Harness Your Hopes

Album: Spit on a Stranger (1999)
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Songfacts®:

  • Pavement recorded "Harness Your Hopes" during sessions for 1997's Brighten The Corners. It didn't make it onto the record, but two years later, they included it as a B-side on their Spit on a Stranger EP.

    For a long time the song remained largely unknown except to the most seasoned Pavement fans. More people picked up on the track when it featured on the 2008 expanded reissue of Brighten The Corners, the Nicene Creedence Edition.

    In 2017, "Harness Your Hopes" rose from obscurity to become Pavement's most-streamed song on Spotify. The exact reasons for its change in fortunes is unclear, but it's connected with the streaming site rolling out its "autoplay" feature in January 2017, thus changing its algorithm.
  • "Harness Your Hopes" found a younger set of fans in 2020 when it inspired a dance craze on TikTok. Frontman Stephen Malkmus told the BBC he'd forgotten the song until he heard it in a bakery near his home in Portland, Oregon. At first, he thought it was the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice." Then the vocals started and his kids told him they knew the song.

    "I assumed it was a kind of smaller viral hit," he said, "but it turns out we're like a strong Omicron."
  • Malkmus' lyrics are obtuse and often meaningless. Here, he opens the song in conversational style.

    Harness your hopes on just one person
    Because you know a harness was only made for one


    Malkmus is saying that by harnessing yourself to just one person, you're limiting yourself. He continues with a series of mantras before cracking a totally unconnected joke in the second verse.

    Show me a word that rhymes with pavement
    And I won't kill your parents and roast them on a spit


    The second line describes a word that rhymes with pavement: depravement.

    "That's the kind of thing you write when you're feeling cocky and you think it's a B-side," Malkmus laughed to the BBC. "It's sort of bizarre, how history rewrites itself."
  • So, why did Malkmus leave "Harness Your Hopes" off Brighten The Corners? Though he liked the song, he thought it sounded wrong after the band spliced the track to shorten a waltz section that came after its chorus. The band didn't tell Malkmus about the change, and it soured him on the song.

    "It's better, I like it, it's cool that we did that, it's old-school or whatever," he told Stereogram in 2017 of the analog adjustment. "But it sounded wrong to me or something, and I was like, 'That's a B-side.' It's terrible, too - nobody told me! I guess I was such a boss, and maybe nobody thought I would listen."

    Malkmus added that usually Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg or another band colleague would tell him when it was a good song. "So, it should have been on the record," he admitted. "I'm just saying that's my mistake."

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