Week in Rock History: Pixies Break Up

Plus: Sex Pistols sue Malcolm McLaren and Victoria Beckham is a kidnap target

January 9, 2012 10:05 AM ET
The Pixies
The Pixies perform in January, 1989.
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

This week in rock history, Rush became Canada's ambassadors of rock, the Sex Pistols sued Malcolm McLaren, the Pixies split, Victoria Beckham was nearly kidnapped and Gary Glitter left prison after serving a sentence for child pornography.

January 8, 1979: Rush are named Canada's official ambassadors of music
A decade after Rush formed in Toronto, Canada, the power trio were the toast of the country. Their 1974 self-titled record was one of the top-selling debuts by any Canadian act, and their brainy lyrics and interwoven fretwork earned them hordes of fans in the international rock community. By the end of the decade they'd grown in leaps and bounds, in both success and musical style, from their debut single, a 1973 cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away."

The Canadian government was impressed, and then some. In 1979, they bestowed the group with the title of official Ambassadors of Music for the country. The honor would prove fruitful in getting members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart out of their parking tickets – as well as selling approximately 40 million albums worldwide.

January 13, 1986: The Sex Pistols sue former manager Malcolm McLaren
At their most volatile, the Sex Pistols only answered to one man: their manager, Malcolm McLaren, whose keen media manipulation and proto-punk style sensibilities (influenced by his longtime girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood) lent the band much of their fame. After the Sex Pistols broke up in 1978, McLaren continued to release outtake material from the band, including much of the soundtrack to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle in 1979 and the contentious Flogging a Dead Horse compilation of 1980.

In 1986, the surviving members of the Sex Pistols sued McLaren for overdue royalties, and they received approximately £1 million in an out-of-court settlement. McLaren forged on, managing other bands (although famously, his ideas didn't sit well with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who rejected his offers). He also enjoyed a prolific solo career – that's his version of the Zombies' "She's Not There" in Kill Bill Vol 2, and Eminem sampled McLaren's early hip-hop track "Buffalo Gals" in "Without Me." The impresario even wrote an opera before passing away in 2010.

January 14, 1993: The Pixies announce their breakup
As Kurt Cobain attested, the Pixies were one of the most important bands in the world. Their harsh surf guitars and male-female vocal harmonies combined with pop melodicism in a completely fresh way – especially on their second album, Doolittle, which veered into cleaner production sound courtesy of British super-producer Gil Norton.

However, during Doolittle's recording sessions in late 1988, the band began to unravel. Band members Black Francis and Kim Deal grew increasingly tense and started to act out. Deal was almost fired from the band when she refused to perform at a concert in Europe, and Francis flung his guitar at her during another show. They continued to record and perform but effectively stopped speaking. After the release of Trompe le Monde in 1991, the band fractured and went on hiatus. In January 1993, Black Francis told the BBC that the Pixies were finished.

For the next 11 years, Francis and Deal denied rumors of the band reuniting with a vehemency that proved very convincing. However, they did reform in 2004, to worldwide enthusiasm. Their set that summer at the Coachella Music Festival so moved headliners Radiohead, the band offered a rare performance of "Creep" at the request of their heroes. A bit miraculously, the Pixies continue to tour today.

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