Further dates, and nights staying in "roach-infested hotels in unknown places like Kansas", followed, before a chance to support fellow Bostonians Throwing Muses at the Rathskeller alerted the group to several managers and agents. Out stepped Gary Smith, manager and producer at Boston's Fort Apache studios in Roxbury, who'd recently sent the Muses to the UK for a lucrative deal with 4AD. Smith heard the band and felt he "could not sleep until you guys are world famous".
Work began on the Pixies' first mini-album, Come On Pilgrim, for three consecutive days during March 1987. The band got through 18 songs, including a cover of "In Heaven (Lady in The Radiator Song)" from David Lynch's film Eraserhead (often cited as an influence on Black Francis), an almost acoustic "Here Comes Your Man", "Down To The Well" and "Rock A My Soul". These last two recordings eventually turned up on a Sound Waves EP alongside tracks by The Pogues, Sugarcubes and The Wedding Present. Funded by Francis' father, the $1000 sessions were mixed over a further three days, eventually resulting in The Purple Tape. Copies were sent to interested parties, including local promoter Ken Goes (who immediately became the band's manager) and Ivo Watts-Russell, head honcho at 4AD, "the coolest record company to pay on time". Ivo was so impressed with the recordings that he signed the band and released eight of the tracks from the original demos as Come On Pilgrim, housed in a distinctive sleeve by 4AD's resident design company, 23 envelope.
Much of the mini-album's preoccupation with Pentecostal religion, not least on "Levitate Me", dated back to Charles' adolescent Bible bashing. "Come On Pilgrim! You Know He Loves You!" was lifted from a lament by Larry Norman, the Christian folk singer the frontman once saw at summer camp. "Vamos" and "Isla De Encanta", meanwhile, painted pictures of poverty and perversion which could be pinned down to his time on the streets of Puerto Rico. These themes converged and conflicted with sex (including a heavy emphasis on gay culture) and rock 'n' roll ("I Like Lou Reed!"), to create a melting pot of surreal subterranean sources.
For the band's next album, Ivo brought in Big Black frontman and sound engineer Steve Albini to unleash "lazy evil" into the Pixies sound. The resulting Surfer Rosa featured many gems, none more so than Kim's instant classic "Gigantic". An uneasy physical presence dominated "Bone Machine" and "Broken Face", while "Cactus" was spiked with T Rex's "The Groover" and inspired by a prison inmate's pleas for his girlfriend to rub her dress with blood and send it to him. Then there was the brief comic book heroism of "Tony's Theme" and an extended reworking of "Vamos". The album was completed in a fortnight, apart from some vocal mixes added afterwards. Two years later, Albini, in typically provocative fashion, described Surfer Rosa as "a patchwork pinch loaf from a band [who] at their top dollar best, were blandly entertaining college rock". However, most people who heard it were blown away by its abrasive dynamics and breathtakingly original songwriting. The record Rosa established the Pixies in the UK, topping the independent charts, and was named Album Of The Year by both Melody Maker and Sounds.
The Pixies arrived on British shores in April 1988 to support Throwing Muses on a tour beginning at London's Mean Fiddler. One writer described this as, "the finest double act since the Romans decided to put the Christians and the lions on the same bill". The setlist featured some new songs, which were given a wider airing via a Peel session in July. These included "Wild Honey Pie", continuing the band's fascination with The Beatles' White Album, plus "In Heaven" and "Hey". For a second trip to the BBC on October 1988, the band chose "Dead", "Tame", "There Goes My Gun" and "Manta Ray". A live version of "Hey" also appeared on The Sounds Machine EP1, given away with Sounds magazine, alongside Throwing Muses' "Mania". Both bands' sets had been recorded on the last date of their tour at London's Town And Country Club. This gig was also the source for the live version of "Vamos" and In Heaven" that backed a remixed version of the "Gigantic" 12". It was around this time that the Pixies struck up a relationship with British producer Gil Norton, who led the band into a Boston studio during the last six weeks of 1988 to work on their forthcoming album, provisionally titled Whore.
The band returned to the UK in spring 1989, and cause a little mischief at their two London shows. The first featured songs played in alphabetical order, while the second reversed the order of the setlist, with the band leaving the stage after one song (the previous night's encore) only to return for the rest of the set! It was during this tour that the band signed to Elektra Records in the US, who slipped out a live promo album featuring "Bone Machine", "Cactus", "Gigantic", "The Holiday Song" and "Nimrod's Son", together with two teasers for their next project, "Debaser" and "Gouge Away".
Inspired by the eyeball-splicing exploits depicted in Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel's film Un Chien Andalou, "Debaser" was the deranged opneing cut of the band's third album and an instant favourite. "Number 13 Baby" and "Dear" opened up the listener to further aural surgery while tracks such as "Gouge Away", "Wave of Mutilation" and "I Bleed" suggested an unhealthy yet alluring obsession with violence and bloodshed. However, the album's eventual title, Doolittle, seemed to be more about earthly matters, balancing nature against man's desire for progression. This was typified in the lighter - "but the songs are much harder" - feel of the record and, especially, its two singles. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" was interpreted as a eco-anthem, with man, God and the Devil at sixes and sevens over the ozone layer. The atypically jaunty "Here Comes Your Man", meanwhile, nearly landed the Pixies a promotional mimed appearance on the BBC's primetime chat show Wogan. More characteristically, the band cut another Peel session, performing "Down to the Well", "Into the White" and "Wave of Mutilation".