1. Airbag – Radiohead
2. One of These Things First – Nick Drake
3. God Only Knows – Beach Boys
4. Beauty No.3 – Catchers
5. Gentle Tuesday – Primal Scream
6. ABBA on the Jukebox – Trembling Blue Stars
7. Come to Me – Bjork
8. Picnic by the Motorway – Suede
9. Travelling Light – Tindersticks
10. Mile End – Pulp
11. Father to a Sister of Thought – Pavement
12. I Stopped Dancing – Marion
13. Afrodisiac – Powder
14. Storm Injector – Tiger
15. Richard III – Supergrass
16. That’s All You Need – Faces
17. Movin’ On – Blur
18. Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve
19. She’s a Rainbow – The Rolling Stones
20. Ooh La La – Faces
21. Happiness is a Warm Gun – The Beatles
22. The Passenger – Iggy Pop
23. Bad Behaviour – Super Furry Animals
24. Comanche – The Revels
25. Piku – Chemical Brothers
26. Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain – DJ Shadow
27. No Awareness – Dr Octagon
28. Revenge of the Prophet (Part 5) – Jeru the Damaja
Chronology does not determine the order, the tenor of the individual tracks does. Radiohead’s OK Computer was released in June 1997 yet its opening track is also Bully for Bulstrode’s opening track, a compilation intended to reflect what I was listening to from August 1996 through to August 1997. Blur’s Movin On is taken from Blur’s eponymously titled album, which was released in February 1997, but I’ve included it as track 17. Tiger’s massively underrated album We are Puppets went on sale in November 1996. Suede’s Coming Up was issued in September of the same year. I’m not even sure when it was I committed this itinerary to tape but it could quite feasibly have been as late as 1998.
These are the tunes I was listening to whilst living at 215 Bulstrode Avenue, the longest residential road I’ve ever lived upon. Ours was the house second along from its western approach. It took about 10 minutes to walk the street’s length, towards Hounslow Central tube station. In the other direction Hounslow West, which was (and still is) pretty bleak, its meagre high street populated with fast food establishments and betting shops. In amongst them could be found a Morrison’s supermarket, Boots Chemist, Iceland, Blockbuster Video, and maybe a carpet shop. The only pub was the truly awful Earl Haig (flat-roofed). There was an off-license that I can only assume offered some sort of deal on a four-pack of lager, because I’d happily walk the extra 500 metres to Hounslow West rather than buy my beer from the newsagent opposite the Windsor Castle.
Our house backed onto the Piccadilly Line that in turn abutted onto Lampton Park, which was bigger than Inwood Park but with a similar sort of feel: not unpleasant in itself but displaying signs of licentious activity. Post-university tension… I was still a student on account of changing courses at the end of my second year, but the people I was living with had graduated and were now working: the guy who passed out in Debenhams, a drummer who worked at HMV, and a girl the Hanworth crew used to refer to as No Eyes because when she laughed you couldn’t really see her eyes (both had previously shared a house with my new lady friend, just across the road from us). A slightly more tempered lifestyle came to pass, a cleaner, tidier living environment and a garden worth spending some time in. The Windsor Castle was our local – not a bad pub – but we’d still venture into Hounslow, to The Chariot, The Noble Half or The Rifleman. The Bulstrode was just at the end of the road but it was never much of an evening type of boozer, more a 'quick pint on a Saturday afternoon' sort of place.
Epic walks to catch the tube into London, keeping in touch with the Hounslow diaspora. The former cohabitant from Brighton was now living in Tottenham, endlessly watching Apocalypse Now, listening to The Doors and trying to make movies. The guy with the tapes was residing in Islington with a trendier set (in his eyes at least). The lad who used to beat me at snooker had moved back up to Batley, from whence he came. The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records was dossing somewhere in Hounslow with the girl who was a massive Blondie fan.
We watched a lot of television. For 'brunch' (I could only afford to eat twice a day) the fried egg sandwiches I’d formerly relied upon were replaced with Heinz Baked Beans with Pork Sausages on toast. I drank marginally less.
OK Computer is an overrated record. It is not as good as Radiohead’s second album – The Bends, which is also overrated in some quarters – but it is still a good album. Radiohead make good albums and sometimes great songs, but I don’t think they have recorded an album that could be described as great in the way that Forever Changes or Pet Sounds are, or even the way The Verve’s A Northern Soul almost is. Never mind, very few albums are genuinely ‘great’, but everything about Airbag is just wonderful: the bass line, the off-the-beat drums, the shrill guitars, the vocals, the lyrics, the sentiment.
A dumped crate of records outside of 129 Bulstrode Avenue, an implicit invitation to help oneself. I was on my way into to London to meet my lady friend, probably to drink In The Crown on Brewer Street, but paused to look anyway. I came away with Bryter Layter by Nick Drake, who I’d heard was supposed to be rather good, quite prepared to stand the inconvenience of carrying the album around with me for the rest of the evening. It is rather good, and a Nick Drake revival of sorts was just around the corner.
People talk of Pet Sounds’ legacy but how many albums really sound anything like it? And is not an insult to Brian Wilson’s talent to suggest that a record like Pet Sounds is so easily imitated? I’m not convinced that a lot of people appreciate it as much as they say they do, for it is quite an odd album. Only the brevity of the individual tracks makes it in any way palatable to the mainstream, otherwise why aren’t we all listening to Surf’s Up? But God Only Knows is sublime. Unfortunately, after a session down the pub, the residents of 215 Bulstrode Avenue identified a similarity between its non-lexical vocables to those harmonised on the theme tune to Jim'll Fix It.
Beauty No.3 by Catchers, Gentle Tuesday by Primal Scream and ABBA on the Jukebox by Trembling Blue Stars – all this was the work of the chap who got me into Sarah Records and The Pastels and Love. Trembling Blue Stars was Bobby Wratten’s latest project, formerly of the Field Mice. A tour de force of nostalgia and longing, ABBA on the Jukebox might be his finest moment.
Bjork almost passed me by. I liked her first and second singles very much – Human Behaviour and Venus as a Boy – but I’d never bothered with the affiliated album, Debut. The drummer who worked at HMV had a copy and so lent it to me.
I'd always been ambivalent towards Suede, but I quite liked their third album, Coming Up. It struck me as less histrionic and more concise than their previous efforts. I also began to find humour in singer Brett Anderson’s lyrics, and new keyboardist Neil Codling had good hair.
Tindersticks’ eponymously titled second album isn’t as good as their eponymously titled first but wasn’t as far off as the chap who got me into Sarah Records liked to make out. My brother bought it for me in 1995, and yet it somehow bypassed that year's compendium and instead made it onto this one. Save for the odd track, the first two Tindersticks' albums possess a quality that detaches them in my mind from any particular time and place. My Cornish friend who passed out in Debenhams alighted upon the song Travelling Light after we'd moved to Bulstrode Avenue, and so a connection was made, just as it had been with Marbles three years earlier.
Mile End was on the soundtrack to Trainspotting, a movie synonymous with Britpop, and was as good as anything off of Pulp’s last LP. Pulp were anomalous amongst the Britpop scene: their music owed nothing to the 1960s mod-rock revivalism or new wave-pop of their peers, yet visually they were the most ardently retrospective and distinctive group of the whole movement. They had more in common with a band like Saint Etienne, or even Suede, but Pulp’s success staked them as bedfellows to Oasis and Blur. Jarvis Cocker was that strange thing: a plebeian aesthete who appealed to the both the arty crowd and the ‘man on the street’.
Pavement: as with The Fall, The Sounds of Baden Pearce could very well have included many songs by the band Pavement, with three albums to pick from: Slanted and Enchanted; Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; and the compilation of EP tracks and singles Westing (By Musket and Sextant). Pavement’s third album proper, Wowee Zowee, was released in April 1995 but had again passed me by. The drummer employed at HMV had a recording of it, which he again lent to me.
I Stopped Dancing by Marion and Afrodisiac by Powder were included because I now had access to a video player and could watch my recorded copy of Britpop Now, originally broadcast 16/08/1995, at will. They are very good tunes by very average bands who none the less exuded a darker aesthetic than many of their Britpop-by-numbers contemporaries.
Tiger was a marvellous band, possibly ahead of the curve, maybe behind it, depending on your perspective. Unfortunately for them, enthusiasm for Oasis was at an all-time high; they’d just played Knebworth that August dressed up as the Happy Mondays, and the record buying public was in no mood for a band that appeared to take sartorial inspiration from 1980s comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
Supergrass had effected an about face. Despite the inclusion of the catchy She’s so Loose on Carrington Classics, I’d written them off as just another Britpop also-ran. Their second album In It for the Money was far ‘heavier’ than their first. They’d also managed to reconstruct their image without resorting to either the laddish baggyisms of Oasis or the ‘skateboarder meets B-Boy’ chic of Blur. Nothing fancy: shirts, leather boots, simple T-shirts, straight-legged chords, in muted shades.
The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records didn’t tend to like anything approximating heavy rock, but somehow the Faces avoided this charge. I expect it might have had something to do with the notion that the Faces didn't take themselves too seriously, as opposed to the impression conveyed via the earnest posturing of groups like Led Zeppelin, or the camp theatricality of the Rolling Stones. On one of his rare Bulstrode visits, the chap brought around his copy of the double-album Best of the Faces, although the first disc was missing which might be why he never asked for it back. The Faces evoked a certain melancholy congruent to the environment I was living in – the feeling we were living on the periphery of things, in limbo between Hounslows East and West. This might not make much sense if you're listening to That's All You Need but may well do if it’s Ooh La La.
Blur’s fifth LP was supposedly a reaction to their fourth, a conscious rejection of the populism they’d embraced and an attempt to reclaim the noisier ground of their youth (as Seymour, if you want proof). Blur has aged well but to claim it’s some sort of homage to American lo-fi indie music – as was proclaimed by the music press, and to some extent by the band itself – is complete nonsense. Look Inside America carries on musically where End of the Century left off. Beetlebum sounds like Let it Be era Beatles. Strange News from Another Star is Starman meets The Bewlay Brothers by David Bowie; Movin' On is Queen Bitch. Damon Albarn plays his Hammond organ like he’s working the end of a pier. It's all about as British as Blur get.
You couldn’t help but be taken with The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony. Unfortunately, the album that followed was effectively a dry run for Richard Ashcroft's career as a solo artiste. Turned out ‘Mad Richard’ wasn’t so mad after all, as the jittery, ragged character that inhabited both A Storm in Heaven and A Northern Soul was jettisoned and some blokeish balladeer materialised in its place. Nick McCabe’s guitar must have gently wept.
I wasn’t done with the sixties, hadn’t even scratched much past the surface. I picked up the Rolling Stones compilation Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol.2) on one of my excursions down to Plymouth. I bought it for the tracks 2000 Light Years from Home and Jumpin’ Jack Flash because I wanted them on vinyl. I didn’t actually own any Stones’ records at this point and had been getting by on a taped copy of Hot Rocks 1964–1971 since my first year of university.
A few years before the film Trainspotting came along to remind people of Iggy Pop’s existence, there was Passengers, a ‘youth TV’ show on Channel 4 which used Iggy Pop’s The Passenger as its theme tune. I never saw it but imagine it made for pretty bad television, as these things often do. At the time, I was only vaguely aware of Iggy Pop’s place in punk and alternative music’s canon – his band The Stooges, and the close musical partnership with David Bowie during the late 1970s. After Trainspotting, and the re-release of Lust for Life off the back of it, Pop’s contribution came to the fore, and people like me started putting his songs on their mixtapes.
Super Furry Animals because they made a loud noise, The Revels because somebody had the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, The Chemical Brothers because some of this big beat stuff was alright really and Fatboy Slim left me cold.
1996 was the year that I reacquainted myself with Beastie Boys, by way of the albums Ill Communication, Check Your Head and Paul's Boutique. I had also been exposed to Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which seemed to me an improvement upon the product offered by Snoop Doggy Dog, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G. and the like (although in truth I wasn’t concentrating very hard). At any rate, my fondness for the genre was stirred, and by the end of the year I’d acquired Wrath of the Math by Jeru the Damaja, Dr. Octagon’s debut album (the Mo’ Wax edition), and Entroducing by DJ Shadow, which I'd been introduced to in the Embassy Rooms in Islington whilst drinking with the guy with the tapes, on a Sunday afternoon.
[Most of this playlist can be listened to here.]