The Brit-pop era was extremely short. Nobody agrees on the exact timeline, but most accept that it kicked off around 1991, peaked in 1994 when Oasis and Blur both released career-defining albums and died when the Rolling Stones took legal action against the Verve and the Spice Girls arrived on the scene. The whole thing lasted only about five years, but if you look at a British music magazine you’d think it never ended. There’s an obsession with the period that only seems to grow with age. Since there’s a new Blur album and Noel Gallagher is on tour, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Brit-pop song. Here are the results.
Blur released their sixth album, 13, into a rapidly changing musical landscape. Acts as wildly different as Britney Spears, Eminem and Korn were dominating the charts, whereas Brit-pop already seemed a little dated. Meanwhile, the band was splintering apart because they couldn't agree on a musical direction, and Damon Albarn was laying the groundwork for his hugely successful side project Gorillaz. Graham Coxon wrote the standout track "Coffee & TV" about his attempt to kick his alcohol addiction by drinking coffee as he watched TV. He sang the song himself, and it sounds more like mid-1990s Blur than anything else on the album. It has become a fan favorite, and in some ways it marks the end of the entire Brit-pop era.
The final track on (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is a seven-minute psychedelic masterpiece that has become one of Oasis' signature songs – though it was never released as a single in their home country. Even songwriter Noel Gallagher admits to not knowing the meaning of the lyrics, claiming that they were never intended to be anything other than a collection of beautiful imagery and clever phrases. Still, every time drunken fans put their arms around each other and sing, "Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball/Where were you while we were getting high?" the words seem extremely meaningful.
Blur never made a huge impact in America. They faced the same two issues that the Kinks faced decades earlier: They didn't tour much over here, and their music was, for lack of a better word, extremely British. Some Blur classics that are known by nearly every U.K. native of a certain age will seem completely unfamiliar to most Americans. The lone exception is their 1997 hit "Song 2." If you meet someone that's never heard of Blur or "Song 2," simply refer to it as "that song that goes 'woo-hoo'" and they should know it immediately. Blur didn't play the track when they performed their new album The Magic Whip straight-through at a recent London club show, but when they came to Brooklyn they caved and busted it out as their final encore. Needless to say, the place went completely apeshit. Woo-hoo!
It's a little surprising this song didn't place higher on the list. After all, when most people think of Oasis, they think of "Wonderwall." It's even the tune that Jay Z mockingly played at Glastonbury after Noel Gallagher said he didn't belong at the festival. Named for an obscure 1968 George Harrison solo project, the 1995 hit broke big all over the world. MTV played the video over and over, introducing the band to America in a huge way. The opening notes can send any crowd into absolute hysterics, but Noel dropped it from the set list on his current tour. Liam Gallagher played it with his post-Oasis group Beady Eye at the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics in London.
One could argue that the peak of the Brit-pop movement came in August of 1994, when Oasis put out Definitely Maybe and Blur released "Parklife" as a single off their album of the same name. The latter song, inspired by London's Hyde Park, seemed custom-made to appeal to a purely British audience. It features Phil Daniels (best known for playing Jimmy in the Quadrophenia movie) reciting the verses while Damon Albarn sings the chorus. Beavis and Butt-head were extremely underwhelmed by the video. "What the hell language is he speaking?" asked Butt-head. Beavis shared his confusion. "I can hear some American words in there," he said. "But I can't really tell what he's saying." Butt-head summed up their feelings: "England sucks. You know those asswipes the Beatles? They ruined music."
Parklife's lead single came out in March of 1994, leaping to Number Five on the U.K. chart and truly kicking off Brit-pop's biggest year. The light and bouncy song is Blur at their poppy best, and it remains a staple of their live show. The single art was taken from a condom wrapper, reflecting the tone of the record. "Love in the Nineties is paranoid," sings Albarn. "On sunny beaches/Take your chances looking for/Girls who are boys/Who like boys to be girls." It briefly looked like Blur would rule the year, but just one month later a new band called Oasis released "Supersonic." The war was on.
In many ways, "Live Forever" is the song that gave birth to Oasis. Noel Gallagher began work on the tune in 1991 when he was working for a building company, inspired by the Rolling Stones' "Shine a Light." It was one of the first things the group recorded once they came together, and it helped them land their first record deal. The beautiful, soaring anthem was the third single from their debut LP, Definitely Maybe, which they promoted relentlessly on the road. They played it on their first David Letterman appearance, helping win them a ton of new fans in America.
Most every rock group ever formed dreams of writing a breakthrough song like "Bitter Sweet Symphony," but for the Verve, that dream slowly turned into a nightmare. The song used a sample of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra playing the Rolling Stones' 1965 hit "The Last Time," which was owned by Allen Klein's company, ABKCO. Klein filed suit demanding full rights to the new hit, and this turned into a protracted legal drama ultimately settled out of court. "This is serious lawyer shit," Keith Richards said in 1999. "If the Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money." All the problems around "Bitter Sweet Symphony" didn't exactly help the Verve stay together, and they split in 1999, though they briefly reunited eight years later.
Bob Dylan's Don't Look Back hit theaters in 1967, and 12 years later David Bowie released his song "Look Back in Anger." The titles were mashed up on the first Oasis song to feature Noel, who considers it one of his finest compositions, on lead vocals. He has since described the tune as a cross between the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Noel doesn't do a ton of Oasis songs at his solo shows, but on this tour he's using it to wrap up most gigs. It's the perfect way to end the night.
In 1988, Jarvis Cocker was studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design when he started talking to a wealthy girl from Greece who yearned, in her words, to live like the "common people." The encounter and phrasing stuck in his mind and inspired him to write "Common People," an enormous hit in England that's gone to have a huge afterlife and dwarf most every other song in Pulp's catalog. The number has become so iconic that numerous people have attempted to track down the Greek woman, and just this month reports came out that it's actually Danae Stratou, the wife of the Greek Minister of Finance. There have been similar claims about other candidates, but nobody seems to know for sure. The mystery only makes the song more alluring, and it's so powerful that even William Shatner managed to record a great cover.