“Now That’s What I Call Music…” reached its centenary this year.
Nobody really cared.
In the era of Spotify, Deezer, iTunes and YouTube the compilation album is largely redundant…I’m not sure that anyone other than sales reps and desperate middle-aged children on Father’s Day morning actually buys them any longer.
I say this, of course, as a man who is still making mix-tapes for people despite the fact nobody actually has a tape player anymore…if you do have one and would like me to make you one then drop me a line on Twitter!
It wasn’t always like this.
At one point during the Britpop era the “Shine” compilations were must have treasure troves of musical wonder and bliss…sort of. What makes the “Shine” series of such importance to the sort of hip (sans the “ster”) kids who cluttered up the floor of the Brixton Academy for the climactic night of the Star Shaped Festival last Saturday was the fact that they arrived just as Britpop was going mainstream and they then became progressively more and more Britpoppy and then less and less Britpoppy as the series wound its way to 1998.
“Shine” itself features tracks from Blur, Oasis, Suede, Elastica, Pulp, Dodgy and Shed Seven…that’s 35% of the songs (that’s right, I’m like a balding, middle-aged, slightly overweight, male version of Rachel Riley). While these bands may be the ones that delight the likes of you and I the mostest what is really interesting, looking back, is who the people organising the album placed them alongside and what they say about how Britpop was viewed at that time.
The supporting cast is made up of baggy…James (“Sit Down”), The Farm (“Altogether Now”), The Charlatans (“Weirdo”) and the Inspiral Carpets (“Dragging Me Down”). None of those records had been in the charts in 1995…or even the year before…or the year before that. These were not new songs from new bands but they were a part of the pre-Britpop story for sure and, certainly in the case of James and the Carpets they would have their own part to play in the scene itself.
Then there were the generic indie floor fillers from The Smiths (“How Soon is Now?”), The Wonder Stuff (“The Size of a Cow”) and House of Love (“Shine On”). These selections served to place the Britpop bands in the line of post-punk, indie bands that had been flirting around the edges of, and occasionally battering down, the doors of mainstream success.
Nods to electronic(a), at least in an indie disco way, arrive with the presence of the divine New Order (“Regret”), Electronic (“Getting Away With It”) and, I guess, the grebo kids of Jesus Jones (“International Bright Young Things”). Who remembers grebo? Mad that, right? Haircuts that were, at best, questionable and clothes that were, without question, vile. Some of those bands I have a bit of a soft spot for, The Wonder Stuff (despite their hatred for Rick Astley) and Pop Will Eat Itself (only because my best mate Chris was a huge fan) seemed like bands I could listen to if not love. Were Jesus Jones even grebo? Crap hair, even worse clothes…yeah, they were grebo.
There were even American alternative/college rock bands in the shape of Green Day (“Welcome to Paradise”) and Dinosaur Jr. (“Feel the Pain”) which seem like very peculiar choices given the enormous impact that grunge had had just a few years earlier and the fact that Britpop, in a very real sense, was a reaction against that American howl.
Oh…The Cranberries were on it too.
Not with one of their good songs though like “Linger” (which, no matter what you say, is lovely) but the awful “Zombie” instead. Actually, when I say “…one of their good songs like “Linger”…” what I really mean is, their only good song.
“Shine”, when played in order today, sounds like a mix-tape made by a boy who really fancies a girl who looks a bit like Louise Wener and who knows that “indie” is a thing but who doesn’t actually own any indie records. So he has popped over to a mates house, who does have some, and made a tape out of his records based on the names of the bands and the front covers. The fact that the Blur track is “Parklife” is proof of this theory.
By the time “Shine Too” arrived a little later in 1995 this kid has done his homework and is edging closer to getting things right and winning the heart of the girl with the Wener haircut and the Frischmann wardrobe.
Amazingly The bloody Cranberries are included again with a song called “Ridiculous Thoughts” which is exactly what someone should have said to Linda from H.R who suggested including it.
The thing is it wasn’t really her choice.
Her husband, Alan, had managed to convince her that when he was at University in the eighties that he had been one of the cool kids…overcoat, Ian McCulloch haircut and Smiths t-shirts…so when he told her that “the kids” loved The Cranberries she didn’t have any reason to suspect that they were actually a bit shit.
The thing is though, Alan wasn’t one of the cool kids.
He hadn’t even gone to University.
He had left school at 16 to take up a job with his Uncle Steve’s painting and decorating firm which, thanks to a tragic accident involving an industrial vat of Dulux Crown emulsion that had killed Uncle Steve, he had inherited when he was 18. The subsequent success of the firm wasn’t down to Alan but to the hard work and creativity of the other employees.
There are some big Britpop hits here like “Some Might Say” and “Changing Man” from The Gallagher Bros. and The Wellers Band but what is most interesting for we
connasours conaseurs conasiurs connoisseur’s of nineties musical magic and magnificence is the presence of both “Stay Together” by Suede and “Underwear” by Pulp. Two wonderful songs but not the sort of chart friendly fluff that normally clutters up a compilation album, even those with an indie bent.
There is also an appearance from The Lightning Seeds with “Change”.
I can’t make up my mind about the Seeds…were they Britpop?
My best guess is that, like James and The Charlatans say, they were a pre-Britpop band who enjoyed success during the Britpop era. If Euro ’96 was the official Britpop football tournament and “Three Lions” was the official Euro ’96 anthem (at least for El Tel and the lads) then I think we have to grant them honorary Britpop status.
I said Britpop a lot just then.
The third Shine compilation of the year arrived with the imaginatively titled “Shine Three” and it is a near flawless collection of big and bouncy Britpop hits. Just think about this little lot; “Common People”, “Roll With It”, “Alright” (both of ’em!), “What Do I Do Now?”, “King of the Kerb”, “End of a Century”, “Olympian”, “Let’s all go Together”, “Where Have you Been Tonight?” AND the likes of The Wannadies, Garbage, The Charlatans, Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses.
But not quite flawless.
A bit like my being a near flawless Englishman; I love cricket, I love Bristol Rovers, I cherish the works of John Betjeman and I know that nothing in all of film history will ever quite match the genius of the “Carry on…” series.
Only problem is I was born in Scotland.
So it is with “Shine Three”…everything is lined up for it to be the greatest compilation of the era…there isn’t even a rogue Cranberries song to bugger things up this time.
Something far worse than The Cranberries lurks among the tracks here assembled.
Do we need to dwell on this?
I’m glad we are all on the same page.
Perfection was flirted with again with the first “Shine” of 1996 where the likes of Dubstar, Gene, Northern Uproar, Skunk Anansie and the Longpigs all shared space with the bigger boys in the Britpop class like Oasis, Pulp, Blur and Menswe@r (little treat for my mate @BritpopMemories there!) but, again, one rogue choice lands like a turd in the swimming pool…
Number One Cup.
Of course you don’t.
Because they were rubbish.
“Divebomb” was their contribution to “Shine Four” and I have no idea what it is doing there. I doubt that anyone in the U.K bought it…or heard it…yet here it is sharing a stage with the bloody Cardigans!
What sort of a world is it where something like this can happen?
Forget your thoughts on Trump and Brexit (or at least stop sharing them on Twitter…honestly, nobody cares what you think) and stop to consider the horror of a compilation album that is a hymn to the wonders of the mid-nineties British music scene but that includes a song called “Divebomb” from a band whose name I’ve already forgotten despite only typing it sixty seconds ago.
Lord forgive them for they know not what they did.
At least they included this…
Fun fact…that is the only song by that band from Liverpool that I have ever listened to all the way through more than once. This version is better.
“Shine Five” is a pivotal moment in the “Shine” story because we end up in DOUBLE DISC territory. Just imagine it, no longer constrained by the limits of a single disc the curators of the series can now really explore the furthest reaches of the Britpop galaxy…no need to focus on just the big boys. The possibilities are endless. Will we see a guest appearance from my favourites Thurman, Lick and Soda? Will Strangelove thrill the listeners with their peculiar rock and roll experimentations?
Exciting this isn’t it?
The first strange fruit to fall from the bough of the “Shine Five” tree is…
The bloody Levellers again.
Sweet baby Moses.
Still, things can only get better.
Because here are Terrorvision.
And the Gin Blossoms.
Who was putting this stuff together?
If somebody had made me a compilation tape that included Salt I would have constructed a giant wicker man in my back garden then placed the tape and the person responsible inside it before inviting Christopher Lee over to light the kindling at its base.
September 1996 brought “Shine Six” and the return of an old friend…that’s right, The Cranberries are back!
So are The Levellers.
But we also get Sarah Cracknell’s “Anymore” which, in case you have forgotten, is bloody brilliant and should have been a worldwide number one…forever. It wasn’t of course but that isn’t about anything other than the fact that most people are idiots who think that there is something of value in Adele or who believe that buying Radiohead records makes them look deep. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a joyless pillock.
This time the double-disc format is used to take a trip to the fringes of the scene. Bands like Bawl, Joy Rider, Sussed and Heavy Stereo are present and there is a long overdue appearance from the king of Kissingdom, Mr Jake of Shillingford with “12 Reasons Why I Love Her”. That is enough to cleanse the palate of the awful aftertaste left by listening to Presidents of the United States of America with a song called “Lump”. I mean, really…imagine calling a song “Lump”. The horror. It’s almost as bad as calling your band “Arctic Monkeys”. Yuk.
Peak “Shine” arrives with “Shine Seven”.
Just look at this little lot…Cast, Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Gene, Longpigs, Pulp, Ocean Colour Scene, Bis, Speedy, Geneva, Echobelly, Sleeper, My Life Story, Oasis, Dodgy, Shed Seven, Space, Blur, The Divine Comedy, The Supernaturals, Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, Paul Weller and Catatonia.
Coincidentally that is also the line-up for Star Shaped Festival 2019.
That is twenty-four of the finest bands that Britpop spawned.
It’s a magical list.
Then consider the fact that the supporting cast included The Boo Radleys, Skunk Anansie, Lightning Seeds, Garbage, Electronic, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Radiohead (before they went all…well…rubbish).
Only the presence of one or two rogue Americans and rockers spoils the party.
Nothing is perfect.
The beginning of the end of Britpop started in 1997 and “Shine Eight” is proof of the changing mood in the country…lots of the bands we all adore are present and correct, but not in anywhere near the numbers they had been just a few months earlier. For the first time since “Shine Too” the number of bands who were not connected to Britpop was almost equal to those who were.
For every “Bully Boy” by Shed Seven there was a “Your Woman” by White Town.
For every “Babies” by Pulp there was a “Shady Lane” by Pavement.
Eels, Depeche Mode, Intastella and Bush all jostled for attention against the likes of Sleeper, Kula Shaker, Gene and My Life Story.
The writing was on the wall.
And yet “Shine Nine” almost rivals “Shine Seven” for the title of ultimate Britpop compilation…twenty-five of the tracks are regular floor fillers at Star Shaped. Northern Uproar even make an appearance again. Was this the fierce last stand of the bands who had defined a decade or just a lack of creativity on the part of the souls responsible for churning these things out?
It was probably more to do with the fact that people like me were still buying them…market forces baby.
The whole enterprise came to an end in 1998 with “Shine Ten” and given the fact that Natalie Imbruglia and Eagle-Eye Cherry are here it is safe to say that the fierce last stand had buckled at the knees and we were now witnessing the last gasp of the most glorious chapter in British popular culture. You know that things have slipped away when Chumbawamba are given disc space beside The Levellers…that is a crime that deserves to see those responsible brought to the Hague.
I’m not joking.
Imagine the kind of monster who would assemble a compilation like this and put two bands with some of the most reprehensible hair in all of human history alongside the perfectly coiffured boys from Rialto.
And with that, just like Keyser Soze, they were gone.
“Shine” had shone and now there was a light that really had gone out.