Got me a movie whAoHohohO. Except I don’t. However, I do got me a list for ya, and that’s just as good, no? Especially so, in these times of barren content (it might get better, I make no promises). That said, Pixies need no introduction (though you can bet your ass I’mma give ’em one). Formed in Baltimore in the mid-80s, the group had a massive, if understated effect on the future of rock music. With their emphasis on hooks, as well as their famed loud-quiet dynamics, going on to influence the likes of Radiohead and Nirvana (and as such, later Foo Fighters), making them, along with Sonic Youth, Jane’s Addiction and Hüsker Dü, the forebearers of alternative rock.
Having heard tracks like Debaser and Where Is My Mind? throughout my youth, Pixies began to really appeal to me a few years ago, with Kim’s steady, catchy basslines and Black Francis’ cryptic and surreal song topics hooking me in. Since their reunion in 2004, and return to recording in 2014 (sans Kim), Pixies recently released their third album (seventh overall) album, Beneath The Eyrie, and, to celebrate, I’mma count down the best of the best from this legendary outfit. Meanwhile, be sure to listen along with the goddamn playlist, I am so good to you after all.
15. I Bleed (Doolittle, 1988)
We’re kicking off this list with one of Doolittle‘s most fleshed-out deep cuts. With an initially sweet (yet deceptive) guitar-bass harmony, I Bleed, much like its title, eventually begins to gush with an ominous groove, as the hauntingly layered vocals between Frank and Kim swirl and entwine into this very eerie atmosphere. By the end of the track, I Bleed has exploded into this wall of noise, ending on one disspondant chord.
14. Isla De Encanta (Come On Pilgrim, 1987)
One of the most energised tracks from the band’s debut mini-LP, Come On Pilgrim, Isla De Encanta houses that nervous edginess found on a lot of early Pixies. Hinting to a trend that would go on to be a defining feautre of many Pixies songs, Isla De Encanta is sang primarily in Spanish, with Black Francis incorporating his love affair with the language for years to come. These multilingual lyrics are performed in the standard wildman delivery that the frontman really populated in the band’s first iteration, while Joey’s razor-sharp, somewhat detuned guitar leads adds to heatstruck atmosphere.
13. Gigantic (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
Perhaps a bold choice for so low down on the list, this being one of the band’s biggest songs, Gigantic is Pixies playing to their obvious strengths, with Kim’s rolling bassline and sticky vocal melodies taking the spotlight. While the repetition in the verses borders on numbing, the massive chorus really ties up the loose ends, as the intricate guitar parts slowly melt away into this monsterously uplifting distorted wave.
12. Monkey Gone To Heaven (Doolittle, 1989)
Another big fan favourite to see so low on the list, Monkey Gone To Heaven is characterised by it’s wailed titular chorus, which is equally cryptic and singalongable. It’s strange, to me at least, that this is such a massive crowd-pleaser, with spoken word verses and a somewhat evasive bass part not usually being the hallmarks of an anthem. That said, perhaps it’s the sheer catharsis of yelping “then GAAAAAADISSSSEVENNNNNNNN” that has led to its ongoing popularity.
11. Vamos (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
Another Spanish-language bop, this time from Surfer Rosa (though it was also recorded on Pilgrim), Vamos is one of the longest songs on the record and yet, due to David’s rapid and bouncy beat, as well as the frantic bassline and vocal tempo, feels like nothing more than a two-min-or-less romp. However, that isn’t taking into account Joey’s mid-song interlude, contorting his guitar with a distortion solo that’d make Sonic Youth wet themselves. I also have a massive soft spot for Frank’s lyrics and delivery on this one, finding it nigh-on irresistable to not wail along to “We’ll mOve to cAliforniAAAAAA”.
10. Wave of Mutilation (Doolittle, 1989)
One of the most melodically pleasing tracks on an album full of ’em, Wave of Mutilation, despite housing some Frank’s most obtusive lyrical stylings, is a huge favourite, with his somewhat intimate, muted performance differing greatly from the character screech-indicting a young man of being the son of motherfucker, for example. Furthermore, the chorus is helped by the driving snares and building guitar harmonies, making it nigh-on impossible to not bob your head along.
9. Bone Machine (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
OHOHO now we’re getting into the true classics. Bone Machine is a song that could really only have been written by Pixies, with every member showcasing what they bring. David’s pounding, slightly-offbeat drum pattern, unrelenting with crashing symbals and crisp flams. Joey’s slightly surfy, cuttingly-distorted but still sugary throughout guitars really illustrate the track when coupled with Kim’s bassline, which matches the drums in tempo while providing a rocking element to the song. Her backing vocals really give the chorus a polished feel to it, which is both out-of-place and yet utterly irresistable. Finally, Black Francis really steals the show on this one, with his spoken-word verses providing some of the band’s most legendary quotables — yOur so pReTTYYY when ya fAIThful to me!!
8. No 13 Baby (Doolittle, 1989)
A modest highlight from the front-to-end-bangerfest that is Doolittle, No 13 Baby is a real triumph in its rhythm section particularly. Kim’s bassline manages to traverse the ever-shifting mood of the song, from skittish unpredictability to serene acceptance as Frank proclaims “I’m in a state, I’m in a state” (a mood for sure). As well as this, David hits one of his best performances of the album, with a particular passage near the start of the song emanating a breakbeat-esque style almost. The aforementioned atmospheres of the song, the way they’re gently elevated and violently dropped into distortion really makes it.
7. Cactus (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
One of the eeriest tracks on Rosa, and covered by Bowie (so ya know it’s good) on Heathen (okay maybe not), Cactus is so high on this list because I don’t think there’s a better track to describe what Pixies are really like, behind the offbeat wonderment of tracks like Where Is My Mind and Here Comes Your Man — fucking weird. Written from the perspective of a prisoner to his partner, asking her send him her dress, after increasingly twisted things are spilt/wiped on it, it showcases Frank’s talent for inhabiting these decrepit characters in song. The rumbling instrumental never erupts like it should, instilling the listener with this winding tension — of course relieved with Tony’s Theme, the next track along (and one that didn’t make the list oops).
6. Here Comes Your Man (Doolittle, 1989)
“Oh I know this one!” says the casual radio listener of the 90s, where this received most of its airplay. However, it’s a testament to the absolute masterclass songwriting of this track that it even got that much recognition, given that Pixies were next-to-nobodies at the time. Of course, it’s since become one of the most famous stalwarts of alternative rock in general, with that opening guitar lick being nigh-on iconic. The entire song, while being one of the most simplistic lyrically in their discography, never fails to get a crowd into a frenzy – which is odd considering the surfy laid back nature of the song (sidenote: if you have ever engaged in a pit at a Pixies show, I hate you).
5. Motorway To Roswell (Trompe le Monde, 1991)
Far and away the most underrated Pixies song, and one of the most underrated of the 90s in general, Motorway To Roswell, while not fostering a fascination with the taboo like many of my favourites from the band, has one of the best melodies Black Francis has ever written, as well as one of the best choruses that no one sings along to (but everyone should). The wailing guitars blare over the verses like melancholic angels formed of fire alarms, while the piano lines dance under the mix like it’s the November Rain of incredible indie rock. Everyone’s on peak form too, with mega tight rhythm section and one of the most intricate backing vocal arrangements you’ll hear from the band. The instrumental alone makes this the band’s most ambitious, and yet its most realised, track — and it’s only a goddamn deep cut!
4. Something Against You (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
Oho I am one haPPY prick when this one crashes its way into my shuffle, stumbles out of the wreckage bleeding from the head, and subsequently smacks the bowl of noodles outta my head and screams down my throat. A short burst of pure adrenaline amidst Surfer Rosa‘s generally low tempo sound, Something Against You, from its surf-punk guitar riff to its stomping drum section, is a absolute blast to listen to. As his voice is ran through a guitar amp to add extra grit in an experiemental move by producer Steve Albini, his signature yells become grimy and almost inaudible, like a train platform announcer on meth.
3. Hey (Doolittle, 1989)
Obviously, as we hit the top three, we begin to hit more of those songs that are just absolute classics whoever you are. A number one for many, Hey lights up the back end of Doolittle with a steady, pop-based melody that rivals the best of alternative rock. While the whole band is on total form, with Joey’s solo being heavenly and Frank hitting some great vocal spots, it really feels like a vehicle for Kim’s flawless bassline, that drives and grooves through the song with a tranquil dexterity.
2. Where Is My Mind? (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
One of the most sublime melodies of all time, one of the most amateur-covered songs of all time and the diamond in Surfer Rosa‘s crown, Where Is My Mind? is a rare crossover of the genius and the basic. There is nothing even vaguely technically proficcient on this album, with a beginner guitarist, bassist, drummer or vocalist being able to master it pretty quickly. That said, there is a certain uncatchable magic in it that no one will be able to attain. The offbeat recording methods (which included Kim’s backup vocals being recorded in a bathroom for a more ethereal feel) and Frank’s surreal imagery could make this song feel cold. However, that aforemention main melody is so welcoming, I can’t see anyone listening to it without a smile on their face.
It’s been so long since I did one of these that I don’t remember if I do little messages before the honourables. Do I? Um. I think I do. If not, I guess it’s too late aHA.
Rock Music (Bossanova, 1990)
Tony’s Theme (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
Caribou (Come On Pilgrim, 1987)
Nimrod’s Son (Come On Pilgrim, 1987)
Head On (Trompe le Monde, 1991)
Evil Hearted You (Trompe le Monde, 1991)
There Goes My Gun (Doolittle, 1989)
And did I do a little tease of the number one? I can’t remember. I think. I mean, it’s Debaser. Debaser‘s number one, obviously. But was I more coy than that? I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s Debaser.
1. Debaser (Doolittle, 1989)
Of COUrse it was this. Of course it was Debaser. The song I have previously and publically stated as my favourite of that entire decade — when I was *just* getting into it — has only grown on me since. A song that I have had set as my alarm for the better part of a year, and I haven’t wanted to kill the people behind it for waking me up. Debaser is a song so chaotic, so full of pure fun and so perfectly written that it could only be a Pixies track, especially with such surreal lyrics, courtesy of Frank’s apparent interest in obscure yet iconic French short films. Everyone is at their absolute best — David’s drumming is amazing (that tom-tom groove in the bridge is one of my favourite drum parts ever), Kim’s bassline is electric, as is Joey’s violent striking in the higher register. Frank howls not only about slicing up eyeballs etcetera etcetera, but also about wanting to debase and be a unique and movement-upending artist, which I think Pixies ultimately were. So perhaps, much like the film it was based on, obscure yet iconic is the best way to describe the band themselves.
GOT ME SOME PIXIES ARTICLES I WANT YOU TO KNOW:
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations