Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

No good indie kid ever forgets their first insult. It was the late 80s, I was at school, and Nick Smith (local, well-bred, gangly, wanker) accused me of listening to “stupid weird noise shit”. A pretty good summary: reader, I nearly burst with secret pride. What was I listening to: “Debaser”, by The Pixies, the best single of the 1980s.

Except it wasn’t a single until 1997, which I suppose makes it eligible for this list. But something wouldn’t feel right about that, not to someone like me who loves the quaint old notion of the single as a perfect consumer package, a time capsule and time bomb both at once. Anyway, “Debaser” had it all but missed its true place in the sun. “Debaser” was enormous, more cool and glossy and modernist than anything that came out of American alt-rock in the decade it secretly gave birth to. And “Debaser” was also the giddiest, stupidest pop record I’d ever heard – the spanky bass opening, Joey Santiago’s guitar fills reeling all over the place, Black Francis’ hyperbolic geek-yelp, and the glorious noo wave “Dee-bay-sah!” harmonies behind. The whole package was a righteous rocket ride that managed to both rewrite my pop rulebook and frankly spoil me for loud guitar pop for the rest of my days.

Obviously though, the band didn’t stop with “Debaser”: a lot of people think they should have and a lot of people are wrong. “Planet Of Sound” is a stupid knockabout throwaway, Black Francis getting pie-eyed and growly about being a reluctant passenger on some sort of space taxi with the rest of the band doing their best impression of badass rock’n’roll greasers, all teenage caveman riffs and fuzzed-over slugbass. But the impression isn’t exactly convincing – it’s still the Pixies, still the same bizarro version of pop music despite all the punker posturing. They were never a band to inspire arm-slicing devotion and matt black lower-case websites, they never kept any kind of faith, they never did much you could call meaningful except make sci-fi/surf/Spanish/stooges music which burst with life and never closed its mind to anything. I wish they’d been more successful because they’d have worn it well, but I suppose their ‘place in history’ is assured. They were a band I loved like no other and I will not see their like again.