The Top Ten Britpop songs. In March 1997, Vanity Fair published a special edition titled Cool Britannia. It had Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover and read ‘London Swings! Again!’ It was a piece about how the UK scene had taken off in many aspects of culture. Inside it were articles on other contributors to ‘Cool Britania‘ that included Alexander McQueen, Damien Hirst, Graham Coxon, and the editorial staff of Loaded, considered at the time to be the ultimate ‘Lads’ magazine. At the time, the media used Cool Britannia to describe a specific period in the 90s UK. Art, fashion, film ( think Train Spotting) and especially Britpop. It’s probably fair to say that no other form of entertainment or the Arts was as closely linked as Britpop; however, it was far more of a cultural moment rather than a musical genre; it did, without question, produce some truly great music which is where we come in.
The influence of ’60s bands
It would almost impossible to combine any Top Ten list from the ’90s without mentioning Noel Galagher, guitarist for one of the biggest bands at the time, Oasis has openly expressed his admiration for the Beatles sound – particularly guitar-based bands, played strong in the music’s Indie /Brit Pop scene. From psychedelic Pink Floyd prevalent in early music from Blur, glam and punk rock from the ’70s associated with Pulp’s music right through to the 80s indie scene, in particular, the guitar of Johnny Marr of The Smiths and the “Madchester‘ vibe. Britpop blended many subgenres, but most importantly, it was about being British in the 90s.
Until Another must-have for any Top Ten of Brit Pop Songs, Suede, who widely credited influences such as The Velvet Underground and David Bowie, came to the attention of the Music press, the term was unknown. ‘Blur’ was struggling for attention, having released their debut and follow-up Modern Life Is Rubbish. Pulp was still only known to the few after releasing albums for more than ten years; the mighty Oasis had just signed to Creation and had not yet released Supersonic. The Britpop era was in its infancy, but that wouldn’t last long. Like many new cultural movements, “Cool Britania’ seemed to arrive suddenly, and Britpop was brought to Global attention.
Getting rid of Hippies
An essential ingredient was the Britishness of the bands, which meant different things to different groups and their fans. For some, it was their regional accents. For others, it was fashion and local designers. They all appeared to have things in common that could be said to be critical. Lyrics about everyday issues and dislike for the current trend in music -grunge.
Damon Albarn of Blur said in a 1993 interview, “If punk was about getting rid of hippies, then I’m getting rid of grunge!”. Britpop represented a rebellion against the United States – the home of grunge and music norms of the time – or so it seemed. The reality was that they were both a working-class response to what was happening in the world at the time. In retrospect, the two had far more in common than was apparent, but there was no question that Britpop was the livelier and more fun-focused of the two. Grunge appeared to focus on what was wrong in the world and how everything seemed to be angry, self-pity staring at the death of everything. Britpop was far more lively and seemingly enthusiastic. Noel Galagher summed it up well when he said of Oasis’s smash hit ‘Live Forever’ was a reaction to the self-pitying depressive nature of some (mainly US grunge) music of the same era, “dying? fuck that I’m gonna live forever.”
A sense of something new
The Brits brought a sense of something new, accents and a new vocabulary. Added to this was a new fashion and sense of ‘laddish’ rebellion, summed up in an attitude that everyone can get rich and famous – so let’s do it.
It cannot be understated how different it was for British bands not to hide their regional accents or dress styles when eyeing the US market. Until then, British groups who made it in America didn’t write lyrics expressing what was happening in their lives in the UK and would make an effort to soften their accent(s). To make it easier to appeal to the massive US market, they went for commonality in their approach to lyrics and style and didn’t bring their version of British Culture to the fore. Brit Pop changed that. It was fantastic to be British, and it was OK not to hide how you pronounced different words. The bands revelled in it.
This is not to say it was all “British culture or nothing else.” It was much more, although their look and feel were unmistakenly from the UK, and their experience of living life and growing up in Britain.
Having fun and making music
The music was up-tempo and guitar-led, with the formula of one /two guitars, bass, and drums. Recognising that the classic band structure was a big part of the movement is essential. These were bands -mates who got together and wrote songs – this was never just about the lead singer and their ‘musical support’ in the background. This was about groups of people having fun and making music.
Although arguably the most successful bands were Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp, and they appear in virtually any Top Ten Britpop, there were others. The Charlatan’s – The Only One I Know, The Stone Roses – Love Spreads, Garbage’s – I Think I’m Paranoid, and Republica’s – Drop Dead Gorgeous, to name but a few, and they helped fuel the idea that Britania was well and truly COOL. Even, arguably still one of the most famous Girl Groups, The Spice Girls though they can’t be said to be under the genre of Brit Pop, in the strictest sense – were the most recognisable face of cool Britania. The photograph went everywhere when Spice Girl Geri Halliwell wore that Union Jack dress at the Brit Awards in 1997. Suddenly, the Brit Awards seemed to have finally arrived rather than appearing to be a poor relation to the much bigger American award shows. And with it came the mighty combined marketing power of the record labels, willingly supported by the media.
The battle for the Heavyweight Crown
The timespan of Britpop is generally considered to be 1993–1997, and its peak years to be 1995–1996. It would be impossible to write about Britpop and compile a Top Ten list without mentioning The chart battle between Blur and Oasis, dubbed “The Battle of Britpop”, which brought Britpop to the forefront of the British press in 1995. The bands had initially praised each other, but the antagonisms increased over the year. Spurred on by the media, they became engaged in what the NME dubbed on the cover of its 12 August issue the “British Heavyweight Championship” with the pending release of Blur’s single “Country House” and Oasis’ “Roll with It” on the same day. The battle pitted the two bands against each other, with the conflict as much about British class and regional divisions as it was about music. Oasis was the king of the North, while Blur represented the South. The event caught the public’s imagination and gained mass media attention in national newspapers and television news.
The greatest rivalry since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones
Expertly marketed as the greatest rivalry since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, spurred on by mutual insults between the two groups, Oasis and Blur were set for a showdown to see who could sell the most records – when it was announced both were set to release their new singles in August on the same day, The idea of a musical battle was a brilliant marketing strategy to get new customers – think album sales, concert promotions and Sponsorship of up-coming tours – and equally importantly sales of magazines and pa papers bringing you the daily news on what your favourite band was doing to win the battle. It was a huge commercial success and dramatically upped Britain’s single/album sales, delivering undeniable global success. Britpop was having its moment in the sun.
Ultimately, Blur’s “Country House” sold 274,000 copies, and “Roll with It” by Oasis sold 216,000, the songs charting at number one and two, respectively. Blur performed on the most significant music show in the UK, watched by millions each week, the BBC’s Top of the Pops. With a nod of respect and mutual admiration, bassist Alex James wore an ‘Oasis t-shirt. Ultimately, Oasis grew more successful than Blur at home and abroad, but that was all to come. For the time being, though, Blur was crowned the winner.
Brits taking over
For the next year and a half, Britpop reigned supreme. British bands were topping the charts; the ongoing feud between Oasis and Blur was kept alive and well by a delighted media happy with the antics delivered by both bands and the accompanying insults for each other that went with them. Album sales kept climbing. The Verve released their classic and massively successful to this day, ‘Bittersweet Symphony and. Others like Edwyn Collins, Black Grape, Black Box Recorder, Manic Street Preachers, and Radiohead, regardless of whether they were strictly speaking Brit Pop or not, enjoyed the wave of success that lifted the British Music scene en masse. Although, as we said earlier, Cool Britannia and Britpop can now be seen more as a cultural moment – it certainly inspired a whole new generation of artists both in America and the UK for years to come.
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