The Pixies: The Coolest Alternative Band

Top five of my favorite Pixies songs and classic example of the loud-soft dynamic.

Since we have covered multiple bands from the nineties recently, specifically Pearl Jam and Soul Coughing, I wanted to go back a little further before  writing on the latter band (because they are also one of my favorites). When “Smells like Teen Spirit” dropped back in the early 90’s, Kurt gave an interview saying he was trying to rip off the Pixies on that groundbreaking song. They were one of his favorite bands he said with a smile, with their loud to soft sound dynamics. Let’s be honest, that’s what made the song work, the juxtaposition of of the mumbled vocals with the loud and nearly grating crunchy guitar licks and shouts. This song will probably always represent the Gen X slackers and grunge sound and we have the Pixies to thank.

The dynamic here is almost all vocals, my favorite being when Frank Black screams “THEN GODDDDD IS SEVEN”. I have a good friend who only listens to Hip Hop, but for some reason, I got him into the Pixies and he routinely cites this as his favorite song. Also, I learned about this song via the Bloodhound Gang and their hit  “Fire Water Burn”.

After Bloodhound Gang, I stole the Elder J’s albums by the Pixies and became transfixed. I was already into Led Zeppelin, the Foo Fighters, Nirvana and The Beatles amongst all my other early musical influences. The Pixies fit right into this mold, even without a lot of guitar solos that I loved even at a young age.  They write interesting songs lyrically with a consistent unique sound that is never overbearing, which may be antithetical to my love of prog rock but I’ve always liked a variety of tunes. I didn’t know until recently that the band started at UMass at Amherst and that Kim Deal didn’t even own a bass when she answered lead singer/songwriter Frank Black’s ad for someone who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Husker Du. That’s funny stuff.

Kim Deal is not a crazily intricate bass player, but she is solid and inventive while also laying down some sweet backing vocals and the occasional lead like on this track supposedly dedicated to well endowed males. She left the band as of June 2013 which sucks because she was a driving force and  an inventive artist while not being the most musically trained individual. Hey, maybe it’s Breeders reunion time!

From the early touring years, after getting big in Europe, problems arose between Kim Deal and Frank Black with one incident where Frank threw a guitar at Kim while on stage. They butted heads due to musical/personal differences and what sounds like Frank’s desire to be the sole writing force. Kim was a headstrong woman and never fully warmed to the fact that Frank saw himself as the leader because he was the lead singer. They didn’t even talk for much of the last few years in the early 90’s before the hiatus and she quit for what sounds like forever last June. On one hand, this sucks. On the other, the tension helped to create some of my favorite music of the last thirty years and make a permanent mark on alternative music.

This was probably the closest they came to a pop song and another one of the first few that I heard by the band. It was this song and  “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” that got me to delve into their albums further and discover tracks like “Caribou” and “Gigantic” amidst what is quality output pretty much throughout. A big selling point for me has been that you can listen to their albums all the way through and never need to skip a track. Few bands are like this anymore.

The Pixies never got huge, getting most of their airplay on college radio and alternative stations. They never to my knowledge got into heavy drug use, with Frank Black once saying the hardest stuff he ever got into was marijuana and it never allowed him to do anything more “creative than parallel parking.” They also never got big enough to become real conceited, except for a few things I’ve read about Frank Black. They don’t even take credit for creating anything new with sound dynamic, with Frank saying they didn’t know how to play any other way except for loud and soft, even calling it “dumbo dynamics”. Their uniqueness and a few other reasons is why they may be the coolest alternative band ever.

My brother wrote on this song before and it deserves another mention. The use of it in the end of  Fight Club may be my favorite use of a song in any movie ever. I’m thinking it’s right up there with “Born to be Wild” in Easy Rider and “Damn it feels good to be Gangsta” in Office Space. I believe Frank wrote the song about scuba diving in the Caribbean while abroad at UMass.

The Pixies are cool for a myriad of reasons. First, they seem to be very modest about their role in alternative music and I think that’s rare in a recording industry rife with arrogance and narcissism. They’ve been compared with the Velvet Underground in that they never had mainstream commercial success, yet they have influenced scores of other bands. Secondly. they have a very unique sound which is unlike any other band I’ve ever heard. As with Primus, progressive rock and most of the bands I really like, I think this is important above all else. Not just in their music, but also in their lyrics which often deal with Biblical themes and other topics atypical of traditional alternative music. Lastly, I have loved them since about elementary school and this can be said about very few bands for me, Zeppelin being the only band that comes quickly to mind. I haven’t seen them live but I hope to and I hope Kim comes back. Long live the Pixies!

This has always been high on my list of favorite Pixies jams. I love the “Buy me a soda” lyrics, even though it sounds like it has to do with a hands preacher when I read the song’s lyrics as a whole. What I’d do to be able to go back to 1987 and see them in their prime.

9 comments on “The Pixies: The Coolest Alternative Band

  1. theelderj says:

    Man, it is absurd how much I still love this band. I remember the first time I heard Doolittle like it was yesterday. I remember being in a band and wishing I could write a song as strange as “Monkey Gone to heaven” as beautiful as “Hey” or as soothing as “La La Love You”. I still think that “Here Comes Your Man” could have or should have been a top 10 hit. What a fucking great pop song.

    One of my students asked me if I liked “this band called the Pixies” and I was apoplectic. I lost a quarter of a class comparing the relative merits of their first few albums.

    That’s Educational.

    • theyoungerj says:

      It totally is. I try to integrate music into my classroom everyday, whether it;s why Miley Cyrus’s music is garbage or the merits of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Hendrix covers or even why rap was better back in the day. It is education because as we both know, music is the universal language. The Pixies do rock and I was lucky to have a cool older brother to help me learn this stuff early on.

      • theelderj says:

        (I had the song “UMass” in my head when I wrote that)

        Music is one of the few things that made me wish I had an older brother. The kids with older siblings always knew so much more about music.

  2. […] The Pixies: The Coolest Alternative Band (thebrothersjblog.com) […]

  3. […] tour of covers by the band that made him big. SC is a band that I’ve liked as long as the Pixies or Zeppelin or any other band I’ve mentioned that I’ve listened too since elementary […]

  4. […] live music station Palladia and made the connection. This song came on and, as you know, I love the Pixies. They don’t do anything crazy musically, but I think the vocals and arrangements are amazing. […]

  5. […] I used to listen to this song before school like everyday in fourth grade. No, I was not depressed or suicidal and I never even questioned whether fish had feelings or not. I could see why this song would make someone morose, but now, I think it really displays the other side of Nirvana, the quiet as opposed to loud dynamic they borrowed heavily from The Pixies. […]

  6. […] is very simple and unrefined yet cool and very catchy, kind of like a less morose version of the Pixies. Their drummer Ryan Rabin is the son of one of the drummers from Yes which gives him major points […]

  7. […] brother and I obviously love the Pixies and Fight Club so it was pretty cool and coincidental that this song came on at this time at this […]

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