35 Albums in 35 Years: 1988

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


pixiessurferrosa1988: The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa

“…All I know is that there were rumors he was into field hockey players…”

In 2004 I was faced with a conundrum.  The Boston Red Sox had forced a game 7 in the ALCS against the New York Yankees, roaring back from what had originally been a 0-3 deficit.  I am a giant BoSox fan.  It goes back to Roger Clemens (pre-roids).  I’m originally from New Orleans, but grew up in west Texas amongst the dirt, tumbleweeds, and pumpjacks scattered across the desert, hardly the atmosphere that breeds fans of New England baseball teams.  But, when I was seven or eight years old, my parents gave me a Topps baseball card starter kit for Christmas, filled with all kinds of cards, replicas, stickers, a guide book, etc.  One of the cards therein was Clemens’ rookie card, a gold needle in an immense haystack.  He became my favorite ball player, and by default, the Red Sox became my favorite team.  I soon learned that being a Sox fan was an exercise in disappointment and devastation (though I only vaguely remember Bill Buckner and the ‘86 World Series).  Boston was the team that always managed to blow it.  Which brings us back to game 7 in 2004.  Being that it was a completely unexpected comeback, I was stoked to watch the game…and then realized I had tickets for The Pixies reunion tour the same night.  This game was a must-see.  This show was a must-see.  What was I going to do?

Of course I went to see The Pixies.  Skipping that would have been stupid.

As the show began, it occurred to me that The Pixies are from Boston.  Certainly they must have a vetted interest in game 7 too.  And much to my delight, periodically between songs, Frank Black would walk over to the side of the stage, talk to a roadie or crewmember, and then come back to the mic to announce the score of the ballgame.  Each update was met with an explosion of applause, eventually culminating in the news that Boston was victorious and that a World Series was on the horizon.  I can’t think of a more perfect way to experience that baseball game (aside from actually being there of course), and the whole thing just deepened my enthusiasm for The Pixies.

The band really needs no introduction or recap.  The all-too-few first years of the band spawned five albums of legendary and influential material.  Frank Black (or Black Francis if you will) and Kim Deal wrote songs that sounded like they could have been from the future, they just seemed unlike anything else coming out at the time.  Naturally the world caught up later when the band’s quiet-LOUD-quiet motif was aped by every up-and-coming band and old stalwart alike, an attempt to cash in on the new punk sound credited to Nirvana, who readily and happily admitted their Pixies influence.  The 1988 album Surfer Rosa was the tent pole for that whole scene, and 26 years later it still sounds like it could have come out yesterday.

My own exposure to the band did not occur until the 8th or 9th grade.  They didn’t get any kind of radio play out in the big dust bowl of the Permian Basin, and thus I was forced to seek them out myself at the behest of Kurt Cobain.  If the man was ripping off another band, I wanted to know who that band was and everything about them.  And so, along with Flipper, The Vaselines, The Wipers, and more, I discovered a vast sea of underground music that would eventually lead me ever further down the path to becoming the lovable music snob that I am today.

And then they kind of dropped of the radar for me, only to resurface in 1999 as I watched a bunch of buildings crash to the ground with Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, the soothing sound of Kim Deal’s “ooh-oohs” wafting through the air.  Rediscovery is such a sweet thing.  How had I ever forgotten about these guys in the first place?!  So I went out and bought Surfer Rosa, immediately followed by the rest of the band’s catalog, and my mind was blown away all over again.

It’s amazing how many other bands sound like The Pixies.  “Where Is My Mind?” is essentially the blueprint for every “alternative” rock song ever recorded.  I’m being hyperbolic here, but you simply can’t understate the band’s (and the song’s) influence on so many who came along after.  Hell, I hear it in the songs I write myself.  “Bone Machine,” “Gigantic,” “Cactus,” “Vamos,” and the rest of the record just set the tone for everything to come.  Throw in Steve Albini’s sound engineering and mixing style, a mic-in-a-room, do-it-live, keep-the-mistakes, punk rock aesthetic, and you’ve got a treasure on your hands.

The band is still touring and now making new material, but without Kim Deal on the bass, so there’s that.  If you ask me though, no Kim Deal, no Pixies, but that’s a heated discussion for another time.  Let’s all just enjoy the times we had together.  And remember that Surfer Rosa is still one of the best albums of all time…and that Frank Black is a Red Sox fan.

- Favorite song: “Where Is My Mind?” (Was it really going to be anything different?)

- Runner up: “Gigantic” or “Vamos” (It’s kind of hard to choose.)

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Butthole Surfers’ Hairway to Steven; Erasure’s The Innocents; Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff; REM’s Green; Morrissey’s Viva Hate; Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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