Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Pixies Songs - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Pixies Songs

Your picks include ‘Cactus,’ ‘Gigantic’ and ‘Debaser’

the pixies

Frans Schellekens/Redferns

The Pixies never had a "hit" song in the traditional sense of the word. A handful of tunes like "Here Comes Your Man" and "Letter to Memphis" climbed the Modern Rock charts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but nothing even went near the Billboard Hot 100. People who listened to nothing but Top 40 music probably never even knew they existed, and the band broke up in 1993 without a lot of fanfare.

However, a funny thing started to happen soon after that. Artists like Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke began citing them as huge influences, and films like Fight Club began featuring their music. The legend of the Pixies was born, and when they reformed in 2004, they played to throngs of young fans who were barely out of diapers when the band broke up. Many of them knew every word to every song.

The Pixies are back now with their first collection of new songs since 1991, so we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Pixies song. Click though to see the results. 


Play video

10. ‘Velouria’

Pixies seemed to be on the verge of actual mainstream success when "Velouria," the first single from Bossanova, came out in the summer of 1990. Their relentless touring had won them a huge cult fan base (especially in Europe) and Doolittle was blaring out of dorm rooms all over America. MTV was even beginning to play the occasional video by alternative bands, but Pixies didn't see much value in that medium. The video for "Velouria" is simply the group running down a hill in slow motion. It didn't get much airplay and the song didn't do much of anything in America. 

Not longer after finishing Bossanova, Black Francis was getting a burrito from Uptown Taco when "Summer in the City" by the Lovin' Spoonful came on the radio. "He turned completely grey," said Boston musician Johnny Angel in the Pixies oral history Fool the World. "He said, 'Listen to it: 'In the summer/ In the city/ In the summer/ In the city,' my God! That's in 'Velouria.' Oh shit!" The songs are dramatically different and it never became an issue. 

Play video

9. ‘Cactus’

Black Francis tackled topics that few songwriters dared to go anywhere near, including incest, mutilation, Hebrew numerology, STDs, alien abduction and sexual perversion. "Cactus" is about a guy in prison asking his girlfriend to "bloody your hand on a cactus tree/ Wipe it on a dress and send it to me." Oddly enough, it's one of the sweeter tunes on Surfer Rosa and the closest thing they really had to a love song. David Bowie covered the song on his 2002 LP Heathen

Play video

8. ‘Gigantic’

On "Gigantic," Kim Deal proved her songwriting instincts were every bit as bizarre and subversive as Black Francis'. The song began as a Black Francis riff, but he had nothing beyond the word "gigantic." He asked Kim if she wanted to complete it, and that night, she sat down with her husband John Murphy and wrote a song about a white woman watching a black man have sex. (Use your imagination as to what "gigantic" refers to.) Her inspiration was largely the 1986 Sissy Spacek movie Crimes of the Heart. It's one of the only Pixies songs that Deal sings, and it always makes the crowd go completely insane. 

Play video

7. ‘Gouge Away’

Not a lot of listeners realized it at the time, but "Gouge Away" – the final track on Doolittle – is a retelling of the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. For those unfamiliar with the story, Delilah was a woman hired by the Philistines to find the source of Samson's great strength. In exchange for silver, she seduced him and discovered he drew his powers from his hair, which she cut while he slept. In the Pixies' version, she uses some marijuana to get the truth out of him. All of this barely matters, though. The song is the Pixies at their absolute finest, and the sugary vocals of Kim Deal have rarely contrasted so perfectly with the wild howls of Black Francis. 

Play video

6. ‘Here Comes Your Man’

Black Francis wrote "Here Comes Your Man" when he was just 15, but when he finally recorded it with the Pixies, guitarist Joey Santiago added in some surf guitar and the song took on a whole new power, becoming just about the closest thing the Pixies ever came to a mainstream pop tune. MTV played the video a bit and it could have been a hit, but they refused to play it on Arsenio Hall and the mass public never really had a chance to hear it. Had the song taken off, it's easy to imagine the Pixies having a very different career. 

Play video

5. ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’

It started with a single line: "This monkey's gone to heaven." Black Francis didn't quite know what to do with it, but he knew it was attention-grabbing. Eventually, he wrote some lyrics about the destruction of the environment, and he tossed in some cryptic references to Hebrew numerology on top of it. Don't strain yourself too hard trying to find a connection between all these things, because it isn't there – even though it stands to reason that the destruction of the environment will lead to dead monkeys and many people turning towards the Torah for hope and salvation.

They cut the song with a pair of cellists and violinists, the first time they had worked with any outside musicians. It was the first single off Doolittle. If you listened to college radio in 1989, you probably heard this song on more than one occasion. If you listened to Top 40 radio, you heard a lot of Phil Collins and Poison. 

Play video

4. ‘Wave of Mutilation’

Back in the 1980s, there were news stories about Japanese men killing themselves and their families by driving off piers because they had failed in business. Reading that probably didn't make you feel like writing a song, but that's why you aren't Black Francis. He wrote "Wave of Mutilation" about the phenomenon. (Let's hope these poor families merely drowned and weren't mutilated first.) The version on Doolittle is rather fast, but they cut a slowed-down version called "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" as a b-side. Many concerts feature both versions of the tune. 

Play video

3. ‘Debaser’

The 1929 silent film Un Chien Andalou opens with actress Simone Mareuil getting her eyes sliced open by a man with a razor. It's not an easy scene to watch, and it's not surprising that it inspired Black Francis to take out his pen and write a song about how the surreal film debased modern standards of cinema and storytelling. Clips from the movie were shown every night on the band's 2009-2011 Doolittle tour. 

Play video

2. ‘Where Is My Mind’

Not long before he formed the Pixies, Black Francis went scuba-diving in the Caribbean. Some of the fish chased him around the ocean. The experience freaked him out, and "Where Is My Mind" is a pretty straightforward telling of the incident. The eerie "whooooo" background vocals were recorded in a bathroom to get that great echo sound. The song took on a new meaning in 1999 when it played over the end credits of Fight Club. That's where millions of people first heard the song, instantly making it one of the Pixies' most beloved works. 

Play video

1. ‘Hey’

It's possible that "Hey" would have won this poll even if two teenage girls hadn't made a goofy video for the song in 2005, but probably not. The clip, one of the first truly viral YouTube videos, has been viewed over 33 million times. Many people who would never have heard Doolittle otherwise became infatuated by the tune. Like many songs on Doolittle, the lyrics to "Hey" are vaguely biblical and repeatedly mention whores. They're also insanely catchy and absolutely brilliant. We have no idea where the "Hey" girls are these days, but they must be in their mid-twenties by now. If the Pixies were smart, they'd hire them to create a video for one of their new songs.

In This Article: Pixies, The Pixies

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.