Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Aurelien Guichard)

Music

The landmark Pixies lyric inspired by R.E.M.

@TylerGolsen

When they first began making music in Boston during the mid-1980s, the Pixies were alternative in a true sense of the word. Not quite punk and not quite college rock, the Pixies existed somewhere in between, pairing the driving rhythms of David Lovering and the feedback-soaked sonics of Joey Santiago with the pop-infused melodies of Black Francis and the heavenly harmonies of Kim Deal. They were unlike any other bands and they knew it.

But they still had to come from somewhere. Francis, the band’s main songwriter, took cues from the likes of Buddy Holly and hometown heroes The Cars, but the hardcore edge from the likes of Hüsker Dü was never far from the band’s sound. There was another important influence that was less obvious, however: the folky tones of college rock’s biggest band, R.E.M.

While he was still a teenager, Francis wrote a relatively simple four-chord song that would continue to float in and out of Pixies rehearsals. The track was occasionally refined and reworked, including making an appearance on the band’s early demo The Purple Tape, but the band disliked its straightforward composition and undeniable pop appeal. That made ‘Here Comes Your Man’ anathema to the rest of the songs on their debut LP, Surfer Rosa, so it was left out.

Engineer Paul Kolderie recalled that the band were dismissive of the song during the recording of The Purple Tape, with the members comparing the song to Tom Petty. But in the 33 1/3 book on the album where ‘Here Comes Your Man’ would eventually appear, Doolittle, Francis pointed back to the Athens foursome as having inspired some of the song’s lyrics. “I probably liked the word ‘boxcar’ because I heard it on the R.E.M. song, from their first record,” Francis explained.

That would be ‘Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)’, which appeared on R.E.M.’s debut EP Chronic Town. Francis copped to being a fan, telling The Guardian “I was listening to Murmur by R.E.M. a lot just before [the band’s first EP] Come on Pilgrim and that was hugely influential on me as a songwriter. I’m going to be cocky and say: we were even better than Murmur.” Although they had a much sharper edge to their own music, it’s easy to hear the R.E.M. influence in the Pixies’ love of jaunty melodies and obscure lyrical imagery.

Check out both ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)’ down below.