Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 223
Thurs. Sept. 26, 2013
“Down to the Well”
What was it about this band from Boston, Massachusetts who for seven years made some of the most influential rock music between the years 1987 and 1993 that still resonates today? I believe Frank Black & The Catholics guitarist Rich Gilbert had the best explanation in Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz’s book Fool The World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies, when he said, “They’re [Frank Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering] four very unique personalities. But isn’t that what makes a great band, though? It’s like, when the personalities are all kind of shockingly different but they create that chemistry that creates a fifth or sixth member. That’s what makes a great band.”
Gilbert is so right, and he should know having played with Francis for years that fifth member of that band was actually the collective creative chain reaction that birthed the distinctive Pixies sound within all of those timeless songs, like “Down to the Well,” that we know and still adore even more than yesterday. It’s that same collective consciousness that inspired bands like Nirvana, Radiohead and Polly Jean Harvey. Did you know U2’s enigmatic leader Bono called Pixies, “one of great American bands ever?” Radiohead’s Thom Yorke once said of Black Francis’ original band, “Pixies changed my life” and David Bowie who spent the decade crafting pop music like “Let’s Dance” said Pixies crafted, “just about the most compelling music of the 80’s.”
We all know their most famous songs like Doolittle’s “Where is my Mind” and Surfer Rosa’s “Gigantic” but did you know that Black Francis called “Down to the Well,” “The first song we played together, the 4 of us?” This makes “Well” the catalyst for detonating the Pixies sound that is still making sonic waves all over the world. The first person to record Black Francis and Pixies was Gary Smith who recalled this about “Down to the Well,” “They had a recording of “Down to the Well,” it would have been 1986, and on the basis of that they were trying to gigs and do stuff. Round about the same time they had made that Death to the Pixies poster which was very provocative and caught everybody’s eye.” That early recording of “Well” was insight into the early band dynamics that were the foundation of the Pixies everlasting aura that exists today.
I’ve always believed Frank Black Francis and Pixies were the Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground of the 1980’s, Gary Smith who produced the band’s first EP Come on Pilgrim concurred when in 2011 he famously told The Independent.ie, “I’ve heard it said about The Velvet Underground that while not a lot of people bought their albums, everyone who did started a band. I think this is largely true about the Pixies as well. Charles’ secret weapon turned out to be not so secret and, sooner or later, all sorts of bands were exploiting the same strategy of wide dynamics. It became a kind of new pop formula and, within a short while, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was charging up the charts and even the members of Nirvana said later that it sounded for all the world like a Pixies song.” It’s safe to say Nirvana, Radiohead and Polly Jean Harvey, among many, wouldn’t have existed if Frank Black Francis hadn’t formed Pixies with Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering.
Unlike most un-Cultured Club songs from the 1980’s, Pixies music are an acquired taste. Just ask Kurt Cobain who famously was inspired by Pixies to create the sound of Nirvana’s most successful album Nevermind as he told Rolling Stone Magazine, “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
Listening to Pixies always unleashes my inner music sense of geekified snobbery. For you refined connoisseurs who want more than a three minute commercial disguised as a pop song, Pixies were created for your twisted sensibilities. For the rest of the short attention spanned masses with that confused looks on your pop 40 faces, go back to your fifteen minute of infamy and already forgotten radio jingles; songs like “Down to the Well” which Melody Maker famously described, as “a grubby, with a minimalist chunky guitar line straight from an early Kinks single;” are a Pixies thing and sadly some people just will never understand nor appreciate the greatness of one of the best American bands of all time. Why not go return to the beginning where the creative chain reaction that sparked the loud-quiet-loud revolution of sound began within the electric confines that is Pixies? All it takes is one spin to be transported back “Down to the Well” and rediscover the Bossanova brilliance of the future sound that is Pixies.