It is not even conceivable to our mere mortal minds the sheer impact one band can have on decades of music and the building of an entire century-defining music scene. From four unassumingly goofy looking Boston hailing college kids came the most important albums of the early alternative music scenes, essentially forever laying the bedrock foundations for future musician and fans to geekedly obsess over and almost constant attempts to replicate their greatness.
The Pixies wrote songs about ecological disasters, suicide, eyeball mutilation, interracial sex, deformity, alien obsession, acts of violence, homelessness, stuck up drunk college girls and to add to even all that, interplanetary romance. All of these fascinatingly disturbing lyrics were shouted, screamed, groaned, and melodically sung over the definitive Pixies music style of “Quiet-Loud” arrangements, with often minimalist verses only to explode with raw and unhinged power into the chorus and always with an ever-present flamenco tint to each song.
It is no surprise that the likes of Nirvana, Radiohead, Pavement, Weezer or practically any band that came onto the scene in the 1990s owed their inspiration to one or all of The Pixies albums, with Kurt Cobain going so far as to say that Nirvana hit “Smells like Teen Spirit” was his attempt to write a Pixies song. Their influence has of course stretched much farther than the 1990s and memories of that watershed decade, with Arcade Fire and Wolf Alice, to name a few, constantly adding Pixies-esque flairs to their music.
Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, or ‘Black Francis’, was a college drop out with an extremely religious upbringing. After coming back from an exchange course in Puerto Rico, a trip that impacted him beyond measure, he moved to Boston, where he pleaded with a roommate to form a band with him. That roommate was Joey Santiago, later to become one of the innovative guitar players of a generation of greats.
In an almost fate like act, the two posted a small ad with the requirements being, “Anyone who is a fan of Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary”. A smooth sailing girl, Kim Deal, tried out even though she did not know how to play the bass guitar. She got the gig anyway since she met the taste requirement which Charles deemed more important.
All they needed then was a drummer; Dave Lovering, who was suggested by Kim’s husband, fit the role perfectly. Lovering was the only one who had played in a band before, and even at that, The Pixies were far from recording studio masters. Nonetheless, they were equipped with Charles’s songs of raw power and a flamenco flair and inspirations of his time in Puerto Rico and Pentecostal upbringing. The result was ‘Come on Pilgrim’.
The songs of the 1987 release were a brief glimpse into what was to come. The likes of “The Holiday Song” and “I’ve Been Tired” gave us the first show of The Pixies Quiet/Loud master song making combo, with chirpy verses with minimal waves of sound to descending into a fast-approaching volume raising chorus.
On other tracks, including “Vamos”, “Isla de Encanta” and “Caribou”, the flamenco influence of Puerto Rico shined, along with stories of ancient South American folklore. As always, Black Francis’s roughly tortured lyrics are performed in his natural raspy groaning voice with sporadic high note, harmonising with Kim adding beautiful backing vocals. The positive reception to the first release, along with a successful global tour, brought The Pixies to the forefront of the music scene.
What came next was “Surfer Rosa”. On release, it instantly took hold of the music press and set the course for the cult fanbase that would follow the band to this day. The album was produced by Steve Albini, who has probably recorded more songs than you can imagine and is an undoubtable master at his work. Albini gave The Pixies an extra spout of that dark caustic sound. As you dived into Surfer Rosa you feel into the developing world that was The Pixies, the melodic murkiness with lyrical narratives of the ‘boy next door’ superhero on the tracks like “Tony’s Theme” and the magnificent terror that is the song “River Euphrates”.
We cannot talk about this album without discussing its most widely known track, “Where Is My Mind?”. Despite being released in 1989, the song was most notably used in the last scene of the 1999 movie ‘Fight Club’. Spoiler alert: we watch a whole city explode before the eyes of the main character while "Where Is My Mind?" sounds it off. That scene alone converted anyone unknown to The Pixies almost instantly and brought you into the cult that is the band, while simultaneously turning that song into an iconic anthem.
So comes the year 1989 with the moment of reckoning, the year and the album that forever changed everything, how things were done, how people played and performed, how people acted and dressed. 'Doolittle' was that album, and “Debaser” was that song. Even though Debaser nearly did not make it on the album, it ripped into the charts and across alternative music dancefloors and exciting the radio-waves, a rolling 3 minute charged anthem.
Every song on the album, much like ‘Surfer Rosa’, is a hit. “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, hauntingly beautiful which reached hights in the rock charts not to mention, the almost satanic ritual sing along line “IF THE DEVIL IS SIX THEN GOD IS SEVEN” never fails to hit a chillingly good feeling.
“Gouge Away” and “Tame” the perfect Quiet/Loud anthem with an almost pulsating bassline throughout which leads you into this fuzz wall of a chorus. A track like “Here Comes Your Man”, though thoroughly hated by the band, is a chirpy song with a catchy chord change. However, with dark lyrics about violence towards homelessness people, Black Francis could never really understand the song's popularity.
“Wave of Mutilation” is another fantastic two minute rock hit, though again with chirpy violent undertones. Doolittle broke the Pixies into a central scene and broke the mould on alternative music forever. Everything about this album, start to finish, is a piece of musical history and mastery.
The Pixies released two more albums in the 1990s with ‘Bossanova’ and ‘Trompe le Monde’. It is their whole discography and attitude which we must be thankful for, not just because they are The Pixies but because they started the what happened in the 90s and early 2000s trends of alternative music; without them it might have taken much longer for bands to have found their inspiration to make music.
Either way, I have probably missed so many good songs of them and I’m positive some of you would disagree with me on my opinion of how important The Pixies were. That is an argument you can take up on. Nonetheless, do yourself a huge favour and go give Doolittle a full listen and prepare for the rabbit hole you will fall into.