A certain mystique comes with not being truly appreciated during your heyday. Vincent Van Gogh is perhaps the most well-known underappreciated artist, dying a comparative pauper before his paintings became cultural monoliths of stature and cash. However, a few bands also slipped under the radar during their salad days before being revered as time passed on. One such band is Pixies.
Undoubtedly regarded now as one of the foremost creators of the alternative rock movement of the 1980s and ’90s, the group barely received any commendations when they initially released albums like Surfer Rosa, eventually succumbing to acrimonious tensions in 1993. In fact, it wasn’t until David Bowie got behind the group that they really started to pick up steam, eventually taking the headline sets they so clearly warranted in the 21st century. Considering that the band are true originals and the quagmire of rock music in the late ’90s, it’s a real headscratcher that the group, fronted by Francis Black and Kim Deal, were left on the shelf for so long before reuniting in 2004.
In truth, originality ran through the group’s veins like water down a riverbed. However, like all great bands, they also appreciate the artists who have come before them and have, on several occasions, paid tribute to those artists by covering their songs. Below, we’ve picked out our favourites as a reminder that, no matter if the track is attributed to another artist, a truly unique group can make anything sound like their own.
The band have an idiosyncratic sound. Undoubtedly influenced by the no-wave movement of New York, chaired in large part by Sonic youth, even in their native Boston, the group provided a buzzsaw melody that was not afraid to cut you in half. Borrowing pop sensibilities from artists such as The Beatles and David Bowie, the group delivered a cornucopia of fantastic records. However, it is their handling of classic rock tracks that we’re interested in today.
Below, you will find our favourite covers from Pixies and it includes songs from Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, plus a heap more.
Pixies’ greatest covers of all time:
‘Wild Honey Pie’ – The Beatles
Throughout their illustrious musical career, The Beatles were responsible for creating material that was undoubtedly way ahead of its time. Sonically speaking, they were unparalleled. Their work has been adored and appreciated by almost everyone in the world and has influenced countless artists.
While Pixies have undoubtedly helped inspire a new generation of musicians, Black and the band have never been shy to admit the adoration for a certain group from Liverpool and, in 1988 as a part of a BBC live session, the Pixies performed their version of ‘Wild Honey Pie’. Soon afterward, it became a huge hit. In fact, it is fair to suggest that this cover became much more popular than the original song itself.
‘Winterlong’ – Neil Young
Dating back to October 1990, this inventive cover of a Neil Young classic sees the alt-rock group at their creative peak, delivering this quite sensational cover of a Neil Young rarity.
The track was originally released by Pixies as the B-side to the Bossanova single’ Dig For Me’ and has become a fan favourite ever since. Naturally far more sludgy than the original Black even does a grand job of matching up to Young’s snarling moments on this record. Without a doubt, it is one of the most original cover songs on the list.
‘Evil Hearted You’ – Yardbirds
First released by Yardbirds in 1965, ‘Evil Hearted You’ was a quintessential British blues rocker. Full to the brim with malicious intent, the track was a buoyant and unabashed rock and roll riot, written by Graham Gouldman. Of course, the greatest point to note about this cover from Pixies is that the original was written in English. When the alt-rock band released it in 1991, Black decided to record the track entirely in Spanish, but it was not without its issues.
Pixies frontman Black said of the song: “A great Gouldman song done so well by the Yardbirds. We did it in Spanish, and to Gouldman’s credit, he wouldn’t let us release it until I got the translation right. It turns out Graham Gouldman speaks fluent Spanish. I finally got it close enough after consulting the cook at my local taqueria.”
‘I Can’t Forget’ – Leonard Cohen
In the late 1980s, Leonard Cohen enjoyed a renaissance. A brand new generation were diving into his rich discography of poetic pop ballads and devouring them with the same enthusiasm as his career had begun with. As such, in 1991, the rock community all joined in to pay homage to the growing icon with a tribute album titled I’m Your Fan.
Included on that LP was a powerful contribution from Pixies as they covered the truly wonderful ‘I Can’t Forget’. As you may have already guessed from the rest of this list, Pixies did this song a little differently from the original. Perfecting their loud and quiet sound, the song is an intoxicating piece of nostalgia, lamenting the death of summer and celebrating the lif of Leonard Cohen.
‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ – Neil Young
When Neil Young decided to take time away from Buffalo Springfield to concentrate on his own ventures, the folk-rock world waited with bated breath. His self-titled debut solo album would be well-received despite lacking any hit singles. However, there is one clear standout track from the record: the truly enigmatic ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’.
The song, which was also covered by David bowie in subsequent years, was picked up by Pixies in 1990. black, a noted Neil Young fan, does an incredible service to the song by giving the vocal duties to Kim Deal. Alongside the razor-sharp riffs and the band’s classic tonal switching, the track is another shining example of their prowess.
‘Head On’ – The Jesus and Mary Chain
“He [Francis] wasn’t that hip when it came to modern music. He heard ‘Head On’ and just loved it. The Pixies were a strange band,” confessed J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., something we can attest to with the age of the covers on this list. Not only is this cover one of the few songs to come from a comparative contemporary in The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it also took pride of place on the band’s 1991 LP Trompe Le Monde.
The two bands are classic bedfellows as they provide an opposite approach to similar subjects. While the Scottish band were far more delicate in their destruction, charming audiences with poptastic tones that belied the angst underneath, Pixies took the track into a heavy and distorted space.