To talk about influential alternative rock music in the late 80s/early 90s and not even mutter the word Pixies would be downright laughable, this is because they are the kind of act that only come around every so often and transmit through the radio waves a multitude of timeless classics. Pixies are one of those rare bands where the last song you heard of theirs is now your favourite song. It's unsurprising that musicial legends such as David Bowie, Thom Yorke & Kurt Cobain cited Pixies as a major influence. I believe this is because there exists a very particular style they have established throughout the years which distinctly sets them aside from other artists within their orbit, a raw-feel-good-vibration that they have achieved through several tracks on their respective studio albums.
Tensions have probably been a tad lower in other bands I’m sure (One notable incident - Pixies frontman Black Francis threw a guitar at bass player Kim Deal during a concert in Stuttgart 1993) but who really wants to go see a band where all the members actually like each other? As demonstrated throughout rock n roll history, band tensions can be the underlying ingredient which in turn brings out the absolute best in musical output – Fleetwood Mac, Oasis & The Beatles come to mind. With a few hiatuses, break-ups and new bass players, Pixies membership perhaps is not always an easy feat. However, to produce such a significant and interesting contribution to music they have in my opinion soared high through the clouds of creativeness and established a real dynamic original sound that has the potential to melt your soul.
Time signatures can change dramatically in certain songs, which not only keeps drummer David Lovering on his toes, it grabs the listeners’ attention with a skipped heartbeat and catapults them into the chorus. Uplifting major/minor chord changes, prominently distinct bass lines and melodic lead guitar accompaniment combined with a touch of dreamy backing vocals is a majestic formula, that Pixies sound. Francis’ lyrics express a wide range of emotions while also explore some dark and provocative themes from space, religion, sex, incest, death, and pop culture. It is no wonder their music has enraptured countless fans/critics throughout the world as well as featuring in TV and film.
Pixies: The Best Of
The final track on their third album Bossanova, a beautifully crafted tune containing a sublime guitar melody and dreamy vocal accompaniment of ‘Havalina’. The song is a pastoral image of a Javelina (Skunk Pig) wandering about the trees of Sedona, Arizona. Very pleasant and arguably the most Pixies Pixies song ever.
A song that will have you nodding your head in agreement, particularly the chorus which contains a suitably fitting walking bass section. It features the use of an interesting instrument called a Theremin which you can hear humming in the background giving the track an incredibly unique touch.
From the album Bossanova, 'Velouria' was their first single release to break into the UK Top 40. As it was climbing up the UK charts, Pixies were offered to play on Top of the Pops. However, a rather peculiar BBC rule stated that only singles with official videos could be performed on the show. To counter this, an extremely low budget video was made of the band running down a quarry. In the video, 23 seconds of footage (the time needed for the band members to reach the camera) is slowed down to last for the duration of the song. Sadly the effort in filming the video was in vain; Pixies in the end did not get to play ‘Velouria’ on Top of the Pops while the single was in the charts.
When asked about the lyrics of the song in an interview Black Francis explained, "It's folklore based; the Rosicrucians of 1920s San Jose California had some pretty interesting ideas."
3. Nimrod’s Son
‘Nimrod’s Son’ is from Pixies debut mini-LP Come on Pilgrim released 1987. It is a twisted quickfire punk song with prominent use of acoustic guitar that references a biblical story of a man who discovers his father is also his brother. With cries of ‘’You are the Son of a Motherfucker!’’ & ‘’Bury me far away, please bury me’’ the dark themes of death and incest are quite vivid. Francis’ vocals are on point throughout also with an appropriately placed bellowing scream which he lets roar at the end of each chorus is a clear expression of the pain and suffering contained within the song’s subject.
4. Letter to Memphis
A dirty crunchy guitar song from Pixies? Yes please, they do it so well! ‘Letter to Memphis’ has been described as a melancholy love song about a letter Black Francis failed to write and it is apparently his take on Chuck Berry's song ‘Memphis, Tennessee’. From the 1991 album Trompe le Monde. Careful, the chorus ‘’trying to get to you’’ could be stuck in your head all day.
5. Magdalena 318
From the 2014 album Indie Cindy, the first release by Pixies since Trompe le Monde in 1991. They announced around this time that bassist Kim Deal was no longer to continue in the current line-up and the majority of bass on the album was provided by Simon "Dingo" Archer, a former member of the British post-punk band The Fall. ‘Magdalena 318’ has all the qualities of a Pixies classic and demonstrates their consistency in producing unique sounding material. The song itself is about a lean mean transvestite called Magdalena, the reference to 318 is regarding an asteroid belt which orbits the Sun. In typical Pixies fashion there is a perfectly placed time signature change which abruptly occurs just before each chorus.
6. Wave of Mutilation
From the album Doolittle released 1989, an instant classic to be blasted at full volume by alternative rockers everywhere (particularly in Europe). Due to the title of this song, you will not be surprised to discover that the subject matter of ‘Wave of Mutilation’ is one of death. Apparently back in the 1980s, there were news stories about Japanese men killing themselves and their families by driving off piers because they had failed in business, Black Francis took this tragic story and made something beautiful in my opinion.
Interestingly, there are two versions of the track in circulation, both of which are regularly played live by Pixies sometimes even at the same show. The Doolittle version is fast paced and punky whereas the alternative simply named ‘Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)’ is a much calmer slowed down version which accentuates their musical versatility.
7. River Euphrates
The sixth track on their album Surfer Rosa released 1988, ‘River Euphrates’ contains some impeccable backing vocals from bassist Kim Deal, the combination of the bass and lead guitar at this moment with the repetition of ‘’Ride, Ride, Ride...’’ sang harmoniously by Deal will give you Cutis anserina. The song itself has been interpreted as being about premature ejaculation, either that or it is literally about being out of gas in the Gaza strip and riding a tiger from the car down the by the river. Make up your own mind if you need clarification I suppose, it is still a great song, in any circumstance.
8. Hey (Demo 1)
‘Hey’ was a part of arguably their finest studio album Doolittle. Released 1989, it commences with an extremely unique intro of vocals, bass, and guitar. In terms of alternative rock ‘Hey’ is up there with the best due to its originality and intriguing musicianship. The pure expression of Francis’ lyrics and vocal performance are quite breath-taking – he solemnly portrays sexually tormented hunger, epitomised by a damaged, pathetic man demanding “where have you been?” his voice breaking as he cries out, “If you go, I will surely die.” Outstanding stuff.
The studio album version of ‘Hey’ is brilliant and highly recommended by all accounts however just to keep things a little fresh in this playlist it is an alternative version called ‘Demo 1’ which is included here. What appears to be a live take of the song performed flawlessly by the band, it was released in 2014 on the compilation album Doolittle 25: B-sides, Peel Sessions And Demos.
9. La La Love You
Another majestic track hailing from the album Doolittle is ‘La La Love You’. If you listen to the song with high quality headphones or speakers, you will immediately appreciate the intro of drums and whoever oversaw the recording of them (the principal sound engineers involved in Doolittle were Gil Norton and Steve Haigler). It is quite fitting to comment on the drums in this song as it was indeed Pixies drummer David Lovering who sang lead vocals on the track, you will be able to tell as he possesses a much deeper voice compared to Black Francis. Apparently, Lovering initially was reluctant to ‘’pull a Ringo’’ but once he got going, he actually enjoyed his time on the mic.
From what comes across as love song is perhaps more ironic and has been referred to as "a dig at the very idea of a love song’’.
From the album Bossanova, ‘Ana’ begins with an instrumental section featuring some excellent lead guitar by Joey Santiago. The combination of vocals from Black Francis and Kim Deal is sublime, it is almost as if they are whispering directly into Ana’s ear.
11. Hear Me Out
Released as a single in September 2020 ‘Hear Me Out’ has lead vocals performed by bassist Paz Lenchantin (who subsequently replaced original member Kim Deal in 2014). It contains some solid lead guitar by Santiago and is refreshing to hear Lenchantin continue to provide vocal duties on some songs. Purist Pixies fans may miss the influence of Kim Deal on this front however I would say Paz is doing a great job nonetheless. The official video (shown above) was directed by Lenchantin and stars Henry Hopper.
12. Where Is My Mind?
Easily the most well-known song by Pixies. ‘Where Is My Mind?’ was recorded in 1987 and appeared on the album Surfer Rosa. From start to finish the song is a melancholic dream. With the simplistic, extremely distinctive, and highly effective lead guitar by Joey Santiago to the soothing sound of Kim Deal’s backing vocals the song is exceptionally original and capable of transcending you to shear musically blissful enlightenment.
Black Francis wrote the song while he attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, inspired by his experiences while scuba diving in the Caribbean. Having only discovered this information recently, I must confess that for years’ I personally thought the meaning was about mental health issues and/or drug addiction. I guess sometimes we can take meaning from song lyrics that were not actually intended by the writer.
‘Where Is My Mind?’ was used in the final scene of the iconic film Fight Club, which is the reason the song gained so much popularity and in turn has more than likely introduced a lot of people to the band in general. It has never been formally released as a single by the band however has been covered by a huge amount of artists through the years'. Curiously, NASA used the song in 2004 to wake up the team working on the Mars rover, Spirit, in honour of its software transplant.
13. All I Think About Now
From the album Head Carrier released in 2016, ‘All I Think About Now’ is sang by bass player Paz Lenchantin. Many have said, and I agree, that it is a tribute to previous bassist Kim Deal in which Black Francis feels regret in what happened between them in the past. Lenchantin also has a writing credit on this song where people have decribed as a thank-you letter aimed at Deal. The lead guitar is rather similar to ‘Where Is My Mind?’ but I reckon this has been done intentionally to fit in the nostalgic theme - the backing vocals will also give you flashbacks to this time.
Another iconic song from the album Doolittle, ‘Debaser’ is a fierce no-nonsense number that explodes in your ear – the bass and guitars collide flawlessly while Francis’ vocals follow suit. The song references Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, and the lyric "slicing up eyeballs" refers to an early scene in the film. Francis sings "I wanna grow up to be a debaser" because the film debased the art community at the time, which effectively inspired him to do the same. Francis once explained in an interview about the song:
"I wish Buñuel were still alive. He made this film about nothing in particular. The title itself is a nonsense. With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiast, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch Un chien andalou (twice), I thought: 'Yeah, I will make a song about it.'…"Un chien andalou"... It sounds too French, so I will sing "un chien andalusia", it sounds good, no?"
15. Indie Cindy
The title track of the 2014 album Indie Cindy is raw, intricate, and beautifully written. It is essentially two songs in one. The verses consist of a complex bass and guitar melody which is a beast within itself (not the easiest to learn!), accompanied with a roaring monologue from Francis. Apparently this is about the band's hope that audiences will accept their new work after such a long hiatus. The chorus dramatically changes in tone and the tempo drops slightly creating the vibe of a classic pop song about love with memorable lines such as "I’m in love with your daughter" & "Indie Cindy be in love with me". The two contrasting sections do work together in my opinion and deliver that remarkably familiar Pixies dynamic down to a tee.
16. Motorway to Roswell
From the album Trompe le Monde in 1991, ‘Motorway to Roswell’ is a fascinating tune which explores the subject the famous Roswell UFO Incident in 1947. Essentially the song is about an alien coming to earth on his spaceship, crashing near a motorway and unfortunately dying due to this. Subsequently the alien’s craft and body are taken in by the US Government, he is photographed and put into army crates. The narrator feels bad about this situation, that the world which had so much promised would do such a thing. He feels like he must go to where the alien landed - the motorway. The end features a quavering piano section which concludes what is actually quite a heart-breaking song.
17. Greens and Blues
From the album Indie Cindy released 2014, ‘Greens and Blues’ is a classic Pixies song which takes you back to their early days. The lead guitar work from Santiago I feel should be commended, his use of the wah wah pedal at moments is awesome. Although I could be wrong, the subject matter of ‘Greens and Blues’ is referencing opioid Oxycodone (Green 15mg & Blue 30mg tablets) – a major addiction problem currently plaguing the USA – and how it is easy to abandon a relationship when you can numb your senses on the drug. On the topic of analysing 'Greens and Blues' meaning, Francis said, "As with all my songs, I would prefer people add their own interpretation to it."
18. Gouge Away
The final track on the album Doolittle, 'Gouge Away' refers to the biblical story of Samson, who had his eyes gouged out by his enemies and eventually killed them all when he was chained to two pillars in their stronghold. He pulled the pillars down, bringing the building down and killing himself and his enemies.
A strong finish to an outstanding album, drummer David Lovering explained, "It's the perfect example of a true Pixies song. It's got the quiet verse and then it goes all-out for the chorus. The way it's structured, it's two opposing layers. I remember when we recorded it, I thought it was the most compelling thing we ever did."
19. Andro Queen
Another achingly beautiful atmospheric track by Pixies. ‘Andro Queen’ is from the 2014 album Indie Cindy. A Sci-Fi love story told through a futuristic vision of society - the protagonist is a human, in love with an android, considering exchanging some human parts for biomechanics so that the relationship with 'Andro Queen' will be compatible. She leaves, he upgrades, and now he is waiting for her to return from space so they can be together.
Francis sings the bridge in the international language Esperanto, here is the translation:
20. Bel Esprit
From the 2016 Head Carrier album, ‘Bel Esprit’ is wonderful track which begins with a thumping drums and guitar intro – the chords changes are typical of Pixies but highly effective. There is even a clever key change which occurs at the bridge which breaks up the track nicely as well. The supporting vocals of bassist Paz Lenchantin are particularly important in this song as she adds another layer to the equation.
When looking at the lyrics I would suggest this is referring to Saint James the Great and the Camino de Santiago, as the story goes in Catholic literature James spent time in Spain to preach the word of God but was eventually beheaded in Jerusalem some time after. The legend goes that his remains were carried by his apostles to Galicia where he was buried.
A huge favourite amongst Pixies fans, part of the album Surfer Rosa it is the song they traditionally closed their live shows with. Cowritten and sang beautifully by Kim Deal with a simple yet distinctive bass line to match the song's lyrics revolve around a woman's observation of an attractive black man making love to another woman! Another great example of the dynamic changes in Pixies music, going from quiet to loud between verse and chorus - a great way to get the crowd going.
22. Here Comes Your Man
The second single released from the album Doolittle, ‘Here Comes Your Man’ opens with the Hendrix chord and a guitar melody which sounds a little bit like a Beach Boys song, but not too much either. Francis wrote this song when he was 14 years old and was reluctant to use it in the previous releases due to it being 'too pop', it was in fact sound engineer Gil Norton who encouraged Francis to eventually include this track on the album. According to Francis the song is about ''winos and hobos traveling on the trains, who die in the California Earthquake.''
23. Death Horizon
From Pixies most recent album Beneath the Eyrie released 2020. ‘Death Horizon’ also appears to begin with the Hendrix chord and is a quite simple acoustic guitar driven tune. Regarding the track Francis was quoted saying, "It feels like a very Velvet Underground-inspired song, like Lou Reed's Tin Pan Alley traditional chord shapes juxtaposed with the darker lyric. You know, it's just about three levels of death. A relationship, civilization and planetary – boom, boom, boom."
24. Head On
‘Head On’ appeared on Pixies fourth studio album Trompe le Monde in 1991. It is in fact a cover of Scottish alternative rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain. The original song is approximately 4 minutes whereas Pixies version is smashed out in just 2 minutes, both are great.
25. Monkey Gone to Heaven
Hailing from the album Doolittle. ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ is a song with interesting bass and guitar parts, it also features two cellists and two violinists on the album recording. In the lyrics Francis is questioning the way in which we are treating our home planet with humanity's destruction of the ocean and he also references Hebrew numerology at one point, "in the Hebrew language, especially in the Bible, you can find lots of references to man in the 5th and Satan in the 6th and God in the 7th."
26. Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
An alternative slowed down version of ‘Wave of Mutilation’ which was included on the compilation album Complete B Sides released 2001.