Anyway, Here's Wonderwall
Help Yourself to Some Britpop Extra Credit!
As longtime readers know, Slate’s Hit Parade podcast is enduringly beloved of this newsletter. It’s got so many Damesbait qualities – enthusiasm, deep knowledge, and most crucially, the ability to convey the whens, whys, and hows of both in an engaging way totally devoid of gate-keeping preciousness – that this admiration was basically predestined.
Every month, host (and, disclosure/brag, friend of the newsletter) Chris Molanphy tells a fascinating longform tale of popular musical history, using the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart as a jumping-off point. It’s a sonic campfire I always look forward to gathering around, to the point that re-listening to a bunch of the show’s back catalog has been a big part of my pandemic self-care routine.
The most recent episode is all about Britpop, another British Invasion, yay! That wasn’t quite a full, conquering invasion on these shores, huh! And which, even so, continues to have music nerds d’un certain age in a chokehold of sonic nostalgia: catnip! What’s a Dame to do, but compile a little syllabus for further reading/listening/watching? This is by no means comprehensive, and the floor is open to recommendations from the class.
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Let’s start with the music itself: the Spotify playlist for this episode is full of sonically tasty treats! Matthew Perpetua, the undisputed king of encyclopedic playlists, has you covered if you’re a completist, and/or prefer Apple Music or YouTube to Spotify.
On the music commentary side, Pitchfork gets into Best Albums territory (always great for a fun hour-long argument! Nothing shows we care like pedantry & hair-splitting! I am ashamed to be only mostly joking!) with a 50-album list and a 10-album recap video.
I just love a music documentary, and Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, and Supermarkets is a really good and worthwhile one. Among the biggest Britpop bands, Pulp had the longest history and the most sophisticated, sharp-eyed lyrics. Common People (get a load of that Reading Festival crowd going absolutely wild in 2011 for a song released nearly 15 years earlier) is their greatest song, though my favorite is Babies. It’s not every day that you hear a song about first love that manages to be both creepy and a tiny bit sweet, while also being self-laceratingly aware of itself as both. Oh, and it’s catchy as hell and has a command of narrative that any ambitious short story author would kill for.
If your interests are more on the gossipy/petty side of things, who could blame you? These lads are champion grudge-holders, and Live Forever has you covered. If your interest was piqued by the inclusion of pre-Britpop bands like Joy Division and New Order, and their Madchester colleagues in the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, 24-Hour Party People is a good, fictional place to start. (Bear with this slightly awkward insertion, but I can’t write about Manchester and pop music without a tip of the hat to Andy Rourke, whose bass was such a vital element of the Smiths’ sound, and who died this week at 59. I recommend reading the NME’s remembrance, filled with great song recs and loving praise from his bandmates and fellow bassists. RIP.)
Edwyn Collins’s song A Girl Like You remains a stone classic – I still can and frequently do listen to it 4 or 5 times in a row – and its inclusion in this episode reminds me to watch The Possibilities are Endless, an experimental, I think? documentary about his life, career, art both before and after a devastating cerebral hemorrhage in 2005. I really liked this piece from the Irish Times as an intro to the film.
And finally! For those who want more more and yet more podcasts, Who Cares About The Rock Hall? Has some great episodes on Joy Division & New Order, Oasis, and Blur, while Yasi Salek’s ultra-longform show Bandsplain has a deep sea dive on Joy Division just waiting for you to hit play. (These are all all Spotify links, but listen wherever you get your podcasts.)
What did I miss? What do I need to listen to / watch / read? Sound off in the comments or the emails!
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.