Nowadays, to label music as alternative is to put it under a huge umbrella. It’s like when your grandmother calls every piece of electronics you own an iPod. The lines are so thin between genres that every grunge, punk, and indie rock band gets thrown under this massive alternative rock label. Although to be labeled as alternative you do have to follow a formula. There are certain dynamics in this huge range of music that almost every song follows. It’s all about dramatic changes that occur throughout the song. One moment a song will be a soft acoustic ballet, and just as quickly it will change to a distorted jam with the singer belting his lungs out.
So where did this recipe come from? It’s clear that there was a huge transition in the late 80’s early 90’s from the classic rock and glam rock, to the more modern alternative rock we know today. There must have been a moment, song, or band that changed the game for everyone else; that made this transition happen.
While there are number of bands in the late 80’s making moves toward this style of play, the band that is most accredited with the change has to be the Pixies. Without a large number of record sales to brag about, the Pixies career was short lived, but their impact has kept people talking about them almost two decades later. The Pixies’ style was one full of wide dynamics. The mood would change abruptly and dramatically throughout a song. Think about the song, “Where is My Mind?” The intro starts with acoustic guitar for few seconds, then a quick roll of the drums and a changeover from acoustic to a smooth but heavy electric guitar. Through the verse the vocals are done with a high pitched octave, and the words are almost spoken, not sung. Then boom, chorus comes, guitars drop, and you're left with nothing but some vocals and drums. Then lather, rinse, REPEAT. This song, like most Pixies songs, goes through so many dramatic mood and level changes. The Pixies became the platform for alternative rock bands across the board.
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Major artists like Weezer, Nirvana, The Strokes, and even U2 have stated that the Pixies were huge influences on their musical style. Now think about how many bands would claim those artists as their influencers, domino effect. Kurt Cobain said he wishes he was in a band like the Pixies and that “Smells like Teen Spirit” was his imitation of a Pixies ultimate pop song. Go back and listen to the early 90’s music and the birth of alternative rock. The songs go in waves of emotions and have such wide dynamics. It’s a style that continues to be part of the necessary criteria for almost all rock songs today. It’s something that seems effortless and organic now, but when the Pixies were doing it, it was a well thought out plan of attack. It’s hard to pinpoint exact things like this in music. Those exact bands or songs that changed the whole landscape. We do know for sure, the Pixies were major contributors to the sound and style of modern alternative rock today.