1988 was a crucial year for the Pixies. In March, their debut album Surfer Rosa was released by 4AD. A feedback-choked, noisy collection of songs that lyrically dealt with everything from high school gossip to prison confessionals to surrealist film references, the album was met with high praise from critics, and firmly put the band on the map.
They quickly followed the success of Surfer Rosa with their sophomore album, Doolittle, in 1989. Having shed the aesthetic morphia of their debut in favor of shorter, more propulsive songs, Doolittle was a considerable achievement, and stands out in my mind as their strongest effort. If anything, the years and countless imitators have only strengthened these works.
While both albums were released before my time, I’m lucky enough to have dozens of videos from that era of the band’s career available to me just a few keyboard taps away. This clip shows the band performing one of the (not yet released) Doolittle cuts, “Hey” in 1988, while touring the United Kingdom supporting Surfer Rosa. For me, “Hey” is the perfect introductory Pixies tune. It demonstrates their melodic precocity, warbled guitars, and Frank Black’s oft-cited yelp. Plus, the glitchy film footage and goofy title graphic hold up especially well in today’s throwback-eager cultural climate. Here is a band at the top of their form.
Fun fact: when discussing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1993, Kurt Cobain told Rolling Stone, “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies . . .”