The streaming era has scattered previously held views on the hierarchy of popular music. Despite a critical pasting, Queen have emerged as the dominant classic rock band. The number one spot on the Billboard 100 in early 2022 has largely been shared by Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ and the Disney song ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’. And an obscure b-side has somehow become Pavement’s most-streamed song on Spotify.
Pavement are a beloved 1990s alt-rock band from Stockton, California. They flirted with success on the 1994 single ‘Cut Your Hair’, reaching the top ten in the US Alternative Airplay chart. But generally they were too arty and too abrasive for the mainstream, instead enjoying critical acclaim for albums like Slanted and Enchanted, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and Wowee Zowee.
‘Harness Your Hopes’ was originally recorded during the sessions for Brighten the Corners in 1997, but was left off the album. It eventually surfaced on the 1999 EP Spit on a Stranger, remaining only known by hardcore fans. Due to the mysterious wonders of the Spotify algorithm – there’s a fascinating Stereogum article that speculates that some songs have become popular through Spotify’s autoplay feature because they’re relatively “normal” – it’s now eclipsed ‘Cut Your Hair’ as Pavement’s best-known song. In the past week, Pavement have released a video for ‘Harness Your Hopes’ promoting their 2022 tour and the re-release of Spit on a Stranger.
As well as it’s normality, the pseudo-inspirational title might also be a factor in its success. The song is full of Stephen Malkmus’ playful imagery; as a New Zealander, the line “Kiwis they are home baking” certainly brings back memories of the initial Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020. Pavement have made more iconic songs to my mind, but ‘Harness Your Hopes’ does an efficient job of showcasing Pavement’s strengths and it would have been a standout on Brighten the Corners.
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