As Pixies enjoy a milestone birthday for one of their most beloved albums, Bossanova, we thought we’d take a closer look at the band’s seminal record and rank the songs in order of greatness.
The third studio album from the Pixies, the record was released on 4AD on this day back in 1990 so we’re celebrating Bossanova‘s 30th birthday by getting things in order.
The surf rock-space rock hybrid that is Bossanova did a lot of foundational work for the Pixies and would go on to confirm them as classic alternative rock musicians. The duality of the record is one thing but the real push comes from the Pixies ability to make these many different factions thread into one consistent rope of rock.
That could well be because, contrary to previous records, a lot of this album was written in the studio. As they swatted away locational issues and studio malfunctions the band managed to rally together to produce one of their best albums, if not the best.
Bossanova acts as the moment the Pixies not only found their voice but tapped into all of their musical senses.
Ranking the songs from Pixies’ Bossanova worst to best:
13. ‘Blown Away’
There’s nothing to complain about with ‘Blown Away’. One of the last songs on the record, the track feels like a quick sketch of everything that goes into the Pixies and their unique sound.
However, as sketches often are, in comparison to some of the other tracks on this record it feels undercooked and a little too easy to digest. Like cookie dough, it has its value and can certainly be enjoyed without much thought but in the presence of the Michelin-starred menu on offer in the rest of the album, it just feels a bit junky.
12. ‘Rock Music’
It’s not often you hear Pixies really lose their cool and head down a heavy rock road but on ‘Rock Music’ they certainly do that. Whether the insistence on distortion and big riffs is in some way a pastiche of the titular genre or not, the fact remains that this one pounds away like no other Pixies song.
If you’re looking for Pixies classic melody then you best keep skipping, this song is all about the power and letting it all hang out.
11. ‘Is She Weird’
‘Is She Weird’ is a return to the classic Pixies sound; sardonic dissonance and dystopian jubilance. The track may sound a little of the ‘All Over The World’ variety but it lacks the weird and wonderfulness of the aforementioned sister song.
The fact that a song like this, deeply constructed and smartly performed, is so low on the list is a shining example of why Bossanova should be considered one of the seminal LPs of the age.
10. ‘Down To The Well’
A lead line straight form the gates of hell is always going to grab attention and on ‘Down To The Well’ that’s exactly what we get. The song then slowly builds until Francis Black lets out a “I can hardly wait BAAAABYYYY” and the song descends into madness.
The growling vocals are a joyous thing to hear and puts Black near the peak of his powers, all the while the marauding and menacing lead line continues to swirl around the heads of all who listen. This is vintage Pixies.
9. ‘Hang Wire’
Lyrically this track is concise and cutting. While the verses are short on ‘Hang Wire’ Black manages to cram a lot of content into a few lines. The same power is given to the two-word chorus, which sounds like a landmark moment every time it is uttered.
“If there were a fire/can we scratch beneath it?” sings Black as the song continues to rip and cut like a fully charged buzzsaw. Simply put, this song is an absolute blast.
8. ‘Cecilia Ann’
“Surf’s Up!” Here come the Pixies doing their best surf-rock impressions as they cover the classic song ‘Cecilia Ann’ and pay homage to the California coast they found themselves recording on.
They used The Surftones song, written by Charles Horton and Steve Hoffman, as a way to kick off the album and even sampled Hoffman kicking an amp at the very beginning of the song. It shows off the band’s knowledge of those who had come before them and their tribute to the rockers of old.
A catchy tune isn’t something Pixies really ever specialised in, but perhaps that is what makes this song such a landmark moment for the group as they don their best pop outfits on and go for the chart-topping jugular.
It’s a remarkable moment for the band, Black’s vocal turns from growling into something Elvis Costello would be proud of and reflects a group willing to try out all of the musical paths to reach their end goal of a killer record. ‘Allison’ is another fantastic addition.
Ending an album is a very difficult thing to do well. To give your audience not only the sense of closure from the project but to also leave them wanting to re-experience it is a difficult feat to achieve. But with ‘Havalina’, the Pixies did just that.
The song is a shimmering goodbye, imbued with the finest moments of the album. Lyrically, it’s beautiful and the interplay between Black and Kim Deal on the vocals only add to the songs dream-like quality. It’s the perfect way to say goodnight from one of the most engrossing albums of the decade.
5. ‘All Over The World’
One of the more weird and wonderful moments on Bossanova sees the band go ‘ASll Over The World’ and the Pixies try to assimilate two songs into one. It represents not only the band the Pixies were at the time but what they would become too.
Intellectualised rock is all well and good but to be successful you need to be authentic and it’s on songs like this that you truly see the band’s credibility. Of course, it still has a fiery solo and a riff capable of taking your head off but the song hangs on Black’s fearful vocals as he questions the afterlife. It’s an unstoppable song.
A song about surfing may feel a little strange to feature in such an intense record but Pixies do it better than most. The first letter of each line of the song spells out SURFER and for that alone, ‘Ana’ deserves to be high up on this list.
The band may not be well known for their surf-rock inspirations but it’s something Black has often talked about: “I think some of our stuff sounds kinda surfy sometimes,” he once said. “The sound is really basic and totally involves chord progressions and a cute little riff.”
The band take surf rock and mangle it into something deeply thoughtful, completely engaging and wonderfully well-appointed. Its a craft that the Pixies have perfected.
Dark and space, ‘Velouria’ not only hinted at the Pixies future but in 1990 it gained the band a cult following in England as it appeared on an extremely influential Madchester mixtape called ‘Happy Daze’. After that, the Pixies were always loved in the British Isles.
As well as being an unexpected baggy hit, the song is also one of their longest. In fact, it breaks the top ten for Pixies’ longest songs and it’s easy to see why. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is one of the most developed songs on the record and even features a theremin.
“It’s folklore based; the Rosicrucians of 1920s San Jose California had some pretty interesting ideas,” those ideas are put on to paper and then on record by Black and co. with devastating effect.
2. ‘The Happening’
Let them hear you at the back! Here is when the Pixies rhythm section really kicks in with Kim Deal and David Lovering adding some serious power to the proceedings. But when Black and the lead guitar come in, they arrive with some serious energy, it’s an energy which pushes the song into overdrive.
Black’s vocals are arresting and his lyrics are equally as captivating. It all adds up to becoming one of the Pixies most aggressive moments of the album, that is until Deal’s vocals then offer a perfect counterpoint to Black’s tortured sound.
There’s something incredibly addictive about this song. It’s constructed in a way that it is more than possible to like individual moments of the track. It tends to build and develop, setting the foundations in place before layering up the awesomeness. It’s easily one of Pixies greatest songs.
1. ‘Dig For Fire’
It’s not often that rock bands write songs for one another. While of course there are exceptions perhaps none are as good as Pixies ode to Talking Heads, ‘Dig For Fire’. The track is simply explained in the title as it focuses on striving to find your passion in life and not stopping until you do, like the old woman in the lyrics.
The song is built on two characters. The aforementioned old woman whom Black asks is she is digging because she is “looking for the mother lode” but she insists she is instead “digging for fire” or, more correctly, her passion. The same can be said of the old man in the second verse though his reply to the same question is “no my child, this is not my desire”.
Aside from the allegorical benefits of the track, Black and co. also provide a stellar alt-rock number alongside the simple life mantra. It’s a remarkable feat of musical engineering and rightly deserves its place at the top of this pile.