Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Going Underground

Does everyone have a defining song, the one that changed your life and set you on your musical path? If so, mine is undoubtedly, after all, Going Underground by The Jam.

There I was, a musical slug, listening to the Capital Radio Hall of Fame, a rundown of the "Greatest Songs of All Time" from 500 to 1, when there it was, at Number 248, sandwiched between Lionel Richie and the Eagles, or whatever, a whole different sound, a surge of adrenaline, a whole new way of looking at and listening to the world.

Back then, it wasn't so easy just to hear something and then enjoy it to one's heart content (I make it sound like the dark ages, that record shops didn't exist, but i had limited money, didn't know much about music, and just generally didn't get out much, also obviously there was no downloading). It was several months where I had the nerve, money and opportunity to buy The Jam's Greatest Hits from Ealing Broadway Our Price. From the day I bought it, I think I listened to Going Underground twice a day, at least, for a year. I sang along, got used to every cadence, every jagged guitar, every release of tension.

Thankfully, I learnt, Going Underground was not a one-off. The Jam's Greatest Hits is one of the finest singles collections of all time- a five year wonder with barely a misfire. Down in the Tube Station is pretty much as perfect to me as Going Underground, A Town Called Malice has got better and better with age, there's nothing not to like from In the City to Beat Surrender.

But Going Underground was the one. Depending on how you look at it, it is extraordinary that it was so low in the Hall of Fame or that it was there at all. It sounded so out of place, yet it truly was a pop smash hit, straight in at Number 1 - I was not a member of an exclusive club in my admiration.

It was a great mistake in my '101 Songs' post when I listed my 101 favourite songs of the time that I didn't include Going Underground. I remember pondering it, but thinking, actually, I hadn't listened to it for quite a while, it wasn't really still a favourite.

Well, I've listened to it since. And come close to that same feeling I had when I was 15. Going Underground really is a glorious power-pop song. I'm not sure anything else comes close even now. It's incredible that Weller was only 22 when it came out - it's a great lyric, not stunning poetry but simple but effective - nothing clunks - kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns. It's all great stuff.

Moving on briefly, Paul Weller can sometimes be a bit of a dirty word - there can be good reasons for this - his run of albums from the late 90s to early 2000s is pretty average (though's he picked up again significantly now), the Dadrock thing, the hair, but i also sometimes wonder if it's only a certain kind of snobbery which stops him being fully lionised to the extent of say, David Bowie. He's gruff, unglamorous, can seem a little inarticulate, but his career is one of the most eclectic, adventurous, imaginative in British music - he's taken in punk, funk, soul, folk, jazz, house music and plenty more. He's never stopped. You can think he's not the greatest lyricist in the world but then, things like That's Entertainment, some of the stuff on Wild Wood, it's as good as anything else.

Here's a Weller playlist, taking in his whole 35 year career. It's going to be long, because he's done a huge number of great songs, frankly. So there, Weller haters. Huh!!

Going Underground - The Jam
Sunflower - Paul Weller
Are You Trying to be Lonely? - Andy Lewis and Paul Weller
A Town Called Malice - The Jam
No Tears to Cry - Paul Weller
Blink and You'll Miss It - Paul Weller
Headstart for Happiness - The Style Council
My Ever Changing Moods - The Style Council
Man in the Cornershop - The Jam
Time Passes - Paul Weller
Down in the Tube Station at Midnight - The Jam
Beat Surrender - The Jam
Wild Wood - Paul Weller
Moon on Your Pyjamas - Paul Weller
Have You Ever Had it Blue - The Style Council
That's Entertainment - The Jam
Uh Huh Oh Yeh - Paul Weller
Shout to the Top - The Style Council
You're the Best Thing - The Style Council
In the City - The Jam
Tales from the Riverbank - The Jam
Carnation - The Jam
Come On Let's Go - Paul Weller
Above the Clouds - Paul Weller
Frightened - Paul Weller
A Solid bond in your Heart - The Style Council
It's Written in the Stars - Paul Weller
When you're Young - The Jam
The Long Hot Summer - The Style Council
Stanley Road - Paul Weller
Boy About Town - The Jam
Push it Along - Paul Weller
Where'er you Go - Paul Weller
Wasteland - The Jam
English Rose - The Jam
Shadow of the Sun - Paul Weller

Friday, 2 November 2012


It's become accepted wisdom in recent times to say that the mid-90s phenomenon known as Britpop was a bit shit, really, full of crappy chancer bands nicking from the 60s, attaching gloopy string sections to lame tracks to give them a bit of gravitas, recycling insular white British cliches and that the only worthwhile bands in the whole thing were the central triumvirate of Oasis, Blur and Pulp. Apart from that, it set British music back years.

And, to an extent, I've gone along with that a little more than I should have. I moved on to what I thought were better things. Britpop had a part in how I got into music in a big way, I was affectionate towards it, felt nostalgic when I heard Wake Up Boo or something, but was prepared to accept that it wasn't all that.

But I'll tell you what happened. I happened to listen to a bit of the Charlatans. And I didn't just think "Aah, remember the Charlatans, they were fun", I thought "This is really really good". It's eclectic, informed, powerful, rocking, elegant, it's great rock music - it's not just way better than current British bands, it's way better than a lot of the American bands I've been harping on about for the last few years. Yes, I know, the Charlatans aren't a Britpop bands per se, they pre and post-date it, but that's my point really - there are an awful lot of great British bands from the late 80s to the early 2000s who hit a critical and commercial high point in the Britpop years of 94 to 97, and that really was a golden time for British music.

Britpop nicked from the 60s - that's what people say, but I think that's missing the point, it nicked from everything, there were shades of early rock'n'roll, 60s pop, glam rock, punk and new wave, new romanticism and baggy in all the big Britpop bands, it was the first movement that harnessed everything that had gone before so effectively and since then everyone has become so self-conscious about their stylistic influences that the actual songs they write are inhibited as a result. Or, you could say that British guitar bands that have striven for fame since then have either struggled with the idea of borrowing from what's gone before and floundered as a result or borrowed from Britpop itself, which distilled its own influences so well. So you end up with bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand (fun initially but then drowning in self-consciousness) or, even worse, Scouting for Girls - horrible.

A lot of the great bands i'm talking about might balk at being labelled Britpop, but I suppose everyone balks at being labelled anything - the point is that that was a true golden age for British guitar music and that an awful lot of it still sounds tremendous now. And it made the charts exciting in a way they almost certainly never will be again - the bands you liked had hits ... pretty much every week - the Bluetones at Number 2, Ash at Number 5, Blur at Number 1, The Furries at Number 12, Northern Uproar at Number ... no, even I have standards.

A "Britpop" playlist could go on forever, I'll keep it to the 90s but not limit it much more than that - one or two for each band, probably. These will be the bands that got into the charts, that were there and there abouts in the mid-90s. What were your favourites?

End of a Century - blur
Something for the Weekend - Super Furry Animals
Slight Return - The Bluetones
On and On - The Longpigs
Karma Police - Radiohead
Yes - McAlmont and Butler
Forever - The Charlatans
Ring the Bells - James
Live Forever - Oasis
The Wild Ones - Suede
Something Changed - Pulp
Wake Up Boo - The Boo Radleys
The State that I Am In - Belle and Sebastian
All you Good Good People - Embrace
A Design for Life - Manic Street Preachers
Blueton-c - The Bluetones
Going Out - Supergrass
Kings of the Kerb - Echobelly
Ladykillers - Lush
What Do I Do Now? - Sleeper
Waking Up - Elastica
There She Goes - The Las
Local Boy in the Photograph - Stereophonics
The Drugs Don't Work - The Verve
I'm so Lonely - Cast
Legacy - Mansun
Sunrise - The Divine Comedy
Wonderwall - Oasis
Beetlebum - Blur
Animal Nitrate - Suede
Northern Lites -Super Furry Animals

I'm sure I've missed loads of little treats - I've done it pretty much off the top of my head.

So, incidentally, I think the first Britpop song is 'There She Goes' and the "death" of Britpop was Oasis releasing Do You Know What I Mean as the a-side to the first single from 'Be Here Now' and Stay Young as the b-side. And now I'm going to listen to some Space ...