Out Of The Vaults #20 - The Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
Let's try to forget all that we know about the Pixies after the Doolittle album. Forget that we know the band released two more albums before splitting up. Forget we know singer/guitarist Black Francis changed his name to Frank Black and went solo while bassist/singer Kim Deal formed the Breeders with her twin sister Kelly. Let's try to ignore that we know The Pixies reunited in 2004, then celebrated Doolittle's 20th Anniversary a few years later.
While we are at it let's try to forget about The Pixies first Mini-LP Come On Pilgrim and first album Surfer Rosa because when Doolittle was released I'm positive most of us did not even know those records existed.
Just ignore all that. Wipe it from your mind. Now picture yourself putting Doolittle on the turntable and hearing it come through your headphones for the first time. Hearing one of your all-time favorite albums for the first time. For me it was in when I was 16 years old in 1989.
The Pixies album Doolittle was out for at least a month or two before I finally picked it up. The video for "Monkey Gone To Heaven" was in regular rotation on MTV's 120 Minutes for a few weeks but on those squeaky, fuzzy VHS tapes I constantly recorded over each week, the song just did not sound too hot. After seeing in Rolling Stone Magazine that Doolittle was climbing up the charts I figured even though the "Monkey Gone To Heaven" video had failed to win me over, maybe it was time to give the rest of the album a chance.
When the needle hit the vinyl for "Debaser" I am greeted with a couple bass notes before a melodic surf riff comes in. Just when I am about to think this is nothing too groundbreaking , Black Francis's manic vocals take over. Not only are they manic but he is singing about slicing up eyeballs and something in indecipherable French or Spanish. The vocals are not even going with the melody. What have I gotten myself into here? Soon the first chorus with that smooth guitar from the beginning, only this time with Kim Deal's smooth spoken vocals contrasting Black Francis's shrieks of "Debaser". Black Francis's manic vocals return for a second verse. Once again they are still not going with the melody but for some reason it works. For the second chorus Kim once again joins Black Francis only time she sings. While Joey Santiago's guitar is bringing the song home I begin to think this album may be something special. About twenty seconds into the "Tame" I am convinced.
The song goes from a quiet whisper of Black Francis accompanied by a bouncy bass line to the full band accompanied by shrieking vocals and right back down before repeating again. When it is over and I wonder what just happened, the guitars of "Wave of Mutilation" come roaring in. That is exactly what the song sounds like. Close your eyes and try not to picture the sounds or the guitars forming a wave bowling over everything in it's path.
"Bleed" proves even more original then Track 2. After a intro of swirling guitar hooks and steady bass line we receive our first Black Francis Kim Deal duet only Kim's vocals sound as if they are haunting Black Francis's. After two verses, broken up by more guitars, at just under two minutes the guitars suddenly twist downwards. They continue to twist lower and lower while Black Francis's voice becomes more and more desperate and Kim's voice becomes more and more evil. By the time the song was over, not only was I beginning to think Doolittle may be one best albums I have ever heard, I also think it may be one of the scariest too.
But then something strange happens. A very upbeat bass line comes over the headphones. It is soon followed by an upbeat full band. Just when I think Black Francis's manic shrieks would break in instead he sings very happily. "Here Comes Your Man" turns out to be an upbeat, clean and very catchy pop song. Kim's vocals seem happy for Black Francis's vocals and not haunting them like they did on the last track.
With the song that follows I am reminded this is not a Pop record. "Dead" is yet another totally original sounding song, with piercing guitars and more of Black Francis's manic vocals, only this time they are distorted and buried under the music. Becoming more melodic for the chorus's , the song acts as almost the anti version of "Debaser".
At the end of Side One I find that song which was just on MTV's 120 Minutes for the fifth straight week. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" sounds so much better coming through my headphones than the television speakers. Now I can really hear each one of Joey Santiago's guitar riffs. I can really feel each strum of Kim's bass . There is even cello and strings lurking underneath the whole song that I never detected when listening to the song recorded on those VHS tapes. As the song and Side 1 came to an end I could not believe I almost didn't give Doolittle a chance.
Of course I cannot flip the record over fast enough.
Side 2's first track "Mr Grieves" begins with the slow creeping guitar plucks accompanied by Black Francis's now creepy vocals before the song picks up. After hearing this song and it's Spanish flavored follower "Crackity Jones", I realized Side Two will be no less amazing than Side One.
When the Drummer David Lovering sung "La La Love You" comes on, The Pixies once again prove they can throw a totalally different sounding song into the mix without it sounding at all out of place. David's vocals, as well as the surf tinged guitar and vocal appearance by all four members of the band (Black Francis contributes a very nice "Shake your butt") make the song a nice variation on the darker sound of the other songs on the record.
The steady paced "No. 13 Baby" and swirling build up of "There Goes My Gun" keep the albums flow going before Black Francis calls a halt to it with the slower "Hey". With it's totally original format, awesome lyrics and well placed guitar riffs and Black Francis varied vocal styles, "Hey" proves to be an unexpected highlight of the album.
After "Silver", with it's Black Francis/Kim Deal vocal duet, slide guitar and thudding bass the album is about to come to a close but it is not going quietly. "Gouge Away" begins a steady laid back song with a bouncy bass line but thirty seconds in the guitars begin to rev back up. Pretty soon Black Francis is back in full manic mode with loud guitars ringing. The song acts as the perfect bookend to "Debaser" up at Track 1 without a clunker anywhere found between them.
Doolittle was an landmark album for me in another way. When I went to the local record store to purchase the album I was shocked to find all the vinyl had been relocated to the back room of the store. Compact Discs and Cassettes had overtaken the much larger front room. When I went to the same record store a year later to buy The Pixies next album Bossanova, the vinyl section was gone all together.
Here are The Pixies performing "Wave of Mutilation" in 1990. I urge you to check out all the classic live videos of The Pixies playing songs off of Doolittle on Youtube.