As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Janice Headley looks at how 1992 helped Pavement eclipse the very bands who inspired them. Read or listen to the essay below.
“It's just The Fall in 1985, isn't it? They haven't got an original idea in their heads.”
– Mark E. Smith of The Fall, on Pavement
Pavement were always a band who flagrantly wore their influences on their flannel sleeves. In fact, their biography Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement features a two-page spread of the bands who informed their style, from the Minutemen to Echo & the Bunnymen. And, of course, the UK post-punk band The Fall, who Pavement made no bones about considering an influence.
“I wasn’t like the Fall fan compared to a lot of my friends, but I certainly thought Mark was cool,” Pavement co-founder Stephen Malkmus told Pitchfork in 2018, “I never denied it — I’ve never been one to deny ideas I’ve taken. They always come out through a prism of me.”
That prism also includes Sonic Youth. As college students at the University of Virginia, Malkmus and his classmates/eventual roommates, David Berman and Bob Nastanovich, found out the home phone number for Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. They began leaving jam sessions on the couple’s answering machine. “You know, we got kind of a rush calling that number,” Nastanovich states in Perfect Sound Forever. “We would do that once or twice a week.” (Berman recorded as Silver Jews until his passing in 2019; Nastanovich joined Pavement in 1990.)
And another refraction of the prism was R.E.M. who Malkmus declares “the band of the ‘80s pretty much as far as I’m concerned.” Pavement co-founder Scott Kannberg fell in love the moment he laid eyes on their 1983 debut album Murmur. “Those vines on the cover were so eerie. To me, it was music from outer space, and, strangely enough, I identified with R.E.M. from that moment on; I was hooked.” Pavement released an ode to the Athens, GA band in 1997.
In 1992, both Sonic Youth and R.E.M. were releasing their seventh and eighth albums, respectively — the same year that fanboys Malkmus and Kannberg released their first as Pavement, titled Slanted and Enchanted.
The band had released a couple of EPs and a 7” single titled “Summer Babe” on Drag City at this point, but their debut full-length established them as formidable successors to their college-rock heroes. The song that kicks off the LP is a slight re-working of that Drag City single, re-named “Summer Babe (Winter Version).”
The guitars lurch along, punctuated by triplets played on a hi-hat. Malkmus does his best Lou Reed impersonation against a wave of distortion and Kannberg’s buoyant bass playing. The lyrics encapsulated the dry, disengaged style that would become synonymous with the ‘90s. It’s the perfect introduction to what will later be declared “the definitive indie rock album” by Billboard Magazine.
Malkmus told Rolling Stone, “‘Summer Babe’ is the start of Pavement front-loading their albums with the catchiest song first. Shots fired by Pavement! It’s just three chords, if you can call them that, so musically, it’s all about what you can wrestle from those chords. How far can you go? The lyrics are kinda silly. It mentions ‘Ice Ice Baby.’ There’s some imagery from Stockton, California, where we recorded it, mixed in with a cryptic story about a girl and a guy. I don’t think it makes all that much sense, but it’s got some cool imagery.”
I saw your girlfriend and she was
Eating her fingers, like they’re just another meal
But she waits there, in the levee wash
She’s mixin' cocktails with a plastic tipped cigar
Slanted and Enchanted was critically acclaimed upon its release. In fact, Spin Magazine declared it the #1 Album of the Year, surpassing Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…, Sonic Youth’s Dirty, and the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head. R.E.M.'s aforementioned full-length Automatic for the People didn’t even make the list.
How is it that these college-aged kids from Stockton, California could blow up the way they did, surpassing the very bands who inspired them? Aside from their obvious talent, let's just say it helped that it was 1992. In 1992, Nirvana’s Nevermind was sitting at #1 on the Billboard album charts, dethroning Michael Jackson’s LP Dangerous and launching an entirely different landscape for the music industry, a landscape where a lo-fi indie rock band like Pavement could thrive. In 1991, Nirvana were the opening act on a Sonic Youth tour. In 1992, it was Pavement. ‘80s underground music walked so ‘90s alterna-rock could run.
Pavement themselves went on to influence the next generation of musicians, like Parquet Courts, Car Seat Headrest, and, of course, Speedy Ortiz, whose frontwoman Sadie Dupuis was in a Pavement tribute band called Babement.
And incidentally, The Fall formed in 1976 after Mark E. Smith and his friends would hang out and listen to Can, the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, and The Stooges. It would seem no one has an original idea in their heads.
In 1997, Stewart Lee of the UK Sunday Times flat out asked Malkmus, "Wasn’t Slanted and Enchanted’s 'Our Singer' just an exact rewrite of the Fall’s 'Hip Priest?'"
“Yeah, it was,” Malkmus admitted, “but there were other songs, too... It didn’t worry me at the time. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Below are the songs that Malkmus confirms were "influenced" by The Fall, plus one cover. Listen to each one back-to-back and see what you think.
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. As we jump back to 1975, Larry Mizell Jr/ shares his reflec…
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. As we jump back to 2006, Martin Douglas shares his reflecti…