name. ~ Mark Deming



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