Blur have, over nearly thirty years, recorded eight studio albums…six of which have reached number one in the UK charts. In addition they have released over thirty singles, thirteen of which have made the top ten. Several of these recordings define the era they were released in and some actually changed British popular culture in very real and long lasting ways. Never afraid to experiment or to change direction they have established themselves as a band who can sit comfortably alongside many of their own heroes and inspirations and can take a place at the top table of British pop music along with The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Who, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Specials, Madness, The Smiths and many others.
Here are the pre/proto-Britpop singles released by the band between October 1990 and March 1992.
She’s So High/I Know – October 15th, 1990
Arriving at the tail end of Madchester and just before the grunge juggernaut would roll into town, “She’s So High” was, officially, a double-a side with “I Know”. Double-A side singles never really work…one song always catches the eye and the ear of radio (it was the nineties kids, radio still mattered) and so it was here with “She’s So High” being the song that would stand as the calling card for a band who would go on to define, mould and shape an entire decade.
I doubt that anyone who listened to the whoozy, fuzzy and ever so slightly shoegaze-y “She’s So High” really believed that any of that would happen…it is a lovely little pop song, but nothing more than that.
The better of the two tracks is actually “I Know” which is a genuine baggy classic with echoes of the Stone Roses and with a much sharper, cleaner guitar sound. Damon Albarn also sings as opposed to intoning. If this had been on that debut album from the Roses it wouldn’t have sounded out of place and would now be hailed as a classic.
There’s No Other Way – April 15th 1991
“There’s No Other Way” is the song that pushed Blur into the public consciousness, a bona fide pop gem. It’s another stab at the psychedelic sounds of baggy era Manchester and it shuffles, shimmies and shakes across the dancefloor of any indie disco even now, nearly thirty years later.
What is most interesting about “There’s No Other Way” though is not the song but the video.
It starts with a worm winding its way through the grass…before two girls, twins, dressed in identical clothes play catch in the garden…there is a row of daffodils…from behind a window Damon Albarn watches all of this with a look of detachment on his face. The influence and inspiration is obvious…the opening moments of David Lynch’s macabre, nightmarish, masterpiece “Blue Velvet” meeting Kubrick’s “The Shining”; in an English country garden. Once those nightmarish moments are over we find ourselves inside the family home with a Sunday (Sunday) English dinner being served up. Damon looks straight at the camera looking like a Droog with a pudding bowl haircut…interestingly, it isn’t the last time that Damon will use that imagery.
What all of this suggests is that Blur knew, even at this point, the importance of image and iconography…two things that would help to define them as much as anything they committed to vinyl.
Bang – July 29th, 1991
The final single from the flawed, but lovely, debut album “Leisure”.
It is a song that brings a smile to your face when it pops up when you have pressed shuffle on Spotify and has you singing along like a loon but…I’m not sure anyone ever seeks it out despite that.
One of the b-sides, “Luminous”, is a much more interesting proposition but it couldn’t ever have been a single…it is too dense, too dark, too brooding. It hints at who Blur could have become had they decided the future was Chapterhouse.
Popscene – March 30th, 1992
One of the greatest singles by a British band ever.
A furious, fierce, ferocious and frenzied blast of pop, punk, pop-punk, punk-pop and attitude that should have seen Blur hailed as the future of British music. Instead it failed to break into the top thirty, was slammed by the music press and left the band on the brink of, well, not being a band.
Of course had this been a Nirvana single it would have brought the music press to their knees and been seen as yet more evidence of Kurt Cobain’s “genius”. Of course, Cobain couldn’t have released a single like this because he didn’t have the ability.
I’d like to apologise to any Nirvana fans who are offended by the notion that their hero is not the greatest songwriter of his generation.
I’d like to apologise.
I can’t though.
I don’t say things I know are not true.
What these first four singles give us is two different bands; the first is Blur as a band trying to play the game, to fit in, to go with the flow and to be like everybody else…but even then it was impossible to hide who they really were. While the “Leisure” singles may suggest they were no more than scenesters or bandwagon jumpers the b-sides and more experimental tracks on the album reveal a band with more to them than that. The second band is Blur as a band who have realised that the only game to play is the one where you create the rules; so out go the bowl cuts and Roses-lite grooves and in come the brass, the punk, the fury, the power and a new breed of English pop music. While the record buying public may have largely ignored “Popscene” it now serves as the starting point for a cultural and musical revolution that would change everything just two years later and see them become one of the biggest bands in the world.