The heart of the band was frontman Black Francis, who penned all of their irreverent and bizarre lyrics, along with bassist and backing vocalist Kim Deal, lead guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering. They were the perfect, off-kilter chemistry, giving birth to a fresh new structure of rock compositions, which was categorized by quiet-to-loud dynamics and a very fast stop-and-start tempo. They had a real surf rock modernity, with all kinds of shades of punk and noise rock; Black Francis’ effortless vocal shift between being energetically rambunctious and casually reserved only magnifies their influence on the subsequent genre’s to come.
Even though they aren’t on a prodigious scale of mainstream popularity, they’re still pretty well-known; having developed a massive cult since their early incarnation. Of course it was the patronage of people like Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke who helped the Pixies get the recognition they deserved, but at the end of the day, that’s not what a bands legacy should be about. A band like the Pixies have achieved so much on their own through producing great music, and that’s what they should be affiliated with. So in honor of this truly underrated band, here’s a top ten list of just a small fraction of their amazing catalog of music.
# 10 – Here Comes Your Man
We open up our top 10 Pixies songs list with obviously one of their biggest hits, if not the only big hit they’ve ever had that garnered them significant airplay on college radios and MTV. Black Francis has stated that he wrote the song when he was just 15 years old, and so it was perfectly placed on their amazing Doolittle record. It harbors an instantly recognizable surf rock riff, with lyrics that speak of hobo’s freight-hopping to somewhere of better quality; their quirky storytelling here doesn’t stray away from its roots even though it’s the band’s most accessible tune. This is the song to definitely open the door for new fans.
# 9 – Rock Music
This tiny grenade of a song is classic Pixies; a two-minute explosion of heavy distortion and brusque screams. The lyrical content is so in-your-face, but it reads like a haiku; a very dirty haiku, perhaps? Just listen very intuitively and interpret it. Released on their spaced-out and glossy Bossanova, The Pixies song “Rock Music,” is a shining example of just how singularly aggressive the Pixies could be in the midst of their more melodic tendencies.
# 8 – River Euphrate
The mesmerizing flare Kim Deal’s voice adds to a song is the kind of ingredient that just wouldn’t feel right for the Pixies if it was absent. Here she takes the simplicity of the descending passage, Ride, ride, ride…., and turns it into something poignant; the overall vibe of the lyrics speaks on a hallucinogenic level about riding a tiger through the Euphrates. It’s songs like this that elevates an album like their debut, Surfer Rosa, to imponderable heights.
# 7 – Letter to Memphis
Continuing with our top 10 Pixies songs list we turn to the great track “Letter To Memphis.” With their fourth studio album, Trompe Le Monde, the Pixies were delving into other styles; Black Francis had begun to channel Lou Reed on this album, and their song structures began to get more and more unabridged.
The album, which came out at the beginning of the Grunge age, really share all of the same musical components……since they, of course, were the primordial ancestors of said genre; minus the gloom and disenfranchisement. This beautiful little single is the band at their most saddest and poetic, being about a person desperately trying to send a letter to their loved one, and doing so at all costs.
# 6 – All Over the World
The Pixies weren’t just a fiery rock band with carbonizing angst and fun: they were also a very thought-provoking band who could muster up the patience to beget a layered song. It starts with a guitar lick that almost sounds like it’s whining, before prompting the bass to sneak in with this personality that makes it feel like it’s humming. Of course, each form of instrumentation kicks it up into high gear with that congenital Pixies essence, but it’s the dreamy imagery in the lyrics that turn this song into something bigger than it already is.
# 5 – Motorway to Roswell
For a song about UFO’s, this one really doesn’t exude any of the intrinsic qualities that are associated with this kind of subject matter. It’s more along the lines of being about an alien who’s simply trying to find his way home, but ends up taking a slight detour on our planet where he’s then exploited. Plus, that lovely piano progression mixed in with their laid-back, beach vibes only sweetens the story even more.
# 4 – Bone Machine
This is the song that opened up Surfer Rosa, and boy does it leave a lasting impression. It packs a refreshing punch that doesn’t let up, even when it comes to its offbeat lyrics; a very dark topic of discussion that deals with molestation. But its buoyant rhythm and playful vocals curb the uncomfortable lyrics and transform it into a rockin’ tune. No this is not the same as the Tom Waits song.
# 3 – Monkey Gone to Heaven
This was another one of their popular hit singles from Doolittle. It’s got everything a song needs to be a pop hit, but it also has substance…..which is just the kind of equilibrium a song needs to get its point across. It’s a crushing noise-fest that perfectly demonstrates their boundless shift into quietude, which talks about environmental pollution (once we destroy our ecosystem, all the animals, most notably the monkey’s, will die!), and even makes biblical references to the numerology of Man, God, and the Devil.
# 2 – Where Is My Mind?
If you’ve seen Fight Club with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, then chances are you’ve heard this song at the end of the movie. That movie was the turning point for them, since it introduced them to a wider mainstream audience. The main theme of the song was inspired by a trip Black Francis took where he went scuba diving in the Caribbean. With it’s well-known double-stop riff, hypnotizing croons, killer guitar solo, and surreal lyrics, this makes the song a signature classic of the Pixies, and one of the best rock songs of the last 20+ years.
# 1 – Hey
We close out our top 10 Pixies songs list with a track called “Hey.” The Pixies album Doolittle is widely considered to be the crowning achievement of the Pixies and it’s no wonder why when there are songs like Hey on the record. Biblical themes have always been an interest of Black Francis, and this song is the most popular example of such; using references to whores, the Devil, and Mary Magdalene as a cryptic means to write a beautiful love song. Kim Deal’s chilled-out bass line and Joey Santiago’s reggae chord passages are more than enough reasons to fall madly under the songs spellbinding sway, and it’s Black Francis who commands the song by pouring his soul into every breath and every stanza. It’s definitely one of their most powerful tunes, and one that perfectly demonstrates just why the Pixies are one of best bands of their time.
Top 10 Pixies Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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