Pixies' "Doolittle (1989)"

The Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle predates the “grunge” scene of the 1990s, but it was influential to many artists and acts of that era (Sisario, 2006). With the exception of its production qualities (an emphasis on gated drums, for example) it did not sound like the music of the 1980s, in my opinion. Dark and disturbing lyrics, dramatic dynamic changes between soft and loud musical motifs within the same song, and peculiar atmospheric guitar wails are all hallmarks of the Pixies’ Doolittle, hallmarks that later became the norm with bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden (Sisario, 2006). In 1994, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame told Rolling Stone that he “was basically trying to rip off the Pixies” when he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit (Sisario, 2006).

Ironically, both Pixies and their work were not entirely successful upon release but continued sales and an expanding fan base have eventually brought then much deserved recognition (Sisario, 2006). Doolittle became certified gold in 1995, and approximately 800,000 to a million copies of Doolittle were sold in America by 2005 (Sisario, 2006). And although the band dispersed in 1993, after much in-fighting, their growing success brought them back together in 2004, and they have been performing off and on since then (Sisario, 2006).

As a side-note, Doolittle was polled by NME as the second-greatest influential album of all time in 2003 (“Doolittle (album),” n.d.).

I had heard of the Pixies for years but never knew much about them. I knew they were an alternative rock back of the late 1980s and were popular on college radio, but other than their video for Here Comes Your Man from Doolittle, I did not listen to them. It was only until I discovered that the forewoman of the band The Breeders, Kim Deal, was originally the bassist for the Pixies that I decided to explore their music. I was immediately drawn into their dark and quirky world and was amazed that I had not been a listener earlier in their career. As with their trend, I became a fan and admirer years after Doolittle’s release.

As a professional influence, my lyrics also tend to be dark and esoteric in nature as with Doolittle. However, I am still in the process of learning Gil Norton’s (the producer of Doolittle) techniques of adding a clean sheen to a raw sound without stripping the rawness completely away. And despite the age of the alternating dynamics of soft and loud found in 1990s music, I still enjoy adding a contrast of dynamics in my own work.

The question I have been asked in my Music History II course regarding my place in the industry in five years is a difficult one for me. I suppose the best way to begin answering this question is to state what I have learned from the various artists throughout this course. The commonality that comes to my mind is that all these artists were genuine and honest with their standards. None of them were trying to recreate albums that came before them, neither by themselves nor by other artists. Each artist had strengths and weaknesses and worked within the given boundaries. Whether the limits were technological (Kraftwerk worked with synthesizers before MIDI was available) or personal (the trials that Marvin Gaye had to work through when creating What’s Going On), each artist managed to produce stellar material despite the circumstances. This topic is important to me on a deeply personal level. I know my road ahead will be a challenging and difficult one, but I am going to make the journey as rewarding to me as possible.

I do not project myself in the future at all, so I do not know where I will be in the industry in five years. I do know that my passion for music and music production keeps me open to many opportunities. I will be happy as a freelancer creating music for various libraries, as a soundtrack composer for film or television, or as studio producer helping talent to record his or her material. In the process, I will strive to keep my originality and be honest with my talents (or lack thereof).

And my final bit of advice is to always keep learning and evolving. If I ever feel as if I had reached my “destination” in the music industry, it will be time for me to find another line of work.

Shannon McDowell


Doolittle (album). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 21, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doolittle_%28album%29

Sisario, B. (2006). 33 1/3: Doolittle. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.

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