Archive for August, 2009

Brit Pop: Saturday Night’s Take

Posted in Opinions on August 5, 2009 by Billy Shears
Brit Pop - Get Into It

Brit Pop - Get Into It

There was a period in the 90’s (92-93 or so) where musically, things got a bit disjointed for me. Tunewise, I was out in the wilderness. At the time, to quote Life’s Blood, I was disillusioned with hardcore after having spent the better part of the previous 6-7 years existing on a diet of it and punk rock/oi! etc. I certainly had the classics to fall back on (which I did; I didn’t give up completely) but I wasn’t into alot of the new bands I was hearing (though in hindsight, due to me turning my back on most new hardcore of the day, I missed alot of classic bands from the era in their own right, only to re-discover them later.)

Around this time, I was mainly playing records by groups like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces and most of all, The Jam and other mod revival bands. I was still listening to stuff like Stiff Little Fingers, Pegboy, The Clash, Sham 69, The Specials, Madness and some ska, but I certainly didn’t feel part of any scene, either with the retro stuff, or the punk/ska stuff. Alot of my older friends had moved away, or simply weren’t as interested anymore. Grunge was upon America, and though there were bands in that scene I thought were decent, I hated the movement with a passion. Stagnation was upon me. I was just kind of….there.

The chance purchase of two records in 1993-1994 brought me out of a bit of a funk. After some time, finally, two records excited me: The La’s s/t debut (which had been out for some time, I discovered it late) my initial interest based on having read that scouser Lee Mavers was heavily influenced by The Beatles. The second record was Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, again, based on the fact that I’d read it was Ray Davies/Madness incarnate, as well as hearing about the band’s Quadrophenia obsession, which soon kind of fueled a Mod fascination of my own. But I digress.

I started to get the impression that across the pond, the “British Image” was back. Seeing as how the Jam were my pretty much my favorite band, here were new bands doing something I could relate to again. Mod style was en vogue, and when I read amazing reviews of two more records, a debut called Definitely Maybe by a new-ish band called Oasis, and Parklife, Blur’s follow-up to Modern Life is Rubbish, I was all in. At this point, I became semi-obsessed with British guitar bands that were playing tunes influenced by bands from the 60’s and 70’s that I dug, and bought loads of whatever was reviewed in SELECT, NME, MELODY MAKER, etc.

Feeling nostalgic this week since picking up MOJO magazine’s what seems like yearly “tribute to Brit Pop” issue, I have since stolen their idea and thought I’d give my take.

Here are the Top 25 songs that I feel were the best tunes released during the heydey of what was known as Brit Pop (exceptions being the first two bands on my list, which weren’t really part of that scene at all, but were bands that I feel drew the blueprint for the bands that later followed.)

Criteria was simple: the songs I like/liked the best, and each group gets no more than one entry, otherwise this would be 25 Oasis and Blur tunes, with a few other bands sprinkled in here and there.

Debate can surely rage, and everyone has their own favorite tunes from their own favorite bands, but here are mine.

Saturday Night Beneath the Plastic Palm Trees’ picks for

TOP 25 TUNES OF THE BRIT POP ERA:

1. The La’s – “There She Goes.” While definitely not part of any Brit Pop movement, this band was, however, the granddaddy of how Brit Pop would sound. Noel Gallagher was once quoted in Oasis’ early days saying that he wanted to finish what Lee Mavers, The La’s singer, songwriter, lead guitarist and lead headcase of the band, had started. This is their most well known, and likely best tune, though the entire album is one classic after another. Timeless.

2. The Stone Roses – “Sally Cinnamon.” Again, not really Brit Pop (Madchester, obviously) other than being a target for new bands to aspire to ,(Second Coming notwithstanding) the Roses definitely laid down the ground work for younger bands to follow. Jangly guitars, amazing choruses, Ian Brown’s cockiness and John Squire’s guitar, plus the overall swagger of the band was a call to arms for groups to come. Tough picking any one tune over the next, because all the early singles and the debut were/are classic, but this has always been my favorite Roses tune.

3. Oasis – “Live Forever.” The guv’nors of the movement. The ones that everyone got compared to, and in many ways, the measure of success for British bands still today. Oasis were the ones that ended up being “bigger than the Beatles.” There’s no explanation necessary, for even the bottom of the barrel music fans seem to know Oasis. Album after album of consistent quality, and B-sides that most other bands would kill for as their own A-sides, this tune is likely most representative of Oasis for myself. A classic “us against them” tune, it hit the heights that made me wonder where they would end up and how high they’d climb. It is still likely my #1 Oasis tune.

4. Blur – “End of a Century.” If Oasis were Ali, then Blur were Frazier; a band that knocked Oasis around for awhile, but ultimately couldn’t hack what was necessary to win an imaginary war that, in the end, would hurt both groups. Nevertheless, their “Little England” trilogy of records remains likely my favorite back-to-back-to-back works of any band England has produced since the 60’s. To me, this tune was definitely one of the highlights of their best record – Parklife – which is to say that it is one of the best tunes of an album which likely gave birth to Brit pop. Hard to chose over “Parklife” “This is a Low” and 3-4 others on that album, this nevertheless gets today’s nod as my favorite.

5. Ocean Colour Scene – “The Day We Caught the Train.” Never revered in America, at one point a big band in Britain, and then the press’s whipping boys when Brit Pop was failing, OCS are nevertheless one of the more constant bands of the era. Pretty basic modrock (“Dadrock” as the pundits sourly claimed) in the vein of the folksier moments of The Faces meets Oasis catchiness, being delivered by a Paul Weller worshipper. “The Day We Caught the Train” remains one of my fondest Brit pop tunes. Still active today (with founder Steve Cradock a member of Weller’s band as well) they are still the business.

6. Paul Weller – “Hung Up.” Moreso than even The La’s or The Roses, Weller and The Jam loomed large over most groups from the era’s list of influences. Unlike The La’s or The Roses, however, Weller was a part of what constituted the time and the place. Weller had been largely MIA since the fall of the Style Council, but his first solo album showed the masses he was back, and this, his second firmly reestablished his position as The Don. Though Stanley Road was his high point in popularity, I feel Wild Wood has the stronger songs, and “Hung Up” may just be my favorite tune of his immense backlog of top tunes.

7. Embrace – “Come Back to What You Know.” Another group that fell victim to the negative backlash of the journalist’s pen when Brit Pop was in decline, Embrace’s first singles and debut album, The Good Will Out were full of soaring anthems. “Come Back to What You Know” is one of a handful I could’ve chosen from, but is likely my favorite all-around song from the band.

8. Northern Uproar – “Kicks.” One of my personal favorite bands of the era, who, like OCS, suffered from negative feedback when the press decided they were tired of British guitar bands, Northern Uproar had the talent that most others did not. Their self-assured debut has track after track of class tunes. It was between this tune, “Rollercoaster” and “Rough Boy” with “Kicks” ultimately winning out. Do yourself a favor – if you like The Enemy, The Rifles and bands of that ilk, check out t’Uproar’s debut.

9. Cast – “Alright.” Cast were formed by La’s bassist John Power, and named after the last word on the last tune on the La’s one and only album. Cast’s own debut album continues what the La’s had started; their album All Change is a classic slice of British guitar rock’n’roll. Upon release, it was Polydor’s quickest selling debut in history. “Alright” was the second single, and my favorite cut on the record, edging out lead single “Finetime.” Barely.

10. The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony.” I had bought The Verve’s album, A Northern Soul, and thought that it was good, but wasn’t floored by it. However, it’s follow-up, Urban Hymns, really showed what the band were capable of. “Bittersweet Symphony” is surely The Verve’s “Wonderwall” but it’s also undeniably one of their top tunes, and a classic of the time.

11. Hurricane #1 – “Step into My World.” “Too much like Oasis” was the go to critique from reviewers of the day, and while Hurricane #1 undoubtedly owed a huge debt to Oasis, they put their own stamp on their debut record, and this song was likely the highlight. Founder Andy Bell now resides in, yup, Oasis.

12. The Bluetones – “Bluetonic.” People called The Bluetones debut record, “the second album the Roses should have made.” Not sure about that, but the record was full of Roses psychedelica, and jangly guitar meets surreal lyrics, all the while wrapped in some memorable melodies. “Bluetonic” comes the closest to representing what the band’s sound was about.

13. Pulp – “Common People.” Pulp. Pulp. Pulp. I never really had the affinity for the band that the British audiences did. Not a fan of His’n’Hers at all. For all of my attempts, there seemed to be some bridges that even the worst case of rabid Anglophilia could not bridge. Pulp are in the running for least America-friendly band on this list, through no fault of their own, and not that being ‘non-America friendly’ makes for a bad band, because many of my favorites went down shit in America, but Pulp simply would never translate to a large audience here, and were even a tough(er) sell for me. Different Class made me understand the band a bit more, and had some real choice tunes on it. “Common People” is my pick for their best cut (“Disco 2000” hot on it’s hells.) The tune’s themes of the rich girl slumming it with the commoner is one that most from the HC/oi!/punk scene(s) have seen in real life, and this tune captures the comic inaneness of the entire fiasco.

14. Echobelly – “Insomniac.” The pawn shop I tried selling my Echobelly CD to laughed when I told them they were “big in Britain” and handed it back to me with haste. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t sell it.  Catchy, very Morrissey-inspired, new wave-ish pop led by enigmatic lead singer Sonja Madan. The debut Everybody’s Got One is definitely worth owning, pawn shop be damned.

15. Menswear – “Daydreamer.” Without a doubt the most reviled band on this entire list, who were basically even disowned by other bands in the scene, Menswear had a case of The Monkees-syndrome; manufactured band, whose members hung out in the right clubs and wore the right Fred Perrys. However, like The Monkees, they did produce a few tunes of note, including this Wire-influenced offering, which gets under your skin as quickly as the band themselves faded away.

16. Ash – “Girl From Mars.” Ash were/are from Northern Ireland, and weren’t really as involved with Brit Pop as some might say, but there’s no denying – they were cranking out quality tunes within the timeframe. Like The Undertones meets The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ash’s melodies and heavy fuzz was undeniable. “Girl From Mars” hails from their second (and best) record, 1977, and is more Undertones than J&MC, but check out tunes like “Goldfinger” and “Angel Interceptor” to see how the two meld effortlessly.

17. Super Furry Animals – “Something 4 The Weekend.” Probably the least accessible band on this list, SFA nevertheless had talent that a lot of the fly-by-nights of Brit Pop did not. This cut comes from their debut album, and shows that beneath the weirder elements of this Welsh outfit, there’s some real magic going on.

18. Dodgy – “Staying Out For the Summer.” I’m not even sure I like Dodgy much. They did, however, have a few killer singles, and this is their best. A Radio One DJ once actually erroneously announced “Staying Out For the Summer” was Oasis before playing. To the trained ear, this song really sounds nothing like Oasis at all – from the Blue Oyster Cult-ish guitar to it’s ELO meets Revolver’s “Good Day Sunshine” British Motown sound, it is a real winner regardless.

19. Stereophonics – “More Life in a Tramp’s Vest.” Yet another band that divides the masses; super popular for awhile, then the lack of critical respect rushed in. No matter, though, as the tunes hold up under scrutiny. I was/am not a super fan, so I can’t speak for their whole of this band’s back catalog, but this particular cut has always been a highlight from the era. Kelly Jones sounds like Rod when he was in The Faces, and the music is reliably Oasis-ish rock’n’roll.

20. Supergrass – “Going Out.” Supergrass have always been much more than a Brit Pop label, and they never really fit in there, anyway. They pushed out two top albums during the era, though, I Should Coco and In It For the Money, so on the list they go. I’d say these guys are likely the most consistently excellent band on this list next to Oasis and Blur (and some might argue that). I rate In It For the Money above I Should Coco, as it’s less cartoony. Favorite cut from that record is hard to say, but today I’ll go with “Going Out” which barely edges out “Late in the Day” (too melancholy for me today?) and “Za” and 2-3 others.

21. The Boo Radleys – “Almost Nearly There.” – These guys (like several others on this list) precluded the whole phenom that was Brit Pop, but they released some of the finest material within the timeframe. Usually revered most was their excellent Wake Up Boo! album that was a throwback to pure 60’s joy, mixed with a decided weirdness that is amongst The Boo Radley’s trademarks. The cut I’m choosing by them is in fact a B-side from an ep called From the Bench at Belvidere. Material on Wake Up Boo! is Grade A all the way, but I have always thought this track a hidden gem. (These guys also did a perfect cover of the La’s “There She Goes” which was featured in So I Married An Axe Murderer.)

22. The Charlatans – “North Country Boy.” The Charlatans were around well before Brit Pop, but like Weller and The Roses, they were amongst the thugs, so to speak. Tellin’ Stories is my favorite Charlatans record, and “North Country Boy” gets my nod today over the title track, and the rest of the album’s quality cuts.

23. Elastica – “Connection.” Elastica were more New Wave of New Wave than Brit Pop, but since timeframe dictates inclusion, “Connection” was a pretty solid tune for a complete Wire rip-off.  In fact, the whole record was a pretty solid effort, and something that sounded a little different than most of what was out there.

24. The 60 Ft. Dolls – “Happy Shopper.” – The 60 Ft. Dolls are definitely a mere blip on the radar of the period, but really, their debut record The Big Three is full of good, crunchy British guitar rock; it was in them that punk and Brit pop truly collided, and the results were pretty tasty. Under-appreciated, this is worth a look.

25. Babybird – “Cornershop.” – Not sure how to categorize this record, but it’s easily the most….uh…..fem thing on the list. Ugly Beautiful was the album, and the subject matter was decidedly Pulp-esqe; the delivery pure pop. “You’re Gorgeous” got the most notoriety, but I think it’s this cut I like the best.

There you have it, Saturday Night’s Top 25 of the Era. A list by no means exhaustive, I’m sure many could complain (if anyone read this blog) about the omission of SUEDE. It crossed my mind to include something like “Animal Nitrate” or one of their other singles, but to be honest, for me, they never did matter much. I bought the records, but just never could get into them as much. Don’t know why, but there you have it.

Feedback? I didn’t think so. Until next time, roll with it, d-bags.