I was to young to experience 90’s college rock as it was occurring, but in hindsight it’s easy to see that a new alternative rock sound emerged with bands like The Pixies, Pavement, Built to Spill, Archers of Loaf, The Smashing Pumpkins, Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and Modest Mouse all helping to define it. The Pixies had already had an extremely popular release with the album that some view as their best in their debut Surfer Rosa, but it’s their 1989 release Doolittle which holds that title for me with no hesitation. I’m a believer that Doolittle is one of the best albums ever made within alternative rock, which had me questioning if it was worthy of covering here since I’m under the impression many will already be aware of it. If you aren’t, then this post is for you and you’ve got some listening to do.
The Pixies are guitar driven rock with a bit of morphing song styles, capable of energetic yelling songs like “There Goes My Gun” and melodic and smooth ones such as “Wave of Mutilation”. The sound actually changes a decent amount on the album as well with tracks featuring odd topics and song styles, but you don’t become overly aware of it because they’re all linked together by a common element. I would say that that element is their music being genuinely cool, but that’s probably more of a personal view. A better answer would be that as you listen to the album multiple times you start to see the band’s true sound be defined, and this is what links the tracks together places them in a position where they are capable of making iconic songs like “Debaser”, “Here Comes Your Man” and “Hey”.
“Debaser” is quite simply my favorite alternative rock song of all-time, despite being filled with non-sensical lyrics and containing words that don’t even exist. This one was written when Pixies frontman Black Francis was a high school student watching the french film Un chien andalou (“Got Me a movie/I want you to know/Slicin’ up eyeballs/I want you to know”) and felt inspired to do a similar approach in his music. “Debaser” doesn’t have a true meaning so much as existing as a statement that Francis didn’t view himself as a singer, but as someone who wanted the job of re-defining moral standards in society, an emphatic opening message to the album which makes this the most fun song to scream along to ever. “Here Comes Your Man” has been one of the more iconic Pixies songs because it’s found a place in pop-culture, including becoming a go-to drunk karaoke song for both Joseph Gordon Levitt and Matt Berninger, lead singer of he National. And then there’s “Hey”, an incredibly catch song about the failure to actually meet up with who you want to because “There must be a devil between us, or whores in my head, whore, door, whore in my bed”. The spaced vocal style of the track setting up the guitar and bass lines in the beginning catches my attention every time because it’s a really clever way to set up the track, and Francis comes out sounding as cool as ever.
Of course the album’s more than three songs, there are a lot of other great tracks like “Monkey Goes to Heaven” which features some of the best Pixies logic(‘If Man is 5, then the devil is 6, and if the devil is 6, then God is 7) and also songs that are less meaning and more great rock such as “I Bleed”. Doolittle is one of the most important and best alternative rock albums that’s been made, and it played a large role in defining the genre from that point forward.
Track Picks: Debaser, Hey, Here Comes Your Man