Following the astonishing success of “Parklife” Blur had positioned themselves as that rarest of beasts…a pop group who enjoyed the support of the indie crowd. It had been a long time since a band like them had featured so frequently in the charts, in the pages of the “serious” music papers, in Smash Hits and who had as many screaming girls as they had poetry writing boys at their concerts.
From baggy latecomers to the biggest band in the country in three years was no mean feat and so the stage was set for them to consolidate their position and become the biggest band in the whole bloomin’ world.
What could go wrong?
Country House – August 14th, 1995
What could go wrong?
After allowing themselves to become embroiled in a hideous imbroglio with Oasis that had, at various times, spun wildly out of control…most noticeably when Noel wished AIDS on Damon and Alex…Blur decided to compound matters by going toe-to-toe with their “rivals” in a race for the number one spot.
The “Battle of Britpop” was the biggest story in the country.
I am not joking.
Newspapers, music magazines, television news…the works.
That Blur decided to go with “Country House” for their contribution to this nonsense suggested that either Damon Albarn had gone mad or that people really were taking a huge amount of cocaine in the nineties…because, and let us not beat around the pop bush here, “Country House” is utter rubbish.
It is a b-side…at best.
A b-side for the Latvian only release of the mini-disc version of the single.
Not a quirky album track.
Not a lost classic.
Not a hidden gem.
I’m sorry to get all technical about it.
I don’t mean to confuse anyone.
Let me try and explain it in terms that ordinary people can understand.
You know how some things are really good?
And you know how some things are just good?
So, imagine something that is good or really good…could be a song, or something you like to eat, or a film; anything.
Now, and this is the tricky part, imagine something that makes you feel exactly the opposite way to that thing.
That feeling is “Country House”.
After getting over “Parklife” (the single, not the album) by convincing myself that it was a crowd pleaser, a rabble rouser…now I was having to contend with a song that was worse.
It was awful.
I can remember buying it because I was soooooooooooo team Blur and taking it home to listen to it…somehow I had managed to avoid hearing it until that moment…and, even now, I can feel the same knot in my stomach just thinking about it.
Then there was the video.
With Keith Allen.
I felt physically sick.
I didn’t like “Bang”, I didn’t like “Sunday Sunday” and I hated “Parklife” but this was something else altogether.
This was blind, pure, blistering, unfettered, hatred.
I felt betrayed.
This was songwriting by numbers…a song that suggested complete contempt for their audience.
It made it to number one.
Defeating Oasis in the battle.
But it came at a price.
Watching the footage of their performance on Top of the Pops the week they hit number one shows Damon and Alex whooping it up as teenage girls fling themselves onto the stage, Dave looks like, well, a Labour councillor playing drums at a village fete and Graham looks…miserable. You can’t shake the feeling that this was not really what he envisaged when he started dreaming of being a successful musician.
Hardcore Blur disciples will dismiss this as garbage and launch a defence of “Country House” as a clever and carefully calculated decision by the band to craft the sort of catchy pop song that would guarantee them a number one hit…to which I say; I don’t want my bands to be so determined to be number one in the hit parade that they will release this sort of thing.
All about opinions innit.
What makes this worse is that also appearing in the charts and on Top of the Pops that week were The Charlatans with “Just When You’re Thinking Things Over”. A song that is, quite obviously, in a different league to either “Country House” or “Roll With It”. What a number one that would have made.
Watching both performances side by side here it is quite depressing to know which one actually hit the top spot…
We were all so blinded by the artificially constructed “battle” between Blur and Oasis that the ability to judge either record on its musical merits went out the window and instead it became about picking a side.
It was exciting and great fun for sure…but it had consequences; all those of us who participated left an indelible stain on the pop music history books of this island. We could have put The Charlatans at number one with a better song…we could have put TLC at the top of the charts with one of the best songs ever (also in the charts that week) and instead we put a song that includes the line;
He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac
I mean, really, what were we thinking?
Were we thinking?
I don’t think I was.
We chose this over “Waterfalls” and “Just When You’re Thinking Things Over”.
I know, I know, I know…it’s just a bit of fun, it’s just a pop song, we were young, we ran free, kept out teeth nice and clean.
That can’t be it.
We can’t just dismiss something this awful like that.
It might help you to sleep at night but until you apologise and admit that what you did was wrong you will never feel right.
I’ll go first.
I am sorry.
I am sorry that I let the NME and some record company executives manipulate me.
I am sorry that I bought “Country House” on more than one format to try and propel it to the number one spot.
I am sorry that it got to number one.
I am sorry that I ignored other, better, songs that week.
Oh, that feels good.
I feel like a weight has been lifted.