Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Pixies songs, ranked
Look at any list of the most influential bands of all time and the Pixies probably won’t take too many top spots. But retcon the band out of musical history (like a better version of the movie Yesterday…) and everything would be different. There’d be no Nirvana. No Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins or Modest Mouse. The Strokes, Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey and Weezer wouldn’t exist. Harry Styles wouldn’t have been born. The oceans would have risen.
Okay so only some of that is true, but it’s still hard to overstate the band’s influence. Hitting the scene in 1986 like a punk rock Beach Boys, Black Francis, Joey Santiago and Kim Deal helped shape the next few decades of alt-rock with a fittingly loud-quiet-loud career that saw them arrive, disappear and re-conquer the underground.
11. Where Is My Mind
(Surfer Rosa, 1988)
No, this isn’t written backwards. The Pixies worked wonders for Fight Club, and Fight Club worked wonders for the Pixies, but the band’s best-known angst anthem is only just sneaking in the bottom of the list here. It’s a gnarly ballad big enough to sink a skyscraper – and it’s still the best radio-friendly indie hit about scuba diving – but it’s a much better place to start than finish.
(Trompe le Monde, 1991)
The underrated Trompe le Monde gave us plenty – but nothing more satisfying than the ultimate anti-college rock song. Simple enough to be played by any undergrad who knows four chords and a scream, ‘U-Mass’ is old-school punk delivered by a sarcastic pile-driver. Hopefully one day the University of Massachusetts will invite Francis to give a commencement speech and he’ll just stand up and hate-play this instead.
9. Dig For Fire
They might have inspired a hundred other bands, but the Pixies didn’t owe much to many others – apart from Talking Heads, that is. The band dragged out a drum machine here for a song that starts off so much like ‘Once In A Lifetime’ it’s almost parody, ending up with just enough squall and anarchy to signal the passing of the torch.
8. Greens And Blues
(Indy Cindy, 2014)
‘Velouria’ almost made the cut here but it’s that stomp’s more grown-up sibling that stands up slightly better in comparison now. Framed as the tale of a weird eco-alien visitor who crawls back into the sea after annoying too many people, ‘Greens And Blues’ was the band’s regular closer for years. Originally written to be a “better Gigantic” (there was never much chance of that), it came out like a bittersweet bedtime story instead.
7. Here Comes Your Man
So pop it’s punk, the Pixies’ short-lived bid for the charts was over before it started. It might have the twangiest guitar hooks this side of Buddy Holly, but any hopes of being taken seriously were ruined when the band made the video and refused to actually sing in it. Also it’s all about hobos dying violently in an earthquake.
6. Monkey Gone To Heaven
We had to put this at number six (it was either that or five and seven…). The best bit of sing-a-long at any Pixies gig is also the most abstract – with everyone probably only having a vague idea that they’re screaming along to a song about satanic numerology and eco-violence. Whatever’s going on here is big and ominous, with strings brought in for maximum cinema and minimum logic.
The devil is back again on ‘Hey’ – along with a cast of whores, broken babies and religious outcasts – in a baroque horror that slithers its way through the very worst bits of Francis’ imagination. This is all Santiago’s song though, with an off-key guitar break to die for – like the slow-built finale of a spaghetti western shootout.
(Come On Pilgrim, 1987)
What a way to make an entrance. The first song off Come On Pilgrim bleeds so much confidence it even dares to pause after 30 seconds with a single chord left echoing into silence (look at us, look what we can do, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet…). There’s everything here that makes the Pixies great – a loud-quiet-loud opus of fragility, menace, angst and irony. Also caribous.
(Surfer Rosa, 1988)
If Bowie covers your song, you know you’ve made something special. A better fit might also have been Springsteen – as there’s almost no telling ‘Cactus’ from ‘Highway Patrolman’ for the first few seconds. There’s a ring of americana to the storytelling too; all about a guy sat in prison wishing his wife would send him something that still carries her scent. Francis takes it another few dark and dirty steps, of course, but ‘Cactus’ is the Pixies at their most elemental.
(Surfer Rosa, 1988)
Talking of dark and dirty… Probably best not to go into details here about the story behind this one. Somehow managing to balance a whisper-sweet melody, rock’s thirstiest bassline and a crunch of guitar feedback that only interrupts when it absolutely has to – this is a song that melts as well as drips. Possibly the most Pixies the Pixies have ever sounded, ‘Gigantic’ is bigger than even the band itself – a towering cultural landmark in alt-rock history.
But then there’s ‘Debaser’. Whatever swathe of genuine feeling drove ‘Gigantic’, ‘Debaser’ hit back with pure chaos. Famously written as an ode to Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, and famously not understood by the rest of the band (“I’ve no idea what he was singing about,” admitted Santiago), the set-piece opening to Doolittle is almost better without the explanation. It’s meaninglessness writ-large in sliced-up eyeballs, bubble-gum riffs, cracked-throat screams – and in the kind of raw, underground energy that still fires up anyone who picks up a guitar.
Pixies play live shows in Dublin, Galway and Belfast in 2024. See available tickets HERE.