Best albums of 1989: #4 Pixies “Doolittle”

Here’s another album that originally came to me via my friend Tim. I feel like his name has come up quite a bit over the past few weeks. I sure hope he’s not reading all these posts lest it go to his head.

When I did my favourite albums of 1988 last year, Pixies’ debut long player, “Surfer rosa”, was at the number four spot on that list. And I wrote then how “Doolittle” was the first album by the band to which I was exposed. After Tim broke my will, I let him make me a copy to cassette but it wasn’t long before I bought a used copy on CD for myself. This sophomore album by the quartet from Boston is definitely my favourite by the band and on any other year, it might’ve been a bit higher up on the list. However, as I hinted a few weeks ago and as you’ll see over the next few weeks, 1989 was a loaded year, much like “Doolittle” is a Pixies album loaded with many of their biggest ‘hits’. Indeed, when I saw them in 2011, they were performing “Doolittle” in full, as well as the B-sides from the era, and that show played like a greatest hits set.

Pixies entered the studio at the end of 1988 to record their sophomore record armed with four times the budget that they had the previous time out and also with a different producer. Though the star of “Surfer rosa” was its raw sound and innovative production work by Steve Albini, the head of 4AD pushed Gil Norton on the band for the next one and the result was definitely cleaner and slicker with a greater emphasis on Pixies’ songs. Frank Black has said of the album that there was a battle at play, between the push towards a more mainstream sound and the band pulling back in attempt to keep their aesthetic intact. There are song pop songs here but there is also some racket.

“Doolittle” cracked the UK album charts from the start but only made a small dent in their native country, and this on the back of a couple singles getting airplay on alternative radio. However, it has consistently sold well over the years, eventually hitting platinum status stateside, and is probably their best known album internationally. There’s so much to like here but my three picks below are likely still my favourites on the album.


”Monkey gone to heaven”: The first single to be released off the album was also accompanied by the Pixies’ first ever music video. Lots of firsts here because it was also the first recording on which appeared additional musicians. Yes, Pixies’ three minute ditty about environmentalism was bolstered by a string quartet. Not that they were used in the traditional, symphonic sense, of course. Instead, they added an oomph to Kim Deal’s already muscle-bound bassline and Lovering’s pounding on the drums. Deal also adds harmonies to Frank Black’s crooning and screeching, lyrics he must have had a blast writing, and that crowds to this day, have a blast screaming along to: “The devil is six, the devil is six and if the devil is six. Then God is seven , then God is seven, then God is seven. This monkey’s gone to Heaven.”

”Debaser”: This track was never released as a single off “Doolittle”. That wrong was righted just shy of a decade later when it received a special release to promote the “Death to the Pixies” compilation. A lyric from the track was used to name the well-established 80s alternative and college radio blog/website “Slicing up eyeballs”. The song also inspired the creation of a little music festival called Lollapalooza when its original organizers witnessed 40,000 frenzied screaming the “Debaser” refrain along with Frank Black at the Reading festival in 1990. A more incendiary opening track you will never hear. From the Kim Deal’s rumbling bass line to Santiago’s screaming guitars and Black screeching nonsense about a Luis Buñuel film, which in itself was nonsensical. It all adds up to three minutes of madness and pure joy.

”Here comes your man”: “Outside there’s a box car waiting, outside the family stew, out by the fire breathing, outside we wait ’til face turns blue.” Now here’s a song where producer Gil Norton might’ve gotten the upper hand because this is as close to a pop song as the Pixies ever got. It’s no wonder it got released as “Doolittle”’s second single. Save for the discordant strum that kicks off the song, “Here comes your man” is pretty much blissful jangle pop, peppy drumming, fun little back climbing bass line, and Frank Black and Kim Deal both singing sunshine. And to be perfectly honest, this little gem was my gateway into the Pixies, falling in love with it immediately, the rest fell into place later. I can’t possibly count the number times I freaked out to this on the dancefloor. I’m pretty sure DJ Stephen Rigby played it every Thursday night at The Underground, the main campus pub I frequented while at York University, and every time it came on, there was group of friends I would always find at the centre of the crowd and we would jump around for its entirety.


Check back next Monday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South  “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Hup”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1989: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Monday all!

(I know what you’re thinking: is it really Monday?! Well, the answer to that is: “YES!!!” )

And if that wasn’t enough of a good reason to kick off a new series this morning, it’s also June 1st. That’s right. We’re five months into this train wreck of a year called 2020 and I haven’t done one of these throwback Best Albums series for a while so I thought I’d throw down for you one of the greatest years for alternative rock. That’s right: 1989.

If you’ve been around these pages before, you might remember that I typically do these Best Album throwbacks on Thursdays (for the #tbt thing, of course) and though I’ve changed up the day this time around, I’ll be keeping the rest of my usual format intact. Today’s post is just the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten, and then, over the course of the next five Mondays, I’ll lay out my five favourite albums of the year, one by one. And as I said above, it’s a great one. Many of the albums are classics, catching the bands who released them at their peaks, whether at the beginning or the end of their careers, and are considered some of the most influential albums to the alternative rock artists that followed, through the 90s and beyond.

I’ve already done my top ten favourites for both 1987 and 1988 and though I talked up both of those years at the time, 1989 was the real deal. And I’m not just saying that because I say that about all the years. I was by then firmly into high school and my teen years when the final year of the eighties came around and I was finally forming some musical tastes beyond the normal AM radio fare. And though I didn’t catch on to all of these albums at the time, I can at least say I was aware of most of them, if not right away, then at least within a year or two of their release date. Indeed, I have been listening to these ten albums for so long, they are like close friends.

Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be for 1989…


#10 The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”

With “Automatic”, the Reid brothers, Jim and William, picked up right where they left off with 1987’s “Darklands”, which, incidentally, appeared at #8 on my list for that year. The Jesus And Mary Chain were effectively just the two of them at this point, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the tunes. They filled every ounce of soundscape using electronics, employing a drum machine and synthesizers to imitate bass guitars and to wash out the rest. And though they were criticized for this at the time, attitudes have changed over time, and the album is nowadays considered amongst The JAMC’s best work. The music is dark, raging, and roaring stuff, like a loud motorcycle racing through high and violent winds, the hair of its leather-jacketed rider, whipping about wildly, but being kept on course by the ever-present cool sunglasses. Yeah.

Gateway tune: Head on


#9 Galaxie 500 “On fire”

I didn’t listen to this album until well over a decade after its release. I finally decided to investigate Galaxie 500 a few years after frontman Dean Wareham’s second band, Luna, broke up and I had exhausted their catalogue. I started with “On fire” because it was the only one of their three of which I had previously heard, which makes sense because it is widely considered the trio’s high watermark. Together with Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, Wareham found his voice out of a love for lo-fi soundscapes, understated guitar brilliance, and The Velvet Underground. “On fire” is definitely rougher hewn than anything in the Luna catalogue but that doesn’t make it any less the underrated dream pop classic that it is.

Gateway tune: Tell me


#8 The Beautiful South “Welcome to The Beautiful South”

After The Housemartins called it quits in 1988, frontman Paul Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway immediately formed The Beautiful South, the moniker a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that they were from Northern England. The five-piece’s debut “Welcome to The Beautiful South” expanded on the jangle pop sound of The Housemartins but happily, the biting and outspoken lyrics continued, as it did throughout their career. The controversial cover (the Canadian version of the cover pictured above omits the image of a woman with a gun in her mouth) didn’t seem to hurt album sales any and really, this album was just the beginning for a band that would go on to sell millions of units. So many great tracks on this one, including the one below.

Gateway tune: Song for whoever


#7 The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”

The Grapes of Wrath’s fourth album, “Now and again”, was also their most commercially successful. Partially because of Canadian content (CanCon) rules imposed on Canadian radio and television stations but also because this album’s folk rock sound with impeccable harmonies had mass appeal. I definitely remember having the album’s singles recorded to cassette tape from AM radio at the time, but it was years before I would hear this album in full, long after the band had broken up and re-formed again. And though sometimes when I come to an album late, I find I can’t get into the time and place headspace of when it was released, this album is not an example of this. Timeless would be the right word here.

Gateway tune: All the things I wasn’t


#6 New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”

New Model Army’s fourth record is still their most successful to date and is likely one of my own personal faves. Justin Sullivan’s excellent, politically and socially-conscious lyrics and the group’s punk and post-punk informed sound received a bit of facelift when they were joined by violinist, Ed Alleyne-Johnson for this album. The infusion of folk and traditional music started the band to trend towards constantly tweaking their sound over the years and has likely aided in their longevity. And amazingly, they still haven’t lost any amount of edge or sense of urgency, especially here. This album is full of stomping great tracks, like the haunting one below.

Gateway tune: Green and grey


Check back next Monday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Live music galleries: Swervedriver [2015]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

Swervedriver live at Zaphods in 2015

Artist: Swervedriver
When: May 5th, 2015
Where: Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa
Context: Just over five years ago, much like now, I was starting to feel that it was time to see some live music because I hadn’t seen any shows since the folk festival in the previous fall. (Except at that time, I had options. Concert tours weren’t all shut down due to an international pandemic like they are right now.) So when I saw that the recently reunited and highly influential shoegaze band Swervedriver was hitting Zaphod Beeblebrox here in Ottawa on their tour, I decided to check it out. They were one of the few of the genre that I didn’t get into back in the day so it didn’t bother me that the reunited roster only included two original members, fleshed out by touring musicians Mikey Jones and Mick Quinn (bassist from Supergrass!). The album they had just released, “I wasn’t born to lose you”, was getting a lot of play on my iPod leading up to the show and the set included the best of that album, plus lots of their earlier hits. It was loud and I loved it. And incidentally, it was the last show I ever saw at the iconic Zaphod Beeblebrox before it shut down.
Point of reference song: Autodidact

Adam Franklin of Swervedriver
Jimmy Hartridge of Swervedriver
Mick Quinn of Swervedriver
Mikey Jones of Swervedriver
Jimmy Hartridge rocking the guitar
Adam Franklin making some sound adjustments
The effects pedal setup