2020, at least for me, was 25-years since peak Britpop. A quarter of a century!!!
1995 was a remarkable year for British pop music, you had the bands that, looking back, were the real Britpop heavyweights; Supergrass were Alright, Pulp were Sorted for E's & Whizz, Oasis scored their first number one and then went stratospheric with the release of Wonderwall which propelled their dizzying rise to uncharted heights worldwide, there was the Blur v Oasis battle, the return of Shaun Ryder with Black Grape, Elastica released their debut album and The Charlatans eponymous album was a belter.
Outwith that you had Radiohead surging ahead with the incredible The Bends, Teenage Fanclub displaying exceptional songwriting on Grand Prix, Tricky and Massive Attack creating what seemed like a new kind of music, The Verve shooting for the stars with A Northern Soul, the Chemical Brothers and Leftfield releasing huge electronic albums with massive beats, Paul Weller released Stanley Road.... good music was everywhere.
If Britpop peaked in 1995 - and I mean in terms of quality of music - when did it start? When did it end? What were the highlights?
The Drowners, the debut single by Suede
Looking back, I'm amazed it didn't make the top 40.
But it made a mark, a big one.
For me, Britpop started with Suede in 1992, leading to a peak in terms of musical quality from 'Britpop' bands in 1995, before dying in 1997 as a number of Britpop bands moved forwards and notably Oasis went backwards.
During that time I went from being at school to working and gigging regularly in Glasgow, taking in Oasis shows from the Tramway and the Cathouse through to Knebworth. It was a remarkable ride.
As a 19 year old in 1995, Britpop was exciting, there was new music to buy every week. So much good British music was released in 1995 (not all Britpop by any means) that I'm in no doubt that it was peak Britpop; classic albums and singles that have stood the test of a quarter century; Yes by McAlmont & Butler still bursts with energy, Pulp's singles were incredible and Wonderwall must have been played in every pub across the country, uniting people from all walks of life in song.
In a year where I couldn't get out to gigs, I spent some time looking back at the Britpop phenomenon. It sure was a good time to be alive. This is by no means exhaustive, John Harris' The Last Party is a good place to start if you want to do a deep dive into this period of time.
With Part 1, we'll start at (what I think is) the beginning and travel through to March & April 1994, two of the biggest months in Britpop when so much seemed to happen, leading to an explosion of British guitar pop music.
Britpop memories part 1
1992 - April 1994
The start - Suede's early singles
Suede kickstarted Britpop with their image, ambition and pop sensibilities demonstrated on their first 4 singles; the remarkable run of The Drowners, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate & So Young.
By April 1993 Suede had released the first 3 of the quartet and Brett Anderson appeared on what has become an iconic cover of Select Magazine with the title Yanks Go Home.
Suede were kind of on their own in 1992 going into 93, talking about bi-sexuality, Bowie & The Smiths in a post Madchester/Rave world with the music press being largely fixated on Nirvana and the grunge scene.
Suede were distinctly British and they kicked down a door. The floodgates opened. You can check this previous BLOG on the first 4 Suede singles.
Looking back, Suede kept up a remarkable pace throughout the 1990's; releasing singles every year except 1998 and 4 albums. The line-up that burst on to the scene with Brett Anderson on vocals, Bernard Butler on guitar, Matt Osman on bass and Simon Gilbert on drums just looked and sounded incredible.
1992 through 1993 was their time; the singles, the imagery, the endorsement from Morrissey (which meant something back then), the album ....
Modern Life Is Rubbish
Blur had a link to Suede. Justine Frischmann had been in Suede, also dating Anderson, before leaving to form Elastica and date Blur's Damon Albarn. Brett Anderson cites her as a huge influence on the first Suede album.
This bizarre love triangle is pretty central to Britpop. Look at the change in Blur's look and sound from their 1991 debut Leisure to 1993's Modern Life Is Rubbish! All of a sudden it is Fred Perry polo shirts, blazers and doc martin boots. It wasn't quite as simple as that, there was 1992's Popscene single and an extensive tour of America that left Albarn yearning for England. Perhaps there was also the realisation that Leisure wasn't very good and that with There's No Other Way they had jumped on the Madchester bandwagon.
You could easily argue that Blur jumped to another bandwagon, only this time they were in from the start through Frishmann and Suede.
Lead single For Tomorrow shows that Albarn was significantly developing as a songwriter. There is no doubt that Blur changed and developed massively with the Modern Life Is Rubbish album and Albarn gained huge confidence.
Radiohead are definitely not Britpop, but their name continues to be linked with it, largely because of Creep and the way they developed and left the genre as far behind as they possibly could, progressing from debut Pablo Honey in 1993, through The Bends in 95 to OK Computer in 97. It is a mind blowing development!
Creep was and is an incredible song, looking back, has Thom Yorke ever sung so directly since? When he takes off with the raaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnnn section I still get a tingle down my spine.
Creep was a super cool song in 1992, the use of swearing is just perfect, and listening back now, of the first time in well over a decade, it is still super cool.
Radiohead have to be mentioned when reflecting on Britpop as they were so different and the way they worked on their songwriting, musicianship and creative energy is in direct contrast to Oasis over the same period. They stood out a mile.
I wish I was special, so f**king special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
Do You Remember The First Time?
Jarvis Cocker's Pulp were building a head of steam. The 1992 release of Babies didn't chart but it seemed to mark a change in the band that led to a string of singles leading to the His n Hers album in 1994.
Do You Remember The First Time did chart though, it was Pulp's first top 40 single. It perfectly showcased Jarvis Cocker's humour, style, edge and fascination with sex. All of a sudden Pulp had found an audience and oh how Jarvis Cocker loved to play to an audience!
Pulp released their first single away back in 1983, now in March 1994, they finally made the top 40 and a few months later they even made it to Top of the Pops to perform a re-released Babies.
There will be more about Pulp later.
Elastica enter the stage
Elastica formed in 1992, releasing a limited edition single, Stutter, in 1993, but then picked up a head of steam in 1994 with the release of the Line Up and Connection singles.
The importance of Justine Frischmann to Britpop can't be understated. Although it became very lad orientated, Frischmann brought a love story (and triangle) to the table. Justine quickly became a pin up. I certainly wasn't the only teenager in Britain to have her picture blu-tacked to my bedroom wall.
Elastica burned brightly, too brightly. They burned out from 2-years of constant activity and attention and a lot of books on the era, particularly John Harris' The Last Party, document guitarist Donna Matthews descent from a quiet Welsh indie girl to someone reliant on drugs to get through or waste the day.
Girls & Boys
Britpop went technicolour with the release of Blur's Girls & Boys in March 1994. It was pure pop; simple and ridiculously catchy. With lyrics like love in the 90's, it's paradise, on sunny beaches, take your chances it felt very much of the times and a spring release meant that it became a summer anthem for people going on holiday to ... Greece.
Blur were exceptionally prolific through the 90's, releasing a staggering 22 singles and 6 albums. The run of Modern Life Is Rubbish (93), Parklife (94) and The Great Escape (95) along with the singles released leaves me exhausted just reading it.
But back to Girls & Boys, this was real Britpop kicking in. The single reached number 5 in the charts. Britpop was set to go mainstream, Blur were set to go massive.
This somewhat inappropriately named standalone single by Suede was released in March 1994, the last single with Bernard Butler in the band. Suede would veer slightly off their initial course with the release of the Dog Man Star album in late 1994. Widely regarded by fans and critics as a real highlight, in late 1994 it was a marked contrast from the Britpop sound and look that was exploding around them.
I'm a big fan of Butler's guitar sound and playing on the early Suede recordings and Stay Together is one of the bands most commercial songs. It got to number 3 in the charts and it is noticeable that the singles subsequently released from Dog Man Star stayed around number 20 in the charts.
- Kurt Cobain's suicide
- the debut single by Oasis and the Wibbling Rivalry interview
- Blur release Parklife
Looking back, March/April 1994 is a kind of pivotal time in the world of Britpop. So much happened to propel Blur & Oasis to the fore of a new 'movement'. Although Noel and Oasis would always distance themselves from indie & Britpop.
Why was it pivotal?
Blur took things up a notch with the aforementioned Girls & Boys, Oasis made their TV debut on The Word with Supersonic, Kurt Cobain overdosed in March and then tragically committed suicide in April, Supersonic came out, Oasis gave an interview a million miles away from anything Kurt Cobain ever did. They had a song called Live Forever that was the complete opposite of Kurt singing look on the bright side, suicide or naming a song (even ironically) I Hate Myself And I Want To Die and Blur released Girls & Boys and then their 3rd LP Parklife.
The death of Kurt Cobain on 5th April rocked my world. I've mentioned a number of times in previous blogs that I was at King Tuts to see The Pastels playing, rumours were abound that something had happened but in a pre-internet (indeed pre mobile) world you couldn't just check the news instantly. The Pastels came on stage and dedicated the show to Kurt, on the way home the Peel Show was just back to back Nirvana.
2-days later I saw Oasis for the first time.
I'd been into Nirvana in a big way, I had a ticket (that I still have) for their show in Glasgow at the SECC, but all of a sudden Oasis were calling me and they spoke to me in a way that Nirvana couldn't. Noel's early songs of dreams and escapism just lifted me.
Oasis were the band I was waiting for. In April 1994 they arrived with the release of their debut single, appearing on The Word and on Radio 1 for Glasgow's Sound City where I caught them supporting The Boo Radleys at the Tramway. You can read about that HERE
Later that night, Liam and Noel held court in their hotel room with John Harris from the NME, resulting in a hilarious insight into their relationship and personalities. This was not long after Oasis had been thrown off a ferry to Amsterdam for fighting. Noel was mortified and wanted Oasis to be about the songs, Liam was into the whole rock n roll package and totally up for it ....or as we quickly found out ... mad for it.
The interview was later released as a 7-inch single and it is absolutely hilarious. You can sense the edge between the 2 brothers, the edge that made them stand out from others.
I would look forward to Oasis interviews as much as their musical releases. So did the music weeklies and monthlies as they generated huge sales. Oasis and the Gallagher brothers brought a working class mentality and reality to the weekly music press and to music fans. There was absolutely no bullshit about them. They wanted it, they were going to have it.
On 25th April Blur released Parklife, a swift follow up to Modern Life Is Rubbish and on the back of Girls & Boys. Playing with more classic British imagery, the band took the NME to the dog track to discuss their sound and ambitions.
All of a sudden 'indie music' was going mainstream. More on Parklife in part 2.
Staying Out For The Summer
T in the Park 1994
Britpop anthems kept coming and in July 1994 Dodgy released the impeccable Staying Out For The Summer single. Looking back, I'm amazed it only reached 38 in the charts! This was sunshine pop, feel good music to sing-a-long to immediately. Relatable to many with its lyrics of working in factories, being low on luck & confidence, of love lost and mourned, Staying Out For The Summer was perfect for the sunshine summer of 1994
You see I work in a factory (I need the money)
I don't want to be late (though I hate this place)
I got my debts to pay for (free me from this race)
They're gonna have to wait
Speaking of which;
The sun shone on the first ever T in the Park with Blur, Oasis, Elastica and Pulp all playing. Outside you had the Main Stage, in tents you had what felt like the here, the now, the future.
I was 18 and everyone I know that went to the festival wondered if it would even go on. It happened. Although I think I saw all the bands mentioned above, I only remember Oasis. They played to a packed tent and played football on stage. They were outstanding, I'd love to see footage of the gig if it exists.
Check some highlights from the first ever T in the Park HERE
Part 2 coming soon
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