Frank Black isn’t just the leading man of the Pixies, he is a bonafide icon. The singer has long been heralded as one of the alternative rock scenes founding fathers. Nirvana knew it, David Bowie knew it, it just took the public a few decades to actually catch on to just how brilliant the band were. Soon enough, the group were given the accolades and appreciation they deserved and were headlining festivals and selling vast quantities of their back catalogue.
Much of that fandom was centred around Black’s unique viewpoint on the world around them. He brought with him a casual yet visceral edge to rock music. His lyrics were sharp and unguarded, and musically he pushed the band into new avant-garde spaces. But, even someone as original as Frank Black can find themselves feeling envious about the work of those icons who have come before him.
Black did just that when he stepped up to speak to Rolling Stone where he selected five songs that he wishes he had written. It provides a beautiful reflection of his inspirations and wider influences. The first selection comes from one of the most gifted songwriters of all time, Neil Young and his song ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’: “It sounds iconic from the first moment. It’s like he’s standing on a mountain peak delivering a sermon that’s 100 years old.”
Another song on Black’s list comes from quite possibly the most influential band of all time — The Beatles. The Fab Four may have a lot of iconic songs, but Black loves the little known White Album ditty written about Eric Clapton’s poor dental hygiene. Black says of the track: “There’s a riddle to it. It’s names of candies from a fancy box, but the punchline is that you’ve pulled out your teeth. It’s way darker than it appears.”
From the heights of pop stardom to one of the most underrated bands of their generation, Jethro Tull. Black picked out the classic track from their catalogue, ‘Aqualung’ and noted the huge impact the song had on him as a burgeoning songwriter himself: “This was very influential on me. I’ve tried to write it over and over again in my career. I love where the character is speaking from. It’s riveting.”
“It’s a kickass punk song,” noted Black when picking out The Damned’s magnificent number ‘Neat Neat Neat’. It’s a track that has long since been rightly regarded as one of the most sincere reflections of the burning punk movement. But it has a hidden secret too, as Black elucidates: “There’s something about it that feels tongue-in-cheek. It almost has a Dean Martin kind of cockiness to it.”
Sticking with punk rock, here’s a spot for Aussie legends The Saints and their song ‘(I’m) Stranded’, which pulses with some serious punk attitude: “This reeks of youth,” claims Black, “the sort of punky song I was never able to achieve when I was young. I had too much psychedelia and prog-rock in my DNA.”
While it would be unfair to say that Black couldn’t have written these songs, but it is unlikely he could have achieved them in the same way. It is also unlikely that any of the groups mentioned could achieve the stylistic panache that Black employed with the Pixies. The truth is, we’re all an amalgamation of our most sincere influences, and even an icon like Black can take inspiration from the music he loved.
There’s no doubt that Black is one of the more gifted songwriters of his generation and, like the rest of us, he still wishes he could be like his favourite idols.
5 songs Pixies’ Frank Black wishes he had written:
- ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ – Neil Young
- ‘Savoy Truffle’ – The Beatles
- ‘Aqualung’ – Jethro Tull
- ‘Neat Neat Neat’ – The Damned
- ‘(I’m) Stranded’ – The Saints