"That Debaser song is like the best song ever." -- my brother

There's not really any one thing in particular that stands out about the first and possibly the best track on what is, by most accounts, the Pixies' best album Doolittle. People have screamed or shouted the lyrics to other, sometimes more well-known songs before and since. There's nothing very remarkable about the I - IV - II - IV chord progression which dominates the song, although unlike most pop songs it does manage to avoid using a dominant chord for the most part*. And there aren't any new sounds here from the Pixies' guitarist Joey Santiago like the blistering solo in Vamos, from Surfer Rosa, or the sickly moans in Doolittle's own Dead. The hook is simple and there's no amazing virtuosic instrument playing anywhere.

Still, there's something about this song, and it may be precisely because, like the poppier Here Comes Your Man, it doesn't rely on a single gimmick for its appeal. Instead it's just a fairly simple but very compelling and tightly constructed pop song.

About... slicing up eyeballs. Ha ha ha ho. Just wait until you get that stuck in your head (you will).

It is a known fact that Black Francis wrote this song about the French surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which is also what the shrieked quasi-chorus alludes to in a mangled mix of English, French (as used also in the Pixies' last album, Trompe le Monde), and Spanish (Francis' preferred non-English language, as seen in other songs like Isla De Encanta and Oh My Golly!). This certainly helps make some sense of the lyric, although it's still unclear, among other things, who the groovie girlie is.

Not to mention that we still have no idea what the point of the song is. Sure, we know in a vague sense what it's about, but usually I'm not satisfied to stop picking a song apart until I've dissected every line. But hey, Debaser is about a French surrealist film which was designed to provoke people, and to confound anyone who tried to make sense of it. It's hard to imagine that the song will yield much more understanding, especially given Black Francis's track record. I'm content not knowing why Francis wants to grow up to be a debaser, or indeed what exactly that entails. If anything.

Rather than picking Debaser's lyrics apart too much, you would be well advised just to give it a few spins. You may notice the way the instruments enter one by one. First the bass, establishing the chord progression which provides the harmonic basis for almost the entire song. The lead guitar comes in with the two most prevalent hooks, the drums joining in between them. Then the rhythm guitar, matching the rhythm established by the drums, and finally Black Francis starts his wonderfully raw lyric.

There are plenty of other things to listen for: the way the whole process repeats at the beginning of the two choruses; the pair of triplets in the drums right before "CHIEN!" (this is one of the few songs in which I actually notice the drums); Kim Deal's haunting backup vocals; the dropping out of the drums for the somehow even more lyrically hectic second verse. For a standard vocal/lead-guitar/rhythm-guitar/bass/drums song, there's an awful lot to notice here, and that's part of why you may find yourself listening to the song over and over again.

Eventually maybe you'll understand why many people consider this the best song the Pixies ever wrote. Maybe you won't. I certainly don't understand why I think it's not only the Pixies' best song but one of the best songs I've ever heard. All I've managed to convince myself of is that the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its parts, and that's enough for me.

So I just crank it, and enjoy, because the Pixies are just fun. Especially when they're singing about slicing up eyeballs.

Got me a movie, I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know
Girlie so groovie, I want you to know
Don't know about you, but I am un chien andalusia
Wanna grow up to be, be a debaser


Got me a movie, ha ha ha ho
Slicing up eyeballs, ha ha ha ho
Girlie so groovie, ha ha ha ho
Don't know about you, but I am un chien andalusia


* Thanks to water for pointing out that this progression is not in fact II - V - I, as I had originally — and idiotically, for someone with three semesters of music theory under his belt — claimed.

De*bas"er (?), n.

One who, or that which, debases.


© Webster 1913.

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