In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: In celebration of his new solo LP, we pick songs by Stephen Malkmus.
The Space Ghost Coast To Coast episode “Pavement” is crammed with great jokes—the stilted “script” “written” by the animated host, Zorak ditching his keyboard for a stay in an extremely minimal security prison, and the cameo by The Great Gazoo—but one has improved appreciably with time. With his superhero-turned-talk-show-host ego more inflated than usual, Space Ghost requests The Beatles as the replacement for his imprisoned bandleader. When The Beatles arrive, they’re obviously not John, Paul, George, and Ringo, though the guy with the red scarf and the Fender Jazzmaster certainly qualifies as mop-topped.
There’s a cheekiness to conflating Pavement with the greatest band that ever was, and like any good joke, there’s some honesty there too. By the time its eponymous Space Ghost episode debuted, Pavement was the closest thing indie rock had to a Beatles, give or take a Sonic Youth. Over the years, the gag became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Pavement’s stature only continued to grow after its 1999 breakup, fostering a whole generation of guitar-slinging smartasses who’d claim that Stephen Malkmus and company are bigger than rock’s Liverpudlian Jesus.
I’m not enough of a contrarian to take that position, but Pavement is one of my favorite bands—if not my absolute, first pick, give or take a Talking Heads. And that wouldn’t be the case without “Pavement” and its spooky closing number, listed as “Space Ghost II” for the purposes of 2008’s Brighten The Corners reissue. First encountering the episode as a Abbey Road-jamming teen, I thought I was picking up what the show was laying down. Space Ghost asked for The Beatles, and Moltar hired a bunch of guys who can’t even play. (No offense intended to unfairly maligned drummer Steve West—as the title of the B-side goes, “Westie Can Drum.”) Malkmus doesn’t even turn toward the camera during the first number. Thanks to Napster and a friend’s broadband connection, I soon learned that wasn’t the case; somewhere in my childhood bedroom, there’s still a blue mix-CD whose track list gives way to a four-song interlude of Pavement’s two Space Ghost songs, “Shady Lane,” and the Terror Twilight-era outtake “For Sale! The Preston School Of Industry.” Like the joke behind the band’s trip to the Ghost Planet, there was more intriguing stuff to be found by scratching away the surface. But I’ll always have an affinity for those goofy odes to an intergalactic savior of dubious intelligence, if only because it’s fun to say that a superhero introduced me to my favorite band.