To paraphrase the words of the great Garrett Morris SNL character Chico Escuela, “The quarantine been very, very good to this blog.” Believe it or not, I really don’t check my blog’s stats daily or anything, which kind of goes against my nature. Needless to say, I am always surprised to see how many of you stop by to read a blog or two. Thanks guys! Honestly, I only do this to keep my sanity since I happen to be a home-bound guy for the most part. On the other hand, my wife, who does her very best to keep my ego in check, says this influx is do to the fact that people are extremely bored right now. Regardless, I’m taking this as a victory, and I am undefeated since I retired from coaching.
Earlier this weekend, I tackled a sub-genre of music that at one time had the music world split on its opinion of it, so I thought I would tackle a more recent sub-genre that caused much controversy back in the Nineties and seems to continue to do so. Now, let me begin with this disclaimer: I am by NO means an expert on this subject. Hell, to be honest, the Nineties were a blur to me as my kids grew up during this decade, I started the decade by changing careers and I really did not have the time to keep up on the latest musical trends as I had throughout the Eighties. Oh sure, like most Americans, I was keenly aware of grunge and gangsta rap, though I was attempting to hide that music from my impressionable kids. Truth is, they would find it. But, for the most part, some trends just went past me. Therefore, over the past decade or so, I have been playing catch up with music that barely made a dent here in the States but was all-consuming to young people in the UK, and that was Britpop.
Now, since most of my followers happen to be friends and former students, most of you are probably asking yourselves what the hell is Britpop? Well, I have to tell you it is WAY more than Oasis, who made some inroads over here commercially. Now, I have always been partial to the music of the seemingly British nature that does not translate well over here. I have always fancied the mid-Sixties Kinks, Beatles and Who, who all tackled British ways in their music of the time. Much of the music, when steeped in the music hall traditions of Britain, and the accompanying lyrics, tackling the ideas of class and British life, just never translated well to American ears. Of course, The Beatles learned how to temper those tendencies more, but you can hear those traits in “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” among many others. But, the other two lost listeners here in the States when they stuck with British themes in their music.
In the Seventies, the mantle of British life in rock music was picked up by a variety of artists, like Squeeze, The Jam, Madness, and the like. Once again, these musicians remained in god-like positions in the UK, while generally falling upon indifferent ears here in the States. Yet, these UK-centric mindset continued into the Eighties and early-Nineties with The Smiths, Stone Roses and Primal Scream leading the way. But, what these artists all proved was that you could have a very fruitful career by playing to their native audience without the silliness that ensues when attempting to conquer America.
All of that history is important since all these artists played an important role in the musical evolution leading up to this mid-Nineties phenomenon known as Britpop. Perhaps the man whose career casts the biggest shadow over these artists would be Paul Weller, the brains behind The Jam and The Style Council. His songwriting DNA seems to flow throughout the artists of this era of British music. While I will never understand why Americans turn a deaf ear to Weller and his music or all the others mentioned earlier, I am here to continue to champion these artists. Plus, what can you say about a musician whose work will be found in the playlists of great 70s punk, 80s New Wave AND Britpop?
By the mid-Nineties, the youth of England were tiring of the whole alternative/grunge sounds coming out of the States, so in reaction, independent bands were popping up all over the country whose members were influenced by the artists mentioned because they all shared a single trait: fantastic songwriting skills. In essence, Britpop is nothing but an English take on American power pop in that both are retro- and forward-thinking all the while maintaining their British-centric ways. You will hear it in their unabashed use of their British accents while singing, a throwback to the original artists of the first British Invasion, their use of British slang in their lyrics and the influence of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Jam in their sound. This was hard-edged pop music, and, to me, a breath of fresh air when compared to the second generation grunge crap that was slung at us by the likes of Candlebox, Bush and Creed.
As with every new genre that pops up, there are so major figures who popularized the whole thing. Of all the great bands that popped up during this time period that runs basically from 1993 through 1997, two stand tallest: Oasis and Blur. Here in the States, Oasis was the one that broke through. But, in the UK, those two had something of a chart rivalry. This competition was probably more of a media-made event, but these two bands pushed each other to greater heights than probably possible if neither had the other to use as a measuring stick. For my tastes, I like Blur more than Oasis, simply because they seem more versatile in their songwriting. But, Oasis is not the Beatles-knockoff that critics have reduced them to in recent years.
Other bands whose music from this era to have stood the test of time are Pulp, Suede, Supergrass and The Verve. Once again, I am a huge fan of both Pulp and Supergrass, while Suede was a little too glammy for my Britpop tastes, The Verve was the one who broke here with one specific song, “Bittersweet Symphony.” While that song remains a favorite of mine, Pulp arguably created Britpop’s finest moment with their brilliant take on class differences called “Common People.” That song is one brilliant sociological explanation of the class separation that remains in the UK, that was lost on the American fallacy in which class does not exist in a society where social mobility exists. The problem is that mobility does exist, but there is a glass ceiling. That’s why intelligent people who break through that ceiling are so threatening to the old money. That’s what is so threatening about athletes and entertainers who are able to make the transition to this upper echelon of society are constantly derided by the power structure. At least the Brits are willing to recognize this existence.
But, like any genre in music, what makes its existence so rich and vital is the one- and two-hit wonders. And, Britpop is full of them as well. These are the artists whom few Americans know. I’m talking about bands like Embrace, Sleeper, Dodgy and Echobelly. And, of course, there were others. But, once again, my purpose is to inform and expose, so I will leave the truly obscure artists to my Britpop experts out there in the ether, though I do love that song by Cornershop, but is it Britpop?
Once again, I am not ranking these songs, but I know for a fact they make for a terrific playlist just in case you are bored with your current lists. Give this genre a listen. Here’s my 60 favorite Britpop songs.
- Ash – “Girl from Mars” (1995)
- Babybird – “You’re Gorgeous” (1996)
- Blur – “Beetlebum” (1997)
- Blur – “Charmless Man” (1995)
- Blur – “Chemical World” (1993)
- Blur – “Country House” (1995)
- Blur – “End of a Century” (1995)
- Blur – “Girls & Boys” (1994)
- Blur – “Parklife” (1994)
- Blur – “Song 2” (1997)
- Blur – “The Universal” (1995)
- Cast – “Sandstorm” (1995)
- Catatonia – “Road Rage” (1998)
- Dodgy – “Good Enough” (1996)
- Echobelly – “King of Kerb” (1995)
- Edwyn Collins – “A Girl like You” (1994)
- Elastica – “Connection” (1995)
- Embrace – “Come Back to What You Know” (1998)
- Lush – “Ladykillers” (1996)
- Manic Street Preachers – “A Design for Life” (1996)
- Manic Street Preachers – “Everything Must Go” (1996)
- Mansun – “Wide Open Space” (1996)
- Oasis – “Champagne Supernova” (1995)
- Oasis – “Cigarettes & Alcohol” (1994)
- Oasis – “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (1995)
- Oasis – “Live Forever” (1994)
- Oasis – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (1994)
- Oasis – “Roll with It” (1995)
- Oasis – “Some Might Say” (1995)
- Oasis – “Supersonic” (1994)
- Oasis – “Wonderwall” (1995)
- Paul Weller – “Sunflower” (1993)
- Paul Weller – “The Changingman” (1995)
- Pulp – “Babies” (1994)
- Pulp – “Common People” (1995)
- Pulp – “Disco 2000” (1995)
- Pulp – “Do You Remember the First Time?” (1994)
- Pulp – “Lipgloss” (1994)
- Pulp – “Mis-Shapes” (1995)
- Pulp – “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” (1995)
- Pulp – “This Is Hardcore” (1997)
- Shed Seven – “Going for Gold” (1996)
- Sleeper – “Inbetweener” (1995)
- Sleeper – “Sale of the Century” (1996)
- Suede – “Animal Nitrate” (1993)
- Suede – “Metal Mickey” – Suede (1993)
- Suede – “The Drowners” (1993)
- Suede – “The Wild Ones” (1994)
- Super Furry Animals – “Something 4 the Weekend” (1996)
- Supergrass – “Alright” (1995)
- Supergrass – “Caught by the Fuzz” (1995)
- The Auteurs – “Showgirl” (1993)
- The Bluetones – “Slight Return” (1996)
- The Boo Radleys – “Wake Up, Boo!” (1995)
- The Lightning Seeds – “The Life of Riley” (1992)
- The Supernaturals – “Smile” (1996)
- The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony” (1997)
- The Verve – “Lucky Man” (1997)
- The Verve – “Sonnet” (1997)
- The Verve – “The Drugs Don’t Work” (1997)