Summer’s gone. So goes the opening line of The Boo Radleys’ biggest hit ‘Wake Up Boo!’, released 20 years ago this year. The anniversary passed without much fanfare, which is strange considering how much of a phenomenon the song was: the most-played song on UK radio that year, it clung to the Top 40 for more than two months after its February release, becoming one of the defining songs of the Britpop era: the sunny flip side to Oasis’ swagger, an unapologetically chipper jangle-pop behemoth with a massive chorus and even bigger message. The song’s writer, Martin Carr, says he once heard Stevie Wonder whistling the tune while getting ready to record ‘Top Of The Pops’. ‘Wake Up Boo!’ was so immaculately, improbably, inexplicably catchy, it’s hard to blame old Stevie.
But the song has endured for more than its catchiness. “I didn’t like most of the new bands or the flag-waving. I didn’t like New Labour or idolise Paul Weller and I hated media-generated movements within music,” Carr told the BBC in 2005. Despite his distaste for Britpop and Blair, however, it’s hard to disassociate the song’s good-time vibes from the waves of optimism spreading the country as Tony and Cherie’s time at number 10 loomed. The economy was on the up. Cool Brittania was in full swing. It really felt that the “beautiful morning” Carr was waking people up to was the new political and cultural dawn creeping up on the UK.
Carr and the band quickly came to loathe the song – or at least the attention it earned them and the types of band it lumped them in with. It’s perhaps understandable – the track was something of a Boo Radleys anomaly. One listen to their 1993 masterpiece ‘Giant Steps’, complete with its sophisticated fusion of shoegaze, psych, dub and electronica, and you can appreciate why they felt a little unfulfilled by the success of ‘Wake Up.’ Imagine being an experimental Michelin-starred chef becoming a global sensation for making the best boiled egg anyone had ever tasted.
Speaking of breakfast dishes, there were countless big-money offers made to use the song on adverts for, among other items, cereal, washing powder and “anything to do with getting up in the morning.” But Carr wasn’t interested. “I could never do it,” he told the Guardian in 2000. “You would get the money, spend it, and then for the rest of your life you would be known as the bloke who did the music for the Cornflakes ad.”
Hopefully Carr’s warmed to the idea of ‘Wake Up Boo’ now, although he did politely turn down an interview request for this piece. “I’m proud of that record,” he said in an interview on Creation Records’ website years ago. “We loved pop music and that’s what it is. It’ll be remembered long after most of those records are dead. It’s never off the jukey at the Queen Vic,” adding that the band, who finally split in 1998, “probably started breaking up the day the song charted.”
For millions of people outside the band, however, ‘Wake Up Boo!’ represents much more than an albatross around a The Boo Radleys’ neck. It was the soundtrack to a summer as glorious as the one the song observed passing. It was still on the radio a year later when England looked like they were going to win Euro ’96. And when New Labour rode into Downing Street two years later, it was a victory that seemed to have begun back at ‘Wake Up Boo!’ 20 years on, as we brace ourselves for five years of a Conservative government, the optimism of Britpop and Blair’s New Labour seems even further away. ‘Wake Up Boo!’ on the other hand, feels like it spilled out into the charts only yesterday.