ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FRIDAY 2 MAY 2008
This is a record that having been cited by so many as an influence that it’s hard to reconcile it with its flop status here in the UK.
Monkey Gone To Heaven by The Pixies only reached #60 in the UK charts in March 1989, so it was very much an acquired taste. It was my ownership of the 12” single which helped cement my friendship with new work colleague Jacques the Kipper – I happened to mention in the pub one evening not long after he started in the office that it was one of my favourite bits of vinyl, and that’s when we started talking about bands and music. And we haven’t stopped all these years later…
The late 80s weren’t great for me in terms of keeping up with music. No. let me rephrase that – the late 80s weren’t great for me in terms of keeping up with anything.
The student years from 81-85 and the first few years of paid employment were a period of hedonism and a slightly unorthodox lifestyle. Particularly the first two years of employment where I had some money in my pocket. To coin a phrase from Paul Weller, I found myself in a strange town. It was called Edinburgh.
For three years I lived in a series of rented flats (one of which involved a moonlit flit and the loss of some 500 7” singles as recounted elsewhere in this rundown), with a great crowd of friends centred around unemployed actors and performers. Oh a psycho air-stewardess from Canada as a flatmate who once threatened to cut the throat of my wee brother – but that’s another story.
But I got bored with all of this – especially as I seemed to be the only one in the crowd with any money, and the late nights and long drinking sessions were taking a toll on me. That and the boss beginning to run out of patience. So I settled myself down with a steady girlfriend who I married in the Summer of 1988 after a whirlwind romance. Someone whose interest in music was virtually non-existent…..but I felt the change was what I wanted. It was time to put the toys of my youth away forever.
Within a matter of weeks, I was bored rigid. I missed my old mates and my old lifestyle. I missed going to gigs and listening to Radio 1 after 8pm of an evening. It was all soap operas and detective shows in my household. I was in danger of growing old before my time.
I wasn’t reading music papers, and I wasn’t buying anything. I put the turntable and amp under the stairs.
One day, instead of waiting at the stop for 20 minutes for the next bus home, I popped into a well known city centre record shop. Within minutes, a sound was blaring from the speakers which was unlike anything I had ever heard before. A great guitar riff, big powerful drumming and a whiny vocal that was part-spoken, part-sung and part-screamed. And was that some cellos there at the end? Surely not…
The song needed to be bought. So, it was up to the counter to ask the bloke behind the counter who and what was that? The answer, of course, was Monkey Gone To Heaven by The Pixies.
I had no idea who he was talking about. But I bought the single. The first bit of vinyl in at least 9 months since my wedding day. And then went home and pulled out the turntable and amp from under the stairs…
Within a year, I had moved out of the marital home. A few months later I was living with a woman called Rachel, who became my second wife – you may have seen her referred to here and there as Mrs Villain. Crucially, Rachel liked a lot of the music that I loved and was all for going out to gigs rather than get hooked on Eastenders and Taggart. She’s still like that all these years later.
This record is astonishing in its ambition. A long long time before it became fashionable to do so, it was giving warnings about global warming and the destruction of the environment. It had an orchestral part at a time when most bands were beginning again to strip things back to basics. It was a song which sounded indie, but was as far away from the fey and whimsy sound normally associated with the genre as you could imagine. It was a song that could even find favour with the rock fans who got hooked entirely on the solos and performances. It had a vocal that so screamed at you from the speakers, that you feared for the damage being done to the throat of the lead singer.
In short, The Pixies had more or less invented grunge…
mp3 : The Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
mp3 : The Pixies – Manta Ray
mp3 : The Pixies – Weird At My School
mp3 : The Pixies – Dancing The Manta Ray
As I mentioned at the outset, it was a flop, reaching only #60 in the singles chart. But it was #1 single of 1989 in Melody Maker, #5 in Rolling Stone, #22 in NME and #24 in Village Voice.
It was also the record that helped put my life back on the track I should never have left.