Pavement were a highly influential American indie rock band from California who first formed in 1989. The band consisted of vocalist/guitarist Stephen Malkmus, guitarist Scott Kanberg, bassist Mark Ibold and drummer Steve West as well as percussionist Bob Nastanovich. When they first formed, they only intended to be a recording band who did not play live and because of this they often avoided press, with their early releases receiving only underground attention. However, this changed as the band went on and became more accomplished, and over the next ten years they released five full length albums before splitting up in 1999. They reformed for a reunion tour in 2010 and in 2021 are planning to perform two 30th anniversary shows.
The band’s biggest commercial hit was 1994’s “Cut Your Hair,” although they were generally successful throughout all of their career. Unlike many of their peers, they never signed to a major label and were always determined to remain independent. Perhaps because of this, they are one of the most underrated bands of the 1990’s. We hope you enjoy our top 10 Pavement songs list.
# 10 – Carrot Rope
Kicking off the list we have the closing song from the final album, 1999’s Terror Twilight. On the album’s track listing it is titled “Carrot Rope” to signify that it is the album’s final track. It was released as a single exclusively in the United Kingdom as a result of extensive play on the John Peel Show, where it was their highest charting in Britain reaching number twenty-seven, as well as their second and final in the British top forty.
# 9 – Zurich is Stainted
Here we have a track from the band’s 1992 debut Slanted and Enchanted which clocks in at just one minute and forty seconds long. The album was very well received critically upon its release and is considered to be a classic debut album in the indie rock genre. In the UK, where the band were always very popular, it peaked at number seventy-two on the albums chart. In the years since its release, it has been featured on many all-time classic albums lists.
# 8 – Unseen Power of the Picket Fence
This track was written about REM and the college rock scene that both they and Pavement were considered a part of. Despite this, the band actually recorded the song for its appearance on an Aids benefit compilation released in 1993 titled No Alternative, thus this song does appear on any of the band’s actual albums. The compilation features several contributions from artists who would become prominent alternative acts throughout the 1990’s.
# 7 – Trigger Cut
Here is another track from Slanted and Enchanted which sees the band at their best. It is a track is rather reminiscent of The Fall, who the band have often been called the American answer to, with legendarily cantankerous Fall frontman Mark E Smith labeling them a rip-off. This track was released as a single with its B sides being included on the deluxe re-release of the album which came out in 2002 for its tenth anniversary.
# 6 – Frontwards
This next track is from the Watery Domestic EP released in 1992. It is a track that shows the band’s more melodic side. This release was the debut of Mark Ibold on bass and Bob Nastanovich on percussion, who had both previously been touring members. All previous releases had been recorded as a trio by Malkmus, bassist Spiral Stairs (Scott Kanberg) and drummer Gary Young. This would also be Young’s final recording with the band.
# 5 – Shady Lane
This single was taken from 1997’s Brighten the Colours. It was released as a single twice, both containing a different B-side, and as an EP which contained both B-sides. It was another top forty hit for Pavement in the UK. It is a song that could very much considered to be proto-type to what are commonly called the “intel-pop” bands of today such as Vampire Weekend and Bodega, with its jangly riff and clever lyrics.
# 4 – Give it a Day
This track was included on the Pacific Trim EP released in 1996. This EP was actually recorded as a last-minute decision to coincide with an Australian tour that the band were soon to embark on. Likely because of this, it only features Malkmus, Nastanoich and Steve West on drums. The EP is not considered to be one of the band’s most essential and has been out of print for years although all four tracks on it including this one are now available on the re-release of the band’s third album Wowie Zowie.
# 3 – Painted Soldiers
Here was a track that was never included on a Pavement release but instead appeared on the soundtrack to a movie released in 1996 titled Brain Candy which was made by a comedy troupe called The Kids in the Hall. The song was recorded during the Wowie Zowie sessions but did not make the final cut due to the band feeling that it would sound out of place, although it was included amongst the bonus material contained on the albums re-release.
# 2 – Debris Slide
Just off the top spot we go all the way back to the band’s very early days before the release of their debut album with this track from 1991’s EP Perfect Sound Forever where the band have a different and much noisier sound compared to what they became known for with their subsequent releases. As well as The Fall, it also recalls bands such as The Pixies. The song is also very short, clocking in at literally just under two minutes.
# 1 – Cut Your Hair
At the top spot is the band’s most famous song taken from 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It was released as a single of the record and to this day is their biggest-selling release, reaching number ten on the Billboard Alternative Songs. The song lyrically mocks the importance that the music industry puts on image, with the title mockingly referring to record company executive saying, “Why don’t you just go and cut your hair?” to a band member.