By Owen Murray
Boston has more than its fair share of iconic rock bands.
Aerosmith, The Cars and—of course—Boston. Not to mention favorites like The Dropkick Murphys and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. All are beloved in their own right. But the Pixies are a Boston band with a particularly unique and special legacy.
The Pixies might not be the biggest band to come out of Boston, but they are certainly one of the most influential.
While talking to Rolling Stone about in 1994 about Nirvana’s seminal 1994 album Nevermind Kurt Cobain said “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies.”
In 2004 Radiohead was scheduled to follow the Pixies at Coachella, prompting frontman Thom Yorke to say “No! That's just not right! The Pixies opening for us is like the Beatles opening for us. I won't allow it. There's no way we can follow the Pixies!” In the end, they did follow the Pixies, whether or not it sat right with Thom.
David Bowie once described the Pixies as “the most compelling music—outside of Sonic Youth—in the entire 80s.”
What is it about the Pixies that makes them so compelling?
The Pixies kept it simple. Charles Thompson IV (known in the Pixies as Black Francis) took lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Kim Deal took back up vocals and bass, Joey Santiago took lead guitar, and David Lovering took drums. None of them were flashy musicians. Instead, the Pixies focused on writing catchy songs with a hard, punk edge.
Black Francis is an incredibly charismatic singer and lyricist. From the playful melodies of “Here Comes your Man” to the unhinged screaming of “Tame,” Francis is never lacking on personality. His lyrics are quirky, yet dark and unsettling— something that clearly resonated with bands like Nirvana and Radiohead.
Many people who don’t know the Pixies very well can instantly recognize “Where is My Mind?” even if their only exposure to it was as the theme song from Fight Club. Santiago's simple riff and Francis’ soaring vocals— “With your feet in their air and your head on the ground/Try this trick and spin it!”— are as catchy as they can be.
Kim Deal’s punchy bass-lines form the backbone of songs like “Debaser” and “Gigantic.” Her unique style is a staple of the Pixies sound. The riffs are simple, but unforgettable. Kurt Cobain’s guitar playing often took a similar approach. Nirvana songs like “Come As You Are” and “All Apologies” aren’t complicated or difficult to play, but they are creative, musical, and irresistibly catchy.
In stark contrast to other 80s over the top glam rock bands like Bon Jovi and Guns ‘n’ Roses—who Kurt Cobain notoriously hated— the Pixies were stripped back and down to earth. They weren’t glory seeking, or image-obsessed— just focused on making really music.
Grunge was from Seattle, but it has its roots in Boston.
The Pixies were by no means the most popular band of their time. But, their influence in rock music was truly historic. Boston bands like Aerosmith and Boston certainly have incredible legacies, but none can match the musical impact of the Pixies.