It was twenty years ago today that Sgt Anderson taught the world to slap its backside with a microphone, as the release of Suede’s third single ‘Animal Nitrate’ sent the New Suave Androgyny (as literally no-one was calling it at the time) hurtling headlong into the charts. The sparks caused by that almighty clash of meshwork on blouse set off the Britpop fire that raged across UK culture until ‘Be Here Now’ waddled its bloated fat arse into view and killed the whole thing by sitting on it.
But what better reason to look back and compile a playlist of the most pivotal and glorious Britpop songs, those moments that made the nation proud to be British, spy on its siblings from wardrobes and scour old Wire records for hooks to start a band with. And as for the scene’s ten biggest game-changers, well, let’s just say that Kula Shaker’s ‘Govinda’ didn’t quite make the grade.
Combining blaring horns with a new punk energy, ‘Popscene’ was thrillingly at odds with the prevailing tides of post-baggy shuffling, shoegaze wafts and grunge bluster. It sounded like a new scene bursting like a paint bag against pop culture’s wall, just needing a few defining strokes. Which it would receive in 1993 with the defining British aesthetic of ‘For Tomorrow’, a very British amalgam of wartime artwork, ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ scallywagisms and kitchen sink romance.
Suede, ‘The Drowners’
An utter revelation, ‘The Drowners’ crash landed in 1992 as an alien artefact as compelling and riveting as Bowie in the early 70s. Its sound proudly remoulded British heritage from glam to The Smiths into a sexual and alluring new form and Brett Anderson was rightfully splashed across music press front pages as the pan-sexual future of is-he-isn’t-he sleaze-pop.
Oasis, ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’
Though ‘Columbia’ and ‘Supersonic’ were more gob-smacking introductions to the might of the young Oasis, it was with ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ that the cracks in the scene appeared, the lines drawn. This anthem of hedonism created a ladrock/Loaded strain of the scene, thriving apart from the art school archness of Blur, Pulp and Suede and sowing the seeds of the scene’s ultimate media explosion with 1995’s Battle Of Britpop.
Supergrass, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’
The point at which the youngsters gate-crashed the party and made Britpop a pan-generational Event (see also: Ash’s ‘Kung Fu’), ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and its tearalong tale of getting fingered by the rozzers for having a crafty puff was the wild excitement of the indie world boiled down to a two minute tartrazine freak-out.
Gene, ‘For The Dead’
Meanwhile, in the lavish velveteen booths on the more sumptuous side of the scene, Suede’s masterpiece ‘Dog Man Star’ was inspiring louche, sophisticated and moving bawl-ballads like Gene’s beauteous limited-edition debut single, showcasing Martin Britpop Morrissey’ Rossiter’s heart-swelling sweep from torch singer to ballsy tonsil titan. And where exactly is that reunion then, lads?
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Elastica, ‘Waking Up’
Taking Oasis’ lead that Britpop could cheerfully pilfer from British rock’s vaults (and pay the price for it), ‘Waking Up’ was one of a plethora of tracks from Elastica’s immense debut that lifted new wave riffs wholesale. Recycling The Strangler’s ‘No More Heroes’, it make for a speed-ravaged dancefloor cracker that, along with ‘Connection’, proved to be the rocket fuel of the mid-Britpop era.
The Boo Radleys, ‘Wake Up Boo!’
Having quietly released a strong contender for Single Of The 90s in ‘Lazarus’, The Boo Radleys had marked their place as the genius psych-pop alchemists of Britpop so, after the media storm around Blur Vs Oasis thrust Britpop into the cultural spotlight, for them to burst brightly into the Top Ten with this pop-as-fuck blast of horns and hooks felt like the ultimate cork-popping celebration of a scene that knew it’d stitched a Fred Perry logo onto rock history.
By 1995, the scene was steamrollering pop culture and every Tom, Rick and Sonya was getting in on the spikey pop act. The epitome of this phenomenon were Sleeper, whose ‘Inbetweener’ was a glorious example of Britpop’s polished mass appeal, as also touted by Shed Seven, Echobelly, Cast and Space. The ultimate, regrettable conclusion of such a trend, however, was the throwing together of formulaic Good Mixer boyband Menswear, essentially killing the genre stone dead with one platinum credit card trip to a Camden tailor.
The Bluetones, ‘Slight Return’
Even as the scene dissolved into caricature and self-parody, some acts – Mansun, Placebo, Marion – were trying to help it mature. First amongst these noble post-Britpoppers were The Bluetones and this artful piece of crafted melodic wonder.
Pulp, ‘Common People’
Although ‘Babies’ was the real Pulp splashdown and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ their first unifying dancefloor anthem, when looking for a definitive moment for the entire scene you come to a few options. ‘Parklife’ is a touch too annoying today, the Blur Vs Oasis chart battle doesn’t exactly showcase the era’s greatest tunes and Knebworth was way too impersonal and ladrock. So there remains, as Britpop’s greatest four minutes, Pulp’s ‘Common People’ and specifically its premiering at Glastonbury 1995, the ultimate example of the zeitgeist grabbing a decade by the throat and educating it about itself.