It’s the time of year for hilarious reader-voted music lists, it seems. First there was Rolling Stone‘s Worst Bands of the 1990s, which embarrassingly dubbed Nirvana the fifth-worst band of the decade, and now there’s the NME‘s Greatest Britpop Anthems, in which the first five spots are all filled by Oasis songs. If you go by the NME readership’s version of history, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Oasis and Blur were the only two bands writing decent songs during the 1990s, with the occasional token mention for Suede and Pulp. Clearly, this isn’t the case. So here’s a selection of underrated Britpop anthems by bands — some of which even include women! — that didn’t make NME‘s list.
The Bluetones — “Slight Return”
A staple of indie discos throughout the 1990s and still one of the era’s breeziest and catchiest tunes. True story: this writer once attended a Bluetones afterparty at a seedy bar across the road from the Astoria in Charing Cross, and the band members had snuck their own beer into the venue because they were too poor to order from the bar. It wasn’t all coke and hookers back in the day, y’know.
James — “Sit Down”
This 1989 anthem predates the Britpop label, but it presaged the quintessentially British sound that would explode in the ‘90s. Entire festival crowds used to sit down during the chorus of this song. Those were the days. Allegedly.
Gene — “As Good As It Gets”
By the late ‘90s, the Cool Britannia optimism had faded and a jaded cynicism had set in at the lack of real change wrought by the Blair era. Gene’s lament at Labour’s abandonment of its traditional working class voting base to more-Thatcherite-than-Thatcher economic policy continues to resonate 15 years later: “I bet this is as good as it gets, yes?” sneered Martin Rossiter. “How could you ask for more?/ If you’re paid you’re not poor…”
Sleeper — “Inbetweener”
Back in the 1990s, Sleeper’s Louise Wener was a divisive figure, largely because she was a prominent and vocal woman in what was a pretty bro-y environment. Even now, opinion is divided: was she a sassy latter-day Ray Davies or an irritatingly mouthy Essex upstart? Either way, this single caught the atmosphere perfectly back in 1994. These days, Wener writes novels.
Elastica — “Line Up”
Judging by the complete lack of women in NME‘s top 20, the era’s testosterone-fueled flavor has also defined the way its history is written. At the risk of sounding like that one guy in the comments section: not one Elastica song? Really?!
Lightning Seeds — “Waiting for Today to Happen”
A masterpiece of pre-millennial melancholy, with Ian Broudie recording a lyric by Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire. Broudie’s pure pop sensibility and Wire’s world-weary cynicism make for a perfect match.
Shack — “Mr. Appointment”
Lee Mavers of The La’s is the great lost talent of the Britpop era, but this is the work of another scrambled Scouse visionary: Shack singer/songwriter Mick Head. Like Mavers, he had all the talent in the world — and like Mavers, he also had a whacking great heroin habit. Shack’s 1991 album Waterpistol, from which this is lifted, is one of the lost classics of the era. Head surfaces less and less often these days.
Echobelly — “Great Things”
“I wanna do great things,” sang Sonya Aurora Madan on this, her band’s biggest hit and most memorable song. There’s a certain irony in the fact that it was released just as the Britpop era was washing back from its high-water mark, but still, its sunny optimism and general air of wide-eyed ingenuity still sounds endearing.
Geneva — “Tranquilizer”
Signed to Nude Records, also home to Suede, Geneva looked the business for a brief period in about 1996. They’ve since disappeared without trace, but this single had a roof-raising chorus and briefly promised stardom.
Mansun — “Stripper Vicar”
The Britpop era bred its share of oddballs, and few were odder than Mansun — their second album, Six, was a full-on prog concept piece that featured narration from Tom Baker (of Doctor Who fame) and was… well, it was pretty hard going, to be honest. Their debut record, however, was full of surprisingly catchy melodies, none moreso than this strange tale of, yes, a vicar with a penchant for getting naked.
Supergrass — “Sun Hits the Sky”
And finally — look, OK, Supergrass aren’t exactly obscure, and “Alright” did at least break the monotony of the NME‘s list. But they’re also the terminally underrated British band of the ‘90s; while everyone else banged soap stars and hobnobbed with Chris Evans, Supergrass quietly released a string of near-perfect albums, never quite getting the credit they deserved. This is their finest moment, and also features the most sumptuous outro this side of “Sir Psycho Sexy.” No list of great Britpop tracks is complete without it.