The song's cryptic lyrics which many have tried to interpret are, according to the band, meant to be surreal and meaningless, built around the title. A common speculation is that the song takes an environmentalist stance.
The first single from Doolittle, this song received lots of accolades from the music press, including from Rolling Stone magazine, which named it the #5 single of 1989 and later listed it as #410 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The Doolittle album made many "best of" lists, but the Pixies went on hiatus after touring to promote the album, and never achieved great commercial success.
Regarding the number part of the song, Frank Black said in an interview with The Alternative Press: "It's a reference from what I understand to be Hebrew numerology, and I don't know a lot about it or any of it really. I just remember someone telling me of the supposed fact that in the Hebrew language, especially in the Bible, you can find lots of references to man in the 5th and Satan in the 6th and God in the 7th. I didn't go to the library and figure it out."
So how accurate was Black? The 6 and 7 parts are on target; the devil is 6 because 666 is the number of the Beast, and God is 7 because that's the heavenly number (there are many 7s in the Revelation: world created in seven days, etc.). 5 for man is a bit of a stretch. Traditionally Greek and Hebrew numbers all applied to a letter (Alpha =1, Beta =2 etc). Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. And in the Bible numbers have a meaning for instance 5 = grace, 6 = spiritual imperfection, 7 = spiritual perfection and 8 =resurrection. An example is in Greek, the name of Jesus is spelled I H S O U S (iota, eta, sigma, omicron, upsilon, sigma). Substituting in the Greek numeral system the equivalent numerical values to each letter in the name of Jesus and adding them up, the total is 888. Also there are 8 examples of resurrection in the Bible.
This is the only Pixies song to use a string section and the first to use outside musicians: two cellists (Arthur Fiacco and Ann Rorich) and two violinists (Karen Karlsrud and Corine Metter).
Bertrand - Paris, France
This song addresses three major environmental problems: Pollution ("sludge from New York and New Jersey), ozone depletion ("hole in the sky") and the greenhouse effect ("and if the ground is not cold, everything is gonna burn"). Also, they contrast creation (gods) with manmade destruction (monkey).
Miguel - Coimbra, Portugal
is the son of Pentecostal parents. In this song he combines environmentalism with religion and numerology. "I've retained a lot of Bible stories, and I use them a lot," Black told the Washington Post
. "Lots of stories of sex and seduction and murder and false religions."
The Doolittle album cover shows a monkey with a halo, which was chosen due to this song. The designer Vaughan Oliver came up with it after hearing a demo version of the album and choosing the primate as a theme.
Originally, Frank Black wanted to call the album Whore. When he saw the artwork, he changed his mind, since he didn't want to be perceived as anti-Catholic. Instead, a line from the song "Mr. Grieves" (also on the album) provided the title:
Pray for a man in the middle
One that talks like Doolittle
Legend had it that the title was changed from "Junkie Gone To Heaven" at the insistence of the record company. This doesn't hold water: Frank Black claims that he had the "this monkey's gone to heaven" line for about two years before finally adding the rest of the lyrics.
Pixes drummer David Lovering says that this is one of his favorite Pixies songs. He told MusicRadar: "When we were writing Doolitle, that song was pretty obvious to us as 'Hey, we've got something really great here.' Because oftentimes you don't know – you think something is good, but you can never tell if other people will like it."