Pixies never looked like a normal kind of rock band. They didn’t have the hair, the clothes, or the swagger. In frontman Black Francis’ case, you’d be forgiven for mistaking him for an accountant. They never sounded like a normal kind of rock band either. In fact, they didn’t sound like anything much other than themselves. Which was the point. Pixes were always a one-off. They were oddballs that talked about extraterrestrials and incest in the same sentence, who only knew how to do two things (play it loud or play it quiet), and who never managed to achieve anything more than a modicum of success during their peak period. None of that has made them any less influential, or any less iconic. These are the 10 best Pixies songs of all time.
10. Nimrod’s Son
As PopMatters writes, rhythm guitar isn’t generally an instrument that gets a lot of love. Black Francis, however, is a huge Lou Reed fan, and he’s well aware of just how effective it can be. After listening to Nimrod’s Son, so are the rest of us. His manic thrashing forms the backdrop to his strange and wonderful lyrics, which at one point see his own ghost bellowing “You are the son of incestuous union”. It’s all one big in-joke really – when you finally catch on, it’s the equivalent of bathing in a bath of warm jello.
9. Bone Machine
The track that kicks of the sublime Surfer Rosa is Bone Machine. Steve Albini’s thunderous drumming is brutal. Kim Deal’s baseline is just as devasting. Combined, it assaults your senses in a way that would be painful if it wasn’t quite so seductive. Francis’ lyrics provide some much-needed levity. They’re nonsense (“Our love is rice and beans and horses lard,” “I was talking to peachy-peach about kissy-kiss”) but fun, creating a song that manages to be both playful and angry at the same time. Only Pixies could make self-loathing sound like so much fun.
8. Gouge Away
Black Francis once described Pixies’ signature sound as “dumbo dynamics.” “We don’t know how to do anything else. We can play loud or quiet – that’s it,” he said. It may have been all, but it was enough.. more than, in fact. On Gouge Away, their winning formula combines whispered chorus with surging versus. Weirdly enough, Doolittle was their first big stab at the charts. Considering the simmering violence that lies beneath Gouge Away, they clearly didn’t feel that commercial success required any concessions to the mainstream.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Black Francis was always a little obsessed with violence. He may have looked like a chubby, balding accountant, but his lyrics smacked of someone more interested in crime stats than bookkeeping. He wrote Debaser after watching “Un Chien Andalou,2 a silent film from the 20s that opens with a scene of lead actress Simone Mareuil getting her eyes sliced with a razor. It’s not a pleasant image and Debaser isn’t a pleasant song. But if Pixies taught us anything at all, it was that something doesn’t have to sound pleasant to be great. Debaser is certainly that.
6. Wave of Mutilation
Continuing with the theme of Black Francis’ unholy obsession with violence, we come to Wave of Mutilation, a song he felt compelled to write after hearing about the wave of Japanese men killing themselves by diving off bridges (with their families quite often taken along for the ride) after suffering business failures. To the rest of us, writing a song about suicide wouldn’t come easy. To Black Francis, it was a breeze. It’s uncontrolled, unpredictable, and horrible in content. It’s also pretty immense.
Kim Deal’s impact on Pixies is impossible to overstate. She might have only landed the gig because she was the only person that matched the advertisement requirements (a bass player that liked Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü), but once she was in, she changed the band’s dynamic completely, helping set them apart from every other band on the scene. On Gigantic, the band’s first-ever single, she comes into her own, with a seductive bass and an even more seductive vocal. The rest of the band do a fine job of cranking up the noise, but this is Kim’s show.
4. Monkey Gone to Heaven
As Rolling Stone writes, Monkey Gone to Heaven started with a single line: “This monkey’s gone to heaven.” Then Black Francis got stuck. Knowing the line was dynamite, he continued playing around with lyrics until he eventually fashioned something about the environment. For good measure, he threw in a few oblique references to Hebrew numerology on top. None of it makes sense, and if you try to find reason in his rhymes, your brain may melt. But this is Pixies, it’s not a country music artist. It doesn’t have to make sense. Obviously, it got no radio play when it was released, but that doesn’t make it any less glorious.
3. I’ve Been Tired
I’ve been Tired is quintessential Pixes. It’s got Black Francis babbling on about his exotic travels and his even more exotic experiences with the opposite sex. It’s got a mind-bogglingly demented chorus, lo-fi verses, and Kim Deal playing beauty to Francis’ beast. As Spock probably wouldn’t say, “It’s rock, Jim, but not as we know it.”
As The Guardian writes, you don’t need to know much about musical semantics to work out what all the gasping and grunting that punctuates Francis and Deal’s vocals on Hey are about. Neither do you need to know your way around the bible to get the biblical references. You probably don’t even need to know anything about music to recognize just how insanely catchy the choruses are. Basically, you could be the dumbest kid at school and you’re still going to think Hey is one of the best songs you’ve ever heard – not just by Pixies, but by anyone.
1. Where is My Mind
When the skyscrapers came tumbling down at the end of “Fight Club,” Where is My Mind witnessed their fall. Whoever decided to add it to the soundtrack deserves an A+. Even coming from a band who breakfasted on oddities, Where is My Mind stands out. It’s bizarre, from the weird lyrics to Kim’s frankly disturbing “whooooo” background vocals (which, by the way, were recorded in a bathroom to add just the right spectral quality). Black Francis is unusually restrained, with the result that the song would sound positively mellow if it wasn’t so thoroughly disturbing. But for all its weirdness, it still holds the distinction of being Pixies’ most approachable song…and their most enduring.