Monkey Gone to Heaven

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 1989 Elektra 2:57
Monkey Gone to Heaven 1989 Elektra 2:55
Velouria 1991 Kiss the Stone 2:56
Lost Property 1996
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:55
Death to the Pixies 1987-1991 1997 Elektra 2:58
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
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
Blueprint 2000 Blueprint / Beechwood 2:57
Dark Side of the 80s 2003
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 2:55
Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground 2004
Various Artists
Rhino 2:56
Indie Anthems 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:56