Monkey Gone to Heaven

Composed by Black Francis

Song Review by

"If man is five...then the Devil is six...and if the devil is six...then God is seven!" It is hard to argue with this bit of numerological logic, from one of the Pixies' best-known songs, "Monkey Gone to Heaven." The song is as good as any in illustrating what the Pixies did best: a skewered pop arrangement with agitated surf and punk-influenced guitar textures, dramatic dynamics, girl group backing vocals, and a lyric that is at once humorous, surreal, and a little spooky. Black Francis (later known as Frank Black) intones in a conversational voice, as if telling matter-of-fact stories warning of ecological disaster: "Now, there's a hole in the sky/And the ground's not cold and if the ground's not cold/Then we're all going to burn, we'll all take turns/I'll get mine too." The monkey is us. But the song's "message" is not heavy-handed or didactic; in fact, it starts off like a children's story or a myth: "There was a guy/An underwater guy who controlled the sea." As with most Pixies songs, Joey Santiago's aggressive guitars and Francis' screaming vocals and enigmatic lyrics are smoothed out a bit by the soothing, sultry backups from Kim Deal and the always impressive amount of pop hooks the band could pack into one song. While the dean of alt-rock producers, Steve Albini, did his best cut-and-paste job and accented the Pixies' edge to seemingly overcompensate such pop tendencies, Gil Norton recognized that these aspects were the strength of the group -- not just commercially, but musically as well. Norton -- with Steve Haigler -- mixed "Monkey Gone to Heaven" with a good amount of smooth compression, reverb, and delays to dull slightly the edges, while retaining the band's essential rawness. When the guitars drop out completely on the verses, exposing the skeletal rhythm section of Deal's bass and David Lovering's drums, interesting and decidedly non-punk sonic elements are also left, like cellos -- a big deal for a band launched from the relatively exposed-heat-pipes rock & roll confines of Boston's Fort Apache Studios. When the choruses explode into doubled hard rock guitar riffs, one can still detect a catchy piano line bubbling underneath in Norton's production. This use of dynamics, texturing, and feedback, as well as novel, idiosyncratic lyrics, had an unmeasurable impact on almost all modern bands that followed in the wake of the Pixies. The band was responsible for breaking down barriers at rock radio and reaching the Top Ten in the relatively new modern rock category. The group even scored a slot on Saturday Night Live performing "Monkey Gone to Heaven." Nirvana and Pavement are two obvious bands that seemed to take a great deal of their immediate inspiration from the Pixies, though the band's international influence could still be felt ten years after its breakup.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Doolittle [Video] 1989 4AD
Monkey Gone to Heaven 1989 Elektra 2:55
Velouria 1991 Kiss the Stone 2:56
Lilliput 1992
Various Artists
4AD 2:59
No Image 1992 KTS 2:56
Give Me Ecstasy 1994 Psychotic Records 2:55
Lost Property 1996
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:55
Grosse Pointe Blank -- More Music from the Film 1997
Original Soundtrack
Polygram 2:56
The Best Album in the World...Ever! Vol. 7 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:55
Pixies at the BBC 1998 Elektra 2:57
Rage the Album 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:56
Rough Diamonds 199? Blue Moon 2:57
Guitar Club Classics 2000
Various Artists
SPV 2:58
Doubleshot: Modern Rock 2000
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:57
Alternative 90s 2002
Various Artists
Dark Side of the 80s 2003
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 2:55
Live at the Town and Country Club 1988 2004 4AD
Wave of Mutilation: The Best of Pixies 2004 4AD 2:55
Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 2:56
Live in Minneapolis, MN 2004 Disc Live 2:50
Twelve Final Shows: Live in New York, NY - 12/16/2004 2005 Pixies 3:07
Indie Anthems 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:56
Sell Out 2005 Rhino
Acoustic: Live in Newport 2006 Eagle Vision
Live at the Paradise in Boston 2006 Eagle Vision
Minotaur 2009 Artist in Residence
Hollywood Holidays 2013 Chrome Dreams / Smokin' 3:38
Bernard lenoir l'inrockuptible 2013
Various Artists
EMI 2:56
Triple J: 40 Years of Music 2015
Various Artists
ABC 2:57
blue highlight denotes editor's pick