The 15 Best Stephen Malkmus Songs, Ranked

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Stephen Malkmus nerds fans rejoiced last week when the former/sometimes Pavement frontman released his latest solo album, Wig Out at Jagbags. The latest LP with his backing band The Jicks, whose titled parodies that of Dag Nasty’s classic hardcore album, Wig Out at Denko’s, sees Malkmus and co. relying a little less on the Grateful Dead-esque jam sound they’ve made their own (although The Dead do get mentioned in the track “Lariat”). Instead, we get a jambalaya of influences and nods that venture into Steely Dan territory, while still remaining undeniably Malkmus, and owing a debt to his ’90s indie heartthrob days. But where does it rank among his best material? Click through to see if any songs from Jagbags turn up on our list of Malkmus’ top 15 tracks of all time.

15. “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” — The Crust Brothers

Not actually a Malkmus composition, “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” is actually a Silkworm track (a great band whose members kept Malkmus company in The Crust Brothers, who only released one album), but he sings this countrified post-rock jam sweetly enough to earn it a place on this list.

14. “Tigers” — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (from Minor Traffic)

The best (and perhaps the only) song that starts out referencing Birkenstocks, this might have sounded a bit too much like Pavement if Malkmus hadn’t thought to give it a psychedelic-pop edge.

13. “Tide to the Oceans” — Silver Jews (from Starlite Walker)

The Pavement/Silver Jews link is impossible to deny, and while the songs that Malkmus sang on or actually co-wrote with Berman might be good, not many can rank that high up in the best stuff Malkmus ever did. Here, on the first Silver Jews album, we get a song that is credited to both Berman and Malkmus that shows what could have been had the band continued down the route they started on.

12. “Lariat” — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (from Wig Out at Jagbags)

You can’t go wrong with a Malkmus song that has you bopping your head and tapping your feet along to the singer proclaiming, “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever.”

11. “Cut Your Hair” Pavement (from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)

One of the most well-known Pavement jams, this song inspired Beavis and Butt-Head to sum up the aesthetic of not just that band, but Generation X as a whole: “It’s like they aren’t even trying.”

10. “The Hook” — Stephen Malkmus (Stephen Malkmus)

Malkmus gives us a weird tale in this funky track off his first, pre-Jicks solo album.

9. “Spit on a Stranger” — Pavement (from Terror Twilight,)

Maybe the most divisive song that could be considered among the band’s “greatest hits,” this one might also be the closest that Pavement got to writing a Beatles-esque track — but they also use the opportunity to open up their final album with a sweet and sour “adios” of a song that’s earned equal measures of fans’ love and hate.

8. “Summer Babe” — Pavement (from Slanted & Enchanted)

If you could pick just one definitive Pavement song, what would it be? The song would have to be a little loud, a little off, and filled with lyrics that would get Mark E. Smith of The Fall telling British music magazines that Pavement ripped off his sound (which he did quite frequently in the 1990s). The first track from their debut LP does a good job of covering all of those bases.

7. “Shady Lane” — Pavement (Brighten the Corners)

There are so many great lines to sing along with in “Shady Lane”: “We went dutch, dutch, dutch” is certainly a wonderful one to start off with, but there’s a lot of truth to Malkmus’ observation that all anybody ever wants out of life is a shady lane.

6. “Jo Jo’s Jacket” — Stephen Malkmus (from Stephen Malkmus)

There are so many examples of Malkmus still getting comfortable with music without his old band, and this song about Yul Brynner, from his first solo outing, really does sound like a Terror Twilight cut in the very best way possible.

5. “Vanessa From Queens” — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (from Pig Lib)

Nothing will make you happier than a clever Malkmus love song, especially when it’s laid back, catchy, and most importantly, totally fun. “Vanessa From Queens” might turn off some fans who don’t like the guitar noodling from his solo work, but those of us who do are known to end up humming this one to ourselves all day long.

4. “Jenny & The Ess-Dog” — Stephen Malkmus (Stephen Malkmus)

The tale of a girl named Jennifer who is dating a much older musician in a ’60s cover band is one of our favorite Malkmus story songs. At some moments, it even sounds like Malkmus is considering a faux English accent, à la Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices.

3. “Gold Soundz” — Pavement (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)

There are very few lines written in the last quarter-century as perfect as these:

So drunk in the august sun And you’re the kind of girl I like Because you’re empty and I’m empty And you can never quarantine the past

An entire generation of sad indie kids found all their ideas of romance summed up right there, and “Gold Soundz” features even more of the best lyrics Malkmus ever put to paper.

2. “Box Elder” — Pavement (from Slay Tracks)

One listen to this one, and suddenly you’re agreeing with Malkmus about the need to get the fuck out of this town. It’s crazy to listen to this, then compare it with all the songs on Pavement’s LPs, and try to figure out how they progressed from here to their last recordings. This early song off their 1989 debut EP is just so full of hope — basically the opposite of the sort of fist-pumping anthems you’d expect from the band that supposedly epitomizes Gen-X slack rock. “Box Elder” is one of those songs you hear and immediately love because it feels so damn good to sing along to: “I’ve got a lot of good things coming my way, and I’m afraid to say that you’re not one of them.”

1. “Range Life” — Pavement (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)

Sure, it’s the song that sums up Pavement as a band, and set the tone for much of indie rock in the 1990s. But it also (like “Shady Lane”) has this totally honest lyric that we can all relate to about just wanting to escape and settle down, juxtaposed with biting disses of current alt-rock celebrities like Stone Temple Pilots and the Smashing Pumpkins. It may not sound a whole lot like Pavement’s other material, but it’s their best song because it speaks to all of us while summing up everything we think we know about Malkmus.