Pixies Trompe Le Monde

10 Best Pixies Songs

A quirky alternative rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, the Pixies effectively bridged two eras in guitar rock; the underground bands of the 1980s like Hüsker Dü and the mega-selling 1990s alt-rock bands like Nirvana and Radiohead. The four-piece guitar band is known for extreme dynamics, often juxtaposing quiet verses with loud choruses.

Black Francis and lead guitarist Joey Santiago met at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Kim Deal joined the band after Francis advertised for a bassist who enjoyed the music of Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary. Drummer David Lovering was invited to join after meeting Deal at her wedding reception. The Pixies released four albums between 1988 and 1991 – tensions between bassist Kim Deal and leader Black Francis contributed to the band’s initial split.

The Pixies reunited in 2004, but didn’t record a new album until Deal’s departure from the band in 2013. I’ve omitted the band’s newer material from this list. Re-listening to these songs, it’s noticeable that Deal is involved in most of their best moments. Her bass playing and backing vocals often provide the group’s pop sensibilities, and it doesn’t feel like the Pixies without her as a foil. All the same, Black Francis is a fascinating front-man. His lyrics are often eccentric, about subjects like science fiction and abstract movies, but his impassioned vocals still express inner turmoil.

Despite providing three tracks for the list, it still feels as though the group’s acclaimed 1989 album Doolittle is under-represented – there’s no room for popular songs like ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Hey’. There’s also no room for anything from the 1987 EP Come On Pilgrim.

10 Best Pixies Songs

#10 – U-Mass

Pixies Trompe Le Monde

from Trompe le Monde, 1991
Black Francis and Joey Santiago met at the University of Massachusetts. They dropped out to form the Pixies, but not before Francis wrote the guitar riff for ‘U-Mass’. It’s a straightforward riff-rocker but it works – the entire chorus consists of Francis screaming “it’s educational”. The instrumental outro is terrific – a brief Lovering drum solo is followed by frenzied guitar from Santiago.

#9 – Planet of Sound

from Trompe le Monde, 1991
Trompe Le Monde is my favourite Pixies album. Without much input from Deal it feels more like a Black Francis solo album, but I enjoy the relentless intensity. ‘Planet of Sound’ is at first drop, stepping up the intensity from the title track. Black Francis’ lyrics depict an alien in search for the “planet of sound” – i.e. earth.

#8 – I Bleed

Pixies Doolittle

from Doolittle, 1989
The 2006 Pixies reunion documentary was titled loudQUIETloud, accurate shorthand for their extreme dynamics. ‘I Bleed’ is a great example – the verses are mellow, driven by a typically simple-yet-effective bassline from Deal. The chorus and bridge are explosive – the bridge is about the Anasazi caves in New Mexico. ‘I Bleed’ earns bonus points as presumably the only rock song to use the word “prithee”.

#7 – Where Is My Mind?

from Surfer Rosa, 1988
‘Where Is My Mind?’ wasn’t a single, but it’s become one of the Pixies best-known songs thanks to its inclusion in the movie Fight Club. It’s one of the mellower Pixies’ songs, but it still features an intense Black Francis vocal. The Pixies’ lyrics are often abstract but the line “I was swimming in the Caribbean” references an incident when Black Francis was followed by a fish while scuba-diving in the Caribbean.

#6 – Debaser

from Doolittle, 1989
The opener to the Pixies’ most celebrated album, 1989’s Doolittle, is one of their most iconic moments. Producer Gil Norton furnishes the band with a cleaner sound than before, but ‘Debaser’ doesn’t lose of the intensity of their previous work. The lyrics are inspired by Un Chien Andalou, a surrealist film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí – “slicing up eyeballs” is the most iconic line.

#5 – Dig For Fire

from Bossanova, 1990
The Pixies sounded overly slick on Bossanova, but single ‘Dig For Fire’ is one of their best songs. The spoken verses evoke their earlier abrasion, while Kim Deal’s harmonies add personality to the chorus. According to Black Francis, the song is “a bad Talking Heads imitation”; the funky, interlocking guitars are certainly reminiscent of David Byrne and co., while Heads’ bassist Tina Weymouth was an influence on Kim Deal.

#4 – Monkey Gone To Heaven

from Doolittle, 1989
The Pixies sweetened their sound with a string section for ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’. It was the second single from Doolittle, and it addresses environmental concerns. While it’s one of the Pixies gentler songs, the intense bridge is one of the Pixies most memorable moments, especially when Francis screams “Then God is seven”.

#3 – Bone Machine

from Surfer Rosa, 1988
The Pixies first album, recorded with producer Steve Albini, was very influential on 1990s rock. Kurt Cobain attempted to combine a heavy sound and pop hooks, and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ took a lot of cues from the Pixies. Albini’s production is evident on ‘Bone Machine’ – after Lovering’s opening drum salvo, the guitars bear Albini’s sand-blasted sonic trademarks. ‘Bone Machine’ contains my favourite Black Francis one-liner: “He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot/Yep, yep yep yep.”

#2 – Gigantic

from Surfer Rosa, 1988
Kim Deal’s only lead vocal for the Pixies is featured on one of their most iconic songs; ‘Gigantic’ was the band’s first single and was often used as an encore live. It’s clearly a song about interracial lust, but it’s in the third person. Deal and Black Francis co-wrote ‘Gigantic’ – it was inspired by the film Crimes of the Heart, where a black teenager and a married woman fall in love.

#1 – River Euphrates

Pixies Surfer Rosa

from Surfer Rosa, 1988
‘River Euphrates’ featured on the b-side to the ‘Gigantic’ single, putting the Pixies’ best two songs in one place. The lyrics are brief and incoherent, simultaneously referencing sex and the fertile crescent in the Middle East. But ‘River Euphrates’ is a great summation of the Pixies’ sound, an abrasive guitar rocker with memorable pop hooks. It also features some of Black Francis’ most maniacal singing.

Should this list have included more songs from Doolittle? Any reunion highlights? Any other suggestions for songs that I missed?

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  1. Just listened to your playlist. They all sound good and they don’t all sound the same like some bands do. In parts they remind me of Pearl Jam. The only one I’m familiar with is Where is My Mind? as they play it a lot on one of my pandora radio channels.

    • Cool – thanks for listening! There are a few different elements in there. Black Francis didn’t discover punk until he was in his late teens, and there’s unlikely stuff in there like surf guitar and early CCM musician Larry Norman.

  2. Great post! Like Steve, it’s not my top ten but I don’t think you can go wrong with any ten Pixies tracks. I first saw them live on one of their first reunion tours, one of the ones where they performed all of “Doolittle”, along with that era’s b-sides. Kim Deal was still with them at the time and I would agree that she had a presence about her that Paz Lenchantin (while an excellent bassist) lacks.

  3. I probably like Alec Eiffel and Planet of Sound and Here Comes Your Man the best. And Wave of Mutilation. Actually I prefer the Pixies spin-off groups better than the Pixies themselves. So my real favorites would be:
    Headache- Frank Black
    Saints – The Breeders
    Divine Hammer- Breeders
    Tipp City – The Amps
    Cannonball- Breeders
    Drivin’ on 9 – Breeders
    Dedicated- The Amps
    I Am Decided – The Amps
    Pacer – Amps

    • Wave of Mutilation and Here Comes Your Man would both make a lot of lists, I think. Of the spin-offs, I only know the Breeders – I always mean to check out Teenager of the Year.

  4. Great list! I’d have ranked Where Is My Mind higher (that song killed live) and I’d have Broken Face and Wave Of Mutilation in there somewhere… oh who am I kidding, I’d need more than 10 tracks.

  5. Great list, man… few in there that it’s impossible to leave out (Where Is My Mind?, Debaser, Monkey Gone To Heaven, Gigantic). Probably would have Here Comes Your Man in there somewhere and I might even include Catfish Kate.

    • You’re right that it’s hard to do a list without Where Is My Mind, Debaser, and Gigantic. I don’t even know Catfish Kate – I figure it’s permissible to only be familiar with Pixies Mk. 1.

      • Of course. I mostly ignored Mk. 2, but I was really pleasantly surprised by their last album. Even if it never reaches the heights of the pre-split stuff, it’s very enjoyable.

  6. I listened to them last night and realized I didn’t know as many as I thought I did. I do remember the one you mentioned in the write up “Here Comes Your Man” with that hooky guitar and Dig for Fire.
    I liked what I’ve heard and I agree she adds a lot to them.
    One line really got my attention…. “a bassist who enjoyed the music of Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary.” That is a combination.

  7. This is a great list, and I definitely agree with Monkey Gone to Heaven and Where Is My Mind for sure. Doolittle’s my favorite Pixies album, because I feel the balance between harsh dynamics and shimmering melodies is achieved more perfectly than Surfer Rosa. Other obscure favorites of mine include Crackity Jones and Mr. Jeeves.

  8. Having only really spent time with Doolittle, I cannot comment on the list, other than noting that you’ve delved into each album. The Doolittle tracks you picked were certainly standouts on that LP.

  9. Another good list – though I think my Top Ten would probably be pretty different. I dig quite a bit of their new stuff and their last, Beneath The Eyrie is a really strong album. Definitely a band of two distinct chapters now but I always look forward to new music from them. Black had some cracking solo moments too, though his overall Pixies-less discography is spotty.

      • The first two are real good but, yeah, Teenager of the Year is the better of the two. Headache is one of his best both in and out of Pixies

        • I guess it all depends on which sound you like more, but I think Teenager of the Year and the Amps’ Pacer and Last Splash are better albums than any Pixies album. They’re a completely different sound, but I like the songs better.

  10. I tend to gravitate to their most accessible stuff.
    I remember chatting with a student about ‘Here Comes Your Man’ – we came to a consensus that the chorus is fine, but the verse + bridge leading into it are terrific!

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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