England's (Day)Dreaming - 16 of the best Britpop songs
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
The term Britpop was coined in April 1993 by Stuart Maconie in a headline piece for Select magazine, rejecting the music magazine mafia’s adoration for Nirvana and any cod-metal bands that were riding on the back of grunge to fame and fortune. They may have been wearing ripped denim and lumberjack shirts, but these same American bands would have been hair metal poseurs if they had been round in the 80s and good looking enough – yes, I mean you Pearl Jam...
Britpop arrived at the perfect time for me. I was in my final year at Uni, and had already been elected to be General Secretary of my Student Union. Essentially, I had landed a job to PAY me to be a student for an extra year. (Awesome work young JO’B, awesome work).
Despite being way down in Devon, cool bands made the schlep to us, so over the next few years we saw all the main Britpop bands. I had cash on the hip and bought the CDs (oh, if only I had stuck to vinyl, I would have saved 51-year-old JO’B a fortune).
Shamefully, for every cool Britpop band I saw, I also saw some shockers, buying into the hype of some truly awful groups, riding the tailcoats of much better bands. I admit it. My name is JO’B and I bought Menswear’s album and paid to see them live. There, I’ve said it. What a schmuck, what a sheep I was. My critical senses were blinded by the NME and I was shamefully old enough to know better. At least I never bought anything by S*M*A*S*H.
But it was a brilliant time to be in England and love music. There was a constant flow of great albums. So many were exuberant, joyous and talking about things I knew and saw in my day-to-day life. We went to clubs that played brilliant happy singalong songs. I occasionally copped off with some pretty young lady (though more often than not crashed and burnt spectacularly). I bought Fred Perrys and Ben Shermans, DMs and Adidas trainers. I had a brown Levi’s denim jacket I lived in. It was fun. A friend once told me I had "Britpop hair". Still makes me laugh.
But the term soon became a catch all for bands that I couldn’t connect to the (already exceptionally loose) genre – were the Manics really Britpop? Teenage Fanclub? Catatonia? I don’t believe so. And bands that made Menswear look good like Northern Uproar, 60 Ft Dolls, These Animal Men were being bandied around under the same banner – they were all shite…
Then, as the great music journalist Jon Savage says, Oasis’ Be Here Now came and finally killed Britpop once and for all. It showed Britpop had become bloated, boring and had taken way too much coke. Blur went off and became lo-fi. Elastica split. Pulp made their masterpiece, This Is Hardcore, which was anything but joyous happy Britpop, instead mired in the filth and degradation of the seedy side of life. New distractions were calling like Radiohead, trip-hop and more..
But it was great while it lasted - here are 16 examples of the genre that was Britpop….I still love them now, over 25 years later…
16. Wake Up Boo! - The Boo Radleys
How The Boos went from spacey indie oddities to this pure pop, radio friendly sure-fire hit is not quite clear. While I prefer the weird indie meets dub reggae of Lazarus, this was irresistibly catchy – it was on every radio station you put on. It’s still a great pop song.
15. Alright - Cast
Refugees from The La’s, who had finally given up on Lee Mavers (Britpop’s Syd Barrett?), having realised he would never find the sound he heard in his head. Instead, they went off and made records that best replicated what he was going for. I was quite snobby about them until I saw them and Shed Seven for £8 in Exeter. They were cracking live and it’s hard to argue that this is a great pop song. Maybe not striving for genius isn’t such a bad thing.
14. You're Gorgeous - Babybird
It’s a great song, but also a reminder of the dark side of Britpop – this was a time where Chris Evans loomed large on the populace. He could break shite bands at the drop of a needle, and could seduce and marry the wonderful Billie Piper (though to be fair, Evans was a better choice than Laurence Fox, but that’s for another day). Evans smug, laddish “humour” was all pervading. But he did break Babybird and they were great!
13. Bully Boy - Shed Seven
Still going and due some proper re-evaluation as a truly great live band, this isn’t their best known hit, but it’s one of my favourites, it’s Morrissey like lyrics blasting away of a stomping guitar riff.
12. Sale Of The Century - Sleeper
I love Louise Wener. She is an arch, clever writer (check out her books, they are fab). Although I think What Do I Do Now? is the better song, this is the standout from this period, I remember flinging myself around the Venue in New Cross to this.
11. Bluetonic - The Bluetones
The Bluetones were the first band where I bought everything they released on the day they released it for a couple of years. It was a full blown love affair. I thought they were perfect. Then their second album came, and it was over, before it had really begun. But they stood out on that first album as it had a quality largely missing from Britpop – introspection. They were the era's Kinks for me.
10. Be My Light, By My Guide - Gene
The new Smiths. A moniker that’s simultaneously flattering and crushing. Gene never really got passed it. I loved them dearly and saw them many times. There was definitely a touch of the Mozzer in Martin Rossiter’s lyrics, vocal style and stagecraft. But Steve Mason was much more Paul Weller than Johnny Marr. Olympian is the track that makes the 90s compilations (Now That’s What I Call Britpop?), but this was their finest indie glam rock moment.
9. Connection - Elastica
Ripping off Wire (see my previous article Fake Plastic Tunes), Elastica were prone to a bit of pilfery. But if you are going to nick a tune, nick it with style. Elastica get forgotten, lost in the bizarre love triangle that was Brett Anderson, Justine Frishmann and Damon Albarn. Frankly, who cares who Justine shagged, this was a perfect indie pop song. 2 minutes and 20 seconds and catchy as fuck.
8. Girl From Mars – Ash
I am never sure if Ash were really Britpop – there’s a lot of flying V guitars and hair metal in amongst their punk pop tunes. But this was a staple of the times and remains splendid.
7. Show Girl - The Auteurs
Britpop’s also rans, they never quite made it. Probably because Luke Haines could see Britpop for what it was – marketing and hype. And frankly, he was far too clever for that. Damn him and his principles and dark as fuck lyricism. Great tune though and perfectly English.
6. The Riverboat Song – Ocean Colour Scene
I have a love hate relationship with OCS and this song. It’s a great tune, but it’s also dadrock in excelsis. And Chris Evans hijacked it as the theme song for TFI Friday. I can only listen to it for a while before I see him smugly running through the audience of his gurning fans…but it would be churlish to leave this out of the list, as it was an era defining riff.
5.5 I Can’t Imagine A World Without Me - Echobelly
Much to my shame I somehow managed to imagine this list without Echobelly - an error now corrected. They were a riot and this belter was my first introduction to them. Morrissey championed them, but don let that put you off. And check out Dark Therapy from their second album, On. A fabulous rousing tune.
5. Common People - Pulp
Now we get to the really good stuff. Pulp had been knocking round for years, not quite nailing their style and tunes. Too art rock, too knowing, too odd. But on His’N’Hers, they found their groove. And then this precursor to their next album became a truly defining moment in the period, as they filled in at the last moment to headline Glastonbury in place of the Stone Roses.
4. The Drowners - Suede
Suede rocked a pure English, seedy brilliance - they've outlasted their peers like Oasis, Pulp and Blur and are probably as good now as they were at the peak of fame. Not bad for a band lost in heroin and disaster. The Drowners was a hell of a way to introduce themselves and it's b-side was even better (the brilliant My Insatiable One).
3. Caught By The Fuzz - Supergrass
2 minutes and 16 seconds of a night out gone wrong that motors along and never stops. Brevity, story-telling perfection.
2. Girls and Boys - Blur
I remember singing this constantly to the point where my then girlfriend shouted at me to just go and buy the fucking album and at least learn how to sing it properly. She had to go...
1. Live Forever - Oasis
"Maybe I don't really want to know how your garden grows, 'cos I just wanna fly". I sang along to this more often than I care to remember, but it was era defining, a song that you couldn't help but bellow to. God, they were life affirming then. It's Britpop's perfect moment.
And that's it. Some are still going, topping up the pensions on chicken in a basket tours, some never went away. Some are still arguing. Some are off on some artistic journey that doesn't allow for playing the hits. I am still playing their records, still wearing Fred Perrys and still wearing DMs. The lovely brown denim jacket is gone sadly, and really wouldn't fit these days...fun times though.