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(Credit: Masao Nakagami)


The first song Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus fell in love with

In terms of modern songwriters, you do not get much more revered than Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus. The Santa Monica native is one of the most idolised musicians of the past 30 years, and it is not unwarranted. 

His brand of lo-fi indie became one of the most captivating and consistently surprising of the ’90s, augmented by his undoubted talent as a wordsmith. By the end of the band’s first run in 1999, he had confirmed himself as one of alternative music’s definitive figures and everyone from The Cribs to Beabadoobee now cite him as a key influence.

Malkmus has a natural talent for penning infectious melodies on the guitar and elevating them with a surreal lyrical style and syllabic form of vocal delivery that has allowed his music to retain a freshness that many hopeful musicians can only dream of achieving. These three critical elements of his creative style imbue his work with a multi-faceted essence, which means the band can easily attract new fans. 

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Malkmus formed the group back in 1989. While the brand of indie rock that they pioneered was critically acclaimed, they never achieved the level of mainstream success that they deserved, but that was never what they were in it for. They were a foil to the mainstream behemoth of the grunge period, and whilst some of their songs are equally as bleak, for many, their work provided respite from the dark nightmare that grunge had become. 

Speaking to Consequence of Sound in 2018 Malkmus discussed his relationship with song. “I’ve always been a little bit of a student of what makes a good song, and, as I’ve gotten older, it’s hard to be some kind of trailblazer at that point. There is a little bit of settling into a style that you’re comfortable with,” he explained. “Or, I’ll just try and go around my record collection, try and push myself around when I can to see what sounds good. You know, what’s to pull off.”

Malkmus added: “Sometimes, I probably don’t succeed entirely, like with some of the heavier stuff. I want to try and do that, but maybe I’m not that guy.”

However, given that Malkmus is a self-professed student of song, the first track he fell in love with may surprise you. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2020 for their ‘The First Time’ series, he revealed the name of the song that first made him enamoured with music, and it is the obscure hit from 1971 ‘Joy to the World’ by rockers Three Dog Night. Even though it will be vaguely remembered by many of Malkmus’ generation, it’s a guarantee that most of us who are younger will not have heard of the track. 

Malkmus explained: “I remember Three Dog Night, that was big, that was like 1971. ‘Jeremiah was a Bullfrog’, that was a big song. I probably mentioned that before. You have to really be into me to know that I mentioned it, but, that was a big song, ‘Joy to the World’. I mean, that’s a kid’s rock song performed by twenty-something perverts, but you know, kids were really into it.”

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