Tracks of the year lists are funny beasts. Obviously subjective and wide open for debate from the outset, they’re also helplessly rooted in time and place, highly specific appraisals that can look quirky or downright weird in hindsight.
We’ve been looking back at a lot of tracks recently as we compiled the 150 greatest tracks of the last 15 years, and naturally we dug up all the NME lists in the process. As well as sparking all kinds of nostalgia it’s been pretty interesting to see how things have aged.
A lot of the time classics have remained classics – we’d stand by ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ as one of the best tracks of ’97 while nothing’s really retrospectively risen to knock ‘Over And Over’ off 2006’s perch – but elsewhere and all manner of anomalies crop up.
Take this, 1997’s seventh best apparently, just below ‘Paranoid Android’, and a better track than ‘Electricity’, ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ and ‘Da Funk’. Doesn't really hold true in 2011, does it?
And when you hear the word “tweet” nowadays, you probably don’t immediately think of this, a top 30 track from 2002.
The lists are littered with chancers that must have sounded better at the time. Gay Dad, The Bloodhound Gang, Shack, Jennifer Lopez, Aqualung, DJ Pied Piper, Black Grape’s ‘Get Higher’, Goldie Lookin Chain’s ‘Your Mothers Got A Penis’ – all these and worse hit the top 50 at one time or another.
Some of it’s indicative of the overall state of the music industry. 1998 must have been gloomier than I remember, if Asian Dub Foundation made the top 50 list three times, sharing space with Wildchild, Robbie Williams and Campag Velocet’s ‘Sauntry Sly Chic’. Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better With You' was the third best track that year.
So we thought we’d re-appraise each year’s top tracks, along with your help, and beginning with 1996, a year ushered in by Number Ones for George Michael (‘Jesus To A Child’) and Babylon Zoo (‘Spaceman’), a year that saw the top spot surrended to Gina G (‘Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit’), The Fugees (‘Killing Me Softly’) and Baddiel, Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds (‘Three Lions’).
This was our Top Ten at the time:
1- Underworld, ‘Born Slippy’
2 - Manic Street Preachers, ‘A Design For Life’
3 - Beck, ‘Where It’s At’
4 - The Prodigy, ‘Firestarter’
5 - Orbital, ‘The Box’
6 - Folk Implosion, ‘Natural One’
7 - Beck, ‘Devil’s Haricut’
8 - Tiger, ‘Race’
9 - 2pac, ‘California Love’
10 - Suede, ‘Trash’
On the face of it, not toe-curlingly bad. Certainly better than some years. Beck’s in twice, but then most of ‘Odelay’ (certainly the first 11 tracks) were near perfect, and in today’s digital pick ‘n’ mix he’d probably see the likes of ‘Hot Wax’, ‘Lord Only Knows’ and ‘Jack-Ass’ do well too.
‘Firestarter’ deserves its place, and in fact hit Number One in the national charts as well, shifting 275,000 copies over a three week period. This was back when critical consensus and the official charts had some correlation; several entries in our Top 50 made the top spot.
‘Born Slippy’ though, still a worthy Number One? I’m not sure. It’s way more of its time than the Manics track (try listening to it now without thinking of Trainspotting) and it sums up the era like no other - the pounding techno / euphoric breakdown gets your heart racing like it’s 1996 - but then it’s kind of stuck there too. The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Setting Sun’ might not have made you think of Begbie and the rest but it’s arguably a better track.
I’d be tempted to shift up some entries from further down the list. The Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ was better than 23rd while ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is probably top ten, as is ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘God! Show Me Magic’. Perhaps The Folk Implosion and Tiger could do the honours and step down.
What do you think was the best track of 1996? What’s your top three for the year?
NME Is 15 - NME.COM Editor Luke Lewis Reflects On The Milestone
NME.COM's 150 Best Tracks Of Its Lifetime
Our Original Top 50 Tracks Of 1996:
1. Underworld -Born Slippy
2. Manic Street Preachers - A Design For Life
3. Beck - Where It's At
4. The Prodigy- Firestarter
5. Orbital - The Box
6. Folk Implosion- Natural One
7. Beck - Devils Haircut
8. Tiger - Race
9. 2pac - California Love
10. Suede - Trash
11. The Bluetones - Slight Return
12. Super Furry Animals - The Man Don't Give A Fuck
13. Fugees - Ready Or Not
14. Oasis - Don't Took Back In Anger
15. Ash - Oh Yeah
16. The Charlatans - One To Another
17. Rocket From The Crypt - Born In '69
18. Spice Girls - Wannabe
19. Babybird - You're Gorgeous
20. The Lemonheads - If I Could Talk I'd Tell You
21. REM - E-Bow The Letter
22. Supergrass - Going Out
23. The Prodigy - Breathe
24. The Divine Comedy - The Frog Princess
25. Bis - The Secret Vampire Soundtrack
26. Cj Bolland - Sugar Is Sweeter
27. Busta Rhymes - Woo-Hah !! (Got You All In Check)
28. Catatonia - You've Got A Lot To Answer For
29. Nas - If I Ruled The World
30. Fugees - Killing Me Softly
31. Third Eye Foundation - Semtex
32. The Boo Radleys - C'mon Kids
33. Mogwai - Summer
34. Dose Featuring Mark E Smith - Plug Myself In
35. Aphex Twin - Girl/Boy Ep
36. The Chemical Brothers - Setting Sun
37. Super Furry Animals - If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You
38. The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend
39. The Lightning Seeds + Baddiel & Skinner - Three Lions
40. Space - Female Of The Species
41. Blackstreet - No Diggity
42. Sebadoh - Beauty Of The Ride
43. Sparklehorse - Someday I Will Treat you Good
44. Super Furry Animals - God! Show Me Magic
45. George Michael - Fast Love
46. The Cardigans - Lovefool
47. Kula Shaker - Tattva
48. DJ Shadow - Stem
49. Ash - Goldfinger
50. Black Grape - England's Irie
NME's Albums And Tracks Of The Year - 1996