It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Pavement ripped off The Fall for their sound. Okay, it may not be universally acknowledged, but plenty of people have commented on the similarities over the years, including the late, great Mark E. Smith himself. Here’s what he told Melody Maker in 1993:
“People were coming up to me saying ‘listen to this’, and playing me Pavement records on a Walkman, and I just asked, ‘What live tape is that of ours? Is that from Holland in 1987 or something? That’s a fucking drum riff I wrote. The cheek!'”
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has always been happy to confirm The Fall’s influence on his music, while always stopping short of admitting outright plagiarism. The point is, it’s hardly a surprise that Pavement eventually released a Fall cover. And when they did, they chose one of their most exuberant and bombastic tunes – The Classical.
The Fall’s 1982 original of The Classical opens their album Hex Enduction Hour and it’s a joyous six minutes of cacophonous glory from a line up featuring Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley and two drummers. It’s full of classic Smith lyrics including:
- “Made with the highest British attention, to the wrong detail”
- “I have never felt better in my life”
and, of course:
- “Hey there, fuckface”
There was always a lot of humour in The Fall’s music, but it seems like it was a more fundamental part of their appeal during the first half of their existence. There was a playfulness to them which was more prominent back then.
Pavement’s rendition of The Classical is reverentially faithful – albeit, they sensibly drop the ‘N’ word from the opening of the song. It’s the sort of loving treatment you’d expect from avowed fans.
Pavement’s cover was released on their 1999 Major Leagues EP but was originally recorded for a Peel Session. This is highly appropriate since John Peel, as The Fall’s most notable champion, is the man responsible for introducing them to most of the world, including me. Having found The Fall through Peel in the early-’90s and randomly dipped into their already extensive discography since then, it was only when listening to the 2004, career-spanning collection 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and playing 25 years worth of their material in chronological order that their influence became clear to me. l kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of, “Everyone sounded like this in 1991”, only to then see that the track in question to was from 1986. They were always well ahead of their time. So when MES said of Pavement after they first appeared on the scene:
“It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”
…he was being (characteristically) harsh. That was true of a lot of bands, it’s just that Malkmus and his buddies didn’t bother to hide it.
Following Smith’s death, Stephen Malkmus was asked explicitly about his influence by Pitchfork. He said:
“I wasn’t like the Fall fan compared to a lot of my friends, but I certainly thought Mark was cool, and one of our albums, Slanted and Enchanted, has three or four songs that totally mess with his way of doing stuff. I never denied it—I’ve never been one to deny ideas I’ve taken. They always come out through a prism of me.”
Seems fair enough. And Slanted and Enchanted is a very fine album too. Presumably, this is one of the ‘three or four songs’ referenced above:
This would be the first time someone had pointed out the similarity of Conduit for Sale! to A New Face In Hell.
Apparently, Malkmus never got to meet Mark E Smith. He had the opportunity once at a reunion gig but was too shy. It’s probably just as well. Chances are it wouldn’t have gone well. Here’s the hip priest’s reaction to being appreciated by Fall fans, Fat White Family backstage at Glastonbury, as told to The Guardian shortly before his death:
“They got a bit cheeky so they were taught a lesson, I don’t think they’re fans anymore. They came and sat next to us and thought they were it. Big mistake. I was giving a glass of champagne to the lads before we went on and one of them just walks up and I just threw it in his face. He was showing off and there was a bit of a standoff. I like the stuff of theirs I’ve heard though. It was a pretty weird day that, the Dalai Lama was there.”
Of course there are a million MES stories like this. The man was a true original. Maybe that’s why he found it so uncomfortable and lashed out if he felt he was being copied. Maybe his Fat White Family story tells us that he never lost his playfulness after all. Whatever it tells us, he’ll be missed.