This Sunday (September 13), at 9pm on Channel 4, Shane Meadows’ gritty drama This Is England returns with a new series, set in 1990. For music, it was a pretty classic year – from Primal Scream’s psychedelic dance anthems to Saint Etienne’s Balearic beats. Here we revisit NME’s top 20 tracks of 1990 and see how they fare 25 years on.
20 World Of Twist, ‘The Storm’
Maybe World Of Twist’s legacy will be Liam Gallagher’s obsession with ‘Sons Of The Stage’, but they were so much more – they had a revolving painting of a Spitfire on stage, for starters. First proper single ‘The Storm’ had all the elements: drama, mystery, the patina of psychedelia, a cracking chorus and a tea set on the cover. Tony Ogden was a reluctant singer, but he had the swagger.
19 Saint Etienne, ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’
It’s been covered by everyone from House Of Pain’s Everlast to Natalie Imbruglia (just last month), but the best stab at Neil Young’s wavery old folk tune has to be Saint Etienne’s debut single. It doesn’t even feature Sarah Cracknell – Moira Lambert was the early vocalist – but it’s a crunchy chunk of post-Balearic dub that set them on track.
18 The Farm, ‘Groovy Train’
That baggy thing wasn’t just happening in Manchester – it went back up the Mersey to Liverpool too. The Farm looked as if they’d be happier singing backing vocals on ‘World In Motion’, but ‘Groovy Train’ hit the spot with its earworm guitar riff, lunkheaded (but memorable) chorus and co-production from Madness singer Suggs and Boy’s Own DJ Terry Farley.
17 Inspiral Carpets, ‘This Is How It Feels’
Once upon a time Inspiral Carpets were more famous than their roadie (one Mr. Noel Gallagher) – mainly for their impeccable bowl-cuts, but also for some tough, bolshy, psychedelic tunes bolstered by Clint Boon’s trusty organ. They never looked too comfortable in the Madchester pigeonhole, but notched a monster hit in ‘This Is How It Feels’, a kitchen-sink drama made all the more affecting by Tom Hingley’s single-gear drone.
16 Flowered Up, ‘It’s On’
A tradition of English music hall nonsense was revitalised by Camden’s Flowered Up. They were London’s answer to the Happy Mondays, even boasting their own Bez in dancer Barry Mooncult, but ‘It’s On’ had a lairy power of its own, whether tumbling over searing guitars in its original form or staggering to the dancefloor on its equally prominent remix.
15 The Charlatans, ‘The Only One I Know’
Madchester’s tendrils spread to Northwich, where Tim Burgess’s Charlatans had their own psychedelic take on the nascent baggy groove, moving feet with a few prods of Rob Collins’ Hammond organ. A top 10 hit paved the way for a career that’s spanned more than 25 years, blotted by tragedy along the way, but enhanced in recent times by Burgess’s predilection for a magnificent bleached blonde mophead.
14 The La’s, ‘There She Goes’
For a brief period, everything was going right in The La’s world. Then their self-titled album came out, Lee Mavers disowned it, and it all went up the Swanee. Still, the two years between ‘There She Goes” first release and its chart success were rosy; a time when the country gradually fell for this timeless, chiming jangle for a passing girl or shot of heroin, depending on your naivety.
13 Happy Mondays, ‘Kinky Afro’
If we’re compiling great Shaun Ryder lines, “Son, I’m thirty/I only went with your mother ‘cos she’s dirty,” takes some beating. ‘Kinky Afro’ was about the closest thing on buffed-up breakthrough album ‘Pills ‘N’ Thrills…’ to the sheer grubby mess of the Happy Mondays’ early records, a song that actually sounds like it’s leering, rendered gospel truth by Rowetta’s roof-raising backing vocals.
12 Betty Boo, ‘Doin’ The Do’
The first Boo solo single following ‘Hey DJ!/I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)’, ‘Doin’ The Do’ was her towering hip-house (aka hip-hop meets house) collaboration with UK producers The Beatmasters. It’s the same template, really – rollicking piano, hyperactive beats and Boo switching effortlessly between singing and rapping; high-water mark of human achievement.
11 Van Morrison, ‘In The Days Before Rock’N’Roll’
Loveable old rogue Van Morrison responded to his biggest hit in years (1989 album ‘Avalon Sunset’) in time-honoured style – hoiking out an eight-minute tribute to his boyhood radio obsessions, half-narrated by Irish poet Paul Durcan. He got his non-hit, but it’s still a gorgeous, stirring paean to a less-documented time, featuring Morrison bellowing about legendary jockey Lester Piggott.
10 The Lemonheads, ‘Different Drum’
This one was written by The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith back in 1965 and originally recorded by the Greenbriar Boys the following year, but it’s a natural choice for The Lemonheads and Evan Dando’s bittersweet tones. Featured on early EP ‘Favourite Spanish Dishes’, it gets the power pop treatment along with a burst of feedback, putting some salt in the sugar bowl.
9 England New Order, ‘World In Motion’
Remember football in the 1980s? Wall-to-wall hooliganism, with the chattering classes going nowhere near. Well, something like that. New Order and comedian Keith Allen turned it all around, bringing love to the beautiful game, along with a rap from John Barnes that changed the face of hip-hop. Well, something like that. Still the best football song ever.
8 James, ‘Come Home’
Before everything went merchandise-shaped in 1990, James were chiefly known as Morrissey’s favourite band. Their 1989 single ‘Sit Down’ made people sit up, then ‘Come Home’ went a little bit baggy and found itself emblazoned across a million T-shirts. An odd fate for Tim Booth’s seething, lip-curling hymn to misanthropy.
7 Dream Warriors, ‘My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style’
Canadian rap duo Dream Warriors alerted the world to their presence with ‘Wash Your Face In My Sink’, but their next (novelty, let’s face it) hit was the one. Look, this was 1990. Acid jazz was cool. You could grow a soul patch, wear plaid flares and dance to what was effectively just a guy telling an amiable story over Quincy Jones’ ‘Soul Bossa Nova’.
6 Pet Shop Boys, ‘Being Boring’
Having reached dance’s apotheosis with 1988’s ‘Introspective’, the Pet Shop Boys slipped quietly out of their “imperial phase”, but they weren’t done with magnificent records. ‘Being Boring’ mixed customary Neil Tennant irony (that title) with one of their loveliest melodies and some delicate retrospection, remembering a life spent with a friend who’d died from an AIDS-related illness.
5 Primal Scream, ‘Loaded’
Bobby Gillespie as dance god? How they all laughed. Well, who’s laughing now? Probably the same people, to be honest, but when the Scream asked Andrew Weatherall to remix ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’, the results weren’t just convincing, they were spectacular. ‘Loaded’ retains the rock edge but comes out an ecstatic mantra, causing Gillespie to ditch the leathers for a full four years.
4 Betty Boo, ‘Where Are You Baby?’
One of the greatest letdowns of the last quarter-century of pop is Alison Clarkson’s retreat to the songwriting shadows. As Betty Boo, she was a sterling pop star: vampish, cartoonish and witty in equal measure. Her biggest hit, ‘Where Are You Baby?’ blends her hip-hop smarts (learned with the She-Rockers) with 60s girl-group perkiness and surf guitar; all the ingredients that made a hit in 1990.
3 Sinead O’Connor, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
She cried in the video. Years on, that sounds trite, but at the time, the moment had real power. Sinead O’Connor was considered hard as nails and here was a Prince song (carelessly tossed to The Family during his period of over-abundance) that few really knew. O’Connor linked it to her mother, added Nellee Hooper’s slowed Soul II Soul beats and created something devastating. It made her, and the song.
2 Happy Mondays, ‘Step On’
“You’re twisting my melon, man.” By 1990, Shaun Ryder was inventing his own lexicon, riding a wave of E’d-up confidence while his band finally found some shape with the help of Paul Oakenfold’s sequenced beats. ‘Step On’ was an inspired cover of South African artist John Kongos’s 1971 hit ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ and a consolidation of the Madchester foundations laid by 1989’s ‘Hallelujah’.
1 Deee-Lite, ‘Groove Is In The Heart’
Deee-Lite, made up of singer Lady Miss Kier and DJs Towa Tei and DJ Dmitry, sprang out of New York’s club scene with a day-glo dancefloor perennial that featured Bootsy Collins, Q-Tip and an irresistible bassline lifted from jazz-funk pioneer Herbie Hancock’s ‘Bring Down The Birds’. Scandalously denied a Number One by The Steve Miller Band’s ‘The Joker’ even though sales were, by and large, identical.