In 1994 I was a thirteen-year-old kid so painfully shy and awkward that it must have been difficult for adults to look at me without showing their pity. In hindsight we all know that eighth grade is like that for most of us, but when you’re going through it, it is the single most isolating feeling ever. I’m not even sure why they force children to go to classes during the early teen years. We were all so focused on trying to find our social identity and figure out how we fit in that we really didn’t absorb much else. Most schools re-teach all of the same stuff in ninth grade that you were taught in seventh and eighth.
I bring this up because that was the year that I began to find my social identity and figure out how I fit into it all. It was that year, just across the street from my junior high, that a pretty girl with pink hair gave me a cassette tape with a colored pencil drawing of a cheerleader with X’s over her eyes on the cover and one simple, beautiful word across the top: Pixies. That tape changed everything.
I had never heard of them, but Anna was really pretty and she smoked cigarettes. She had pink hair and she always looked like she’d just woken up … but in really hot way. So when she gave me the tape and said, “Check this out, this band always reminds me of you,” I pretty much fell in love with her and Pixies immediately.
For the longest time I thought the tape was a sort of “best of” that Anna had put together. It wasn’t until a year later when I started hanging out at punk shows that I found out the truth. The tape I’d been listening to non-stop. The album I’d nearly worn out in a year was in fact, in its correct order, the album Doolittle.
Pixies is one of those groups that put out several amazing albums, but Doolittle, released in 1989, was a departure for them at the time. It was heralded by both fans and critics as a major success, but it was decidedly a much cleaner album than its predecessors. It was crisper and noticeably more pop than earlier albums like Come on Pilgrim, or Surfer Rosa.
The album starts with the song, “Debaser.” At just under three minutes long, “Debaser” kicks in with that iconic bass riff and distorted intro guitar part. After that, it’s a high-energy gauntlet of Black Francis’ howling and screaming and Kim Deal’s enchanting backing vocals. In my opinion, it’s one of the better opening tracks to an album, ever. And it’s worth noting that almost every song on the album in under three minutes.
The songs, “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” both charted in the US and UK, while others like “Wave of Mutilation” and “Hey” became fan favorites and classic examples of the band’s diversity in style and subject matter. “Hey” is still one of my favorite songs and has one of my very favorite bass parts of all time. It’s just plain cool!
While Nirvana is often credited with destroying the hair bands of the 1980s and ushering in a new era for rock ‘n’ roll, most people agree that they were heavily influenced by Pixies. Looking back, they had more influence over changing punk, grunge and pop/rock than maybe any other band of their time.
Sadly, they broke up in the early ’90s after long, turbulent touring and fighting between band members. They missed out on a lot of the success that came to bands in the mid-’90s on the backs of what Pixies had built.
Doolittle remains a prime example of a great band at the height of their peak. They found more commercial success after they broke up, and again when they reformed in 2004, but I don’t think you judge a band’s “peak” by its commercial success as much as by their arc as artists. And Doolittle was in their sweet spot.
If you love music — and I know you do, because you’re reading this — you should really own this album. It might just change your life. I mean, I don’t know whatever happened to Anna. I never really got close to her. We never even kissed. But I know what happened to me. I know who I’ve become. And I know that Doolittle has a lot to do it.