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19 Underrated 90s Pop Songs – British Blasts from the Past

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorBritpop is not all about Oasis and Blur, and 90’s British pop songs are not all about Britpop. For a refreshing yet familiar change, dig out a record by Mansun, Portishead or Blue Boy. ~ Jonny Sweet
I am a child of the 90’s.In practical terms, what this means is that even now, in my mid to late twenties, I regularly wake up in a cold sweat and a blind panic. This invariably was brought on by a disturbing dream in which I have either forgotten to feed my Tamagotchi, didn’t set the VCR to record Gladiators or tried frantically but futilely to get one of the buttons on my Sega Mega Drive controller unstuck.

Now, the normal remedy to sorting out this kind of night-time dilemma is a period of prolonged thumb-sucking whilst listening to a selection of 90’s Britpop songs. I should clarify here that the accepted definition of Britpop as revolving around a group of musicians (hailing largely from Manchester) is too narrow for me. There’s more to life and more to my blossoming 90’s adolescence than Oasis and Blur.

It was upon this realisation that I decided to take to Google in order to track down some underrated 90’s pop songs, trusting implicitly in the internet’s infinite wisdom to deliver up some choice nuggets for my eardrums.

Imagine then my abject dismay to find that the only existing articles I could find covered solely the previously narrow definition of Britpop I have mentioned… or a collection of songs that meant nothing to me at all… or instead were disorganised forums, where rather than a cohesive outlook, the piece took on the form of a horde of disparate and disembodied voices yelling (often aggressively) into the void, seemingly oblivious to the those doing exactly the same above and below them.

And with this in mind, I donned my cape and safety helmet, produced a fountain pen from the nether regions of my homemade costume with a flourish and dredged up a cartload of old cassettes from the attic, hell-bent on righting yet another cyberspace wrong with vim and misplaced vigour.

And the following article is the fruits of my labour; my attempt to pinpoint not only the best forgotten 1990’s Britpop songs, but also some of the excellent anthems from yesteryear from not well-known British bands.

`Whippin Piccadilly´ (Gomez)

Starting with the bands that do fit into the traditional Britpop category but (in my opinion) don’t receive enough credit for their endeavours, I give you Gomez.

Probably one of the most underrated bands of all time, Gomez never failed to deliver easy-listening tunes, laid-back and unthreatening, accompanied by Ian Ball’s scratchy and soulful warbling.

The perfect accompaniment to my first dabblings in the realm of hangovers, listening to Gomez is still a great way to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon.


`Wide Open Space´(Mansun)

Another heinously underrated band from that time, Mansun tick all of the Britpop boxes and do so with style.

The video for this particular selection also stayed with me; it took a familiar face from Grange Hill (another 90’s throwback TV show) and transplanted him to the unfamiliar surrounding of a nocturnal city, hinting heavily at his vampirism.

Edgy stuff.

`Foxy’s Folk Faced´(Ocean Colour Scene)

It’s probably not accurate to call OCS underrated as a band – they were one of the bigger names of the Britpop genre not hailing from Manchester – but this little gem of a song certainly went relatively unnoticed by most around me.

Indeed, it had such a profound effect on me that it prompted me to learn guitar and actually upload an acoustic cover video to YouTube… a practice I quickly dispensed with.

Apologies in advance if you investigate that particular link.

`Good Enough´ (Dodgy)

Who remembers Dodgy? I certainly do… and not for the Staying Out for the Summer theme tune to Butlins holiday resort.

In my opinion, Good Enough was a far better effort from these lads from London, who also excelled at putting on rousing live shows. They reformed in 2007, though I must confess that nothing they have released since has crept onto my radar.

`Pumping On Your Stereo´ (Supergrass)

Another classic Britpop band, Supergrass really excelled themselves with both this song and video.

A catchy chorus and bass-line that runs throughout, coupled with giant muppet-like characters playing the instruments in the video… what’s not to like?

`Thinking About You´ (Radiohead)

Of course, there is no way that Radiohead can be described as either underrated or Britpop, though the fact remains that they are British, their early work (especially Pablo Honey) was much more mainstream pop than anything that has followed and in particular, this song has always seemed to me underrated.

It is (in my humble opinion) the stand-out track on that album; the one I still include on Radiohead playlists to this day, even though their more recent, evolved work seems to me to be far superior than the pandering pop songs of their debut.

`Let Forever Be´ (The Chemical Brothers)

While we’re on the subject of big bands releasing underrated songs, this collaboration from The Chemical Brothers and Noel Gallagher (lo and behold! Oasis have crept into the article after all) strikes me as a timeless classic which deserves far more recognition and playing time than it gets.

Throw in a trippy video directed by cult hero Michel Gondry and loaded with clocks and mirrors, and you have a great little blast from the past.

`Motorcycle Emptiness´ (Manic Street Preachers)

Again, another underrated song from a highly-rated band, Motorcycle Emptiness remains probably my favourite of the Welsh band’s repertoire.

Though it didn’t achieve the same sort of fame and acclaim as A Design for Life, If You Tolerate This or You Stole The Sun From My Heart, Motorcycle Emptiness has every bit of the same longevity as its more illustrious cousins.

`Girl Like You´ (Edwyn Collins)

In a previous article on alternative Scottish rock music, I touched on Edwyn Collins early days in music with his band Orange Juice.

After leaving the band, Collins established himself as a solo artist with this belter of a song, Girl Like You.

Unfortunately, Collins would prove to be something of a one-hit-wonder… but it’s some wonder of a hit.

`Your Woman´ (White Town)

In much the same vein as Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car (which, incidentally, is another great 90’s tune but too well-known to creep onto this list), this track will quite possibly have you asking yourself the question, “man or woman vocalist?”

The issue is muddied even further by the title, which would hint at a female singer… though in the end, the reverse is true.

But at the end of the day, who really cares? A great tune with a great recurring muted trumpet line (taken from the Bing Crosby song My Woman) and a delightfully old-fashioned video.

`Remember Me´ (Blue Boy)

What an apt title for this one-hit-wonder. Yes, Lex Blackmore, AKA Blue Boy, I remember you, and your cracking song, even if no-one else does.

Coming out in 1997, I always saw Remember Me as a great partner song to Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me (No No No), which came out three years previous and would certainly have made this list if it were not for the fact that Penn is Jamaican (although to be fair, you may have noticed I have managed to shoehorn her in anyway… whatever. It’s a great 90’s tune).

`You’re Not Alone´ (Olive)

Another one from the dance hall, the remix of this 1996 trip-hop single achieved greater success than the original… which continues to be sampled in clubs around Europe.

For anyone who has ever danced away the night in a garish rave (or, in my case, owing to my age, the school disco), this will surely ring a bell.

`Glory Box´ (Portishead)

While their more illustrious counterparts Massive Attack from neighbouring Bristol were stealing all of the limelight,

Portishead from Portishead were quietly going about their business, releasing similarly dreamlike trip-hop anthems that deserved, in my opinion, just as much fanfare as the Bristolians.

Perhaps Portishead’s back catalogue doesn’t have quite as much strength in depth as Massive Attack, and the unvarying line-up made for less fluidity and variety in their work, but Glory Box, Sour Times and This Could Be Sweet are especially memorable turns from them.

Skunk Anansie – “Hedonism” (Skunk Anansie)

Just because it feels good – doesn’t make it right” is the refrain to this banger of a tune from Skunk Anansie… which though inherently true, doesn’t make it wrong either.

Thankfully, that means that guiltily listening to this song on repeat, thumb in mouth, in order to escape from another night terror isn’t wrong either… right?

It certainly feels good.

`Female of the Species´ (Space)

Actor, director, writer, comedian and general all-round funny-man Louis CK is in concurrence with this Space song that females have a unique danger to them simply not present in males.

In his own words, Louis claims that “a man will steal your car, or burn your house down, or beat the shit out of you… but a woman will ruin your fucking life… they will shit inside of your heart.”

Whether or not that is true is a matter of opinion, but it’s an amusing (if repulsive) image that goes nicely with an excellent jingle-jangler of a song.

`Hush´ (Kula Shaker)

For some reason which remains unknown to me, this song is inextricably linked in my mind with football. Specifically, the football of World Cup 1998, and specifically, a red Coco-Cola football I had been gifted by my parents to commemorate the occasion.

The song came out the year previous and I must have gone a little bit wild for it, because somehow it became the soundtrack to my youthful forays around the back garden, ineptly dribbling my favourite ball.

This is in the innocent days before I knew about such things as the corruption of FIFA and the sinister nature of corporations like Coca-Cola… so for me, the memory remains a pure one.

Eat football. Sleep football. Drink Coca-Cola. Listen to Kula Shaker.

`Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying´ (Belle and Sebastian)

Belle and Sebastian started their collective musical career in prolific style, releasing two albums in the same year (1996).

To be honest, pretty much any track from either of those offerings could have made it onto this list, such is my passion for the band and my belief that they are severely underrated.

I chose this particular song because for me, it epitomises their habit of matching uplifting melodies to depressing lyrics.

Incidentally, a friend in high school once told me I shouldn’t listen to Belle and Sebastian because “it’s bed-wetter music”… while I politely declined his advice, I can, reluctantly see what he was getting at. But I love them regardless. (And no, thankfully that particular malady hasn’t accompanied the night terrors. Honest).

`Brimful of Asha´ (Cornershop)

This 1997 single reached number 60 on the UK charts, before Fatboy Slim speeded it up a little bit, chucked in some of their typical DJ tricks and took the credit for the number one spot that ensued the following year.

While I have to confess that I do prefer the remix, I think the original is a remarkable song in itself, not least for the wonderful lyrics and the back-story that accompanies them, unnoticed by so many.

If you’re curious about the meaning of the song, this article explains it better than I ever could.

`National Express´ (Divine Comedy)

Whilst I admit it is perhaps a little unfair and maybe even a little unhelpful to select this of all songs from Divine Comedy’s repertoire, it is most certainly the most memorable of their efforts.

A jovial toe-tapper of a song, National Express jazzes up the dull subject of the British rail system, accompanying it with a quite unrelated video of the singer amusing himself in what appears to be some sort of lunatic asylum.

As I say, there is so much more to Divine Comedy than this semi-comedic novelty song… but it’s the one that evokes the most memories for me.


19 from Me… One from You?

There you have it: My selection of not well known british bands -19 songs from various genres of British pop; Britpop, dance pop, trip-hop-pop, indie pop and dream pop.If you’re still hungry for more, why not check out a more specialised dance article, or perhaps a more expansive look at the subject, both from my colleague David Lichfield.

I chose 19 songs for this playlist for the tenuous pun link with the 90’s… would you care to add one more and make it an even score?

Please do so below!

I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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