What is there to say about “Britpop” that hasn’t already been said? Well, nothing, so we’re not going to talk about Britpop, but we are going to talk about the Britpop tunes that inspired these covers. It shows that the songs could transcend pigeon-holing if nothing else.
And the songs chosen were chosen for how expertly the artists captured the essence of the original recording, without slavishly trying to emulate the original. These aren’t tribute acts playing their favourite songs note for note, but artists demonstrating their own voice to numbers that were already familiar to thousands.
Indeed, some of the tunes were so successful that the artists could very well have been granted squatters rights, given them the chance to wave the flag for that bit longer. Britpop ended in 1998, but the successful tunes remained intact, and still continue to inspire, long after the movement that spawned them died out.
We have selected ten of our favourites. The Divine Comedy is the most covered of the so-called “Britpop” acts, but because Neil Hannon is an Irish man, he was discounted from this list. Instead, we put in two Jarvis Cocker numbers, because he couldn’t be less British.
The 10 greatest Britpop covers:
10. Sophie Ellis-Bextor – ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’
It’s doubtful anyone will forget this jaunty version of Pulp favourite, ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’. Although best known for the jaunty ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’, Sophie Ellis-Bextor has proven her malleability and versatility in recent years as a singer par excellence. She’s tipped her hand at several genres, so a Britpop tune was always on the cards.
Bextor felt that the song encapsulated her growing sense of loneliness and isolation. “I feel a bit like I’m on a long-haul flight,” Bextor recalled.”The world’s going on out there, but for the time being this is what you’re doing, this is where you are. So you’ve just got to get on with it.”
9. Papa Roach – ‘Song 2’
It’s hard to say for certain whether or not ‘Song 2’ is a Britpop song, precisely because of its American sounding nature, but the song was written by Britpop mainstays Blur, so it gets a tick in our book. Papa Roach’s cover honours the intention of the original Blur record but imbues the guitar backdrop with a personality of their own. It’s a fiendishly clever re-recording of a track that has become something of an indie favourite in Britain.
And so it goes, the song rips up, roaring through the verses and chorus, before reaching that ultimate showdown, where the guitars chime and the verses ricochet. As it happens, the cover shows how important the live setting is to rock as a forum, brimming in excitement and adulation for a tune that was written by an older band.
8. Basement – ‘Animal Nitrate’
Whether or not this song matches the power of the original, Basement’s cover certainly makes a very good interpretation of the tune. particularly in light of the original band’s re-emergence as an artistic powerhouse, decades after they skyrocketed from the ranks of Britpop to greater, more esoteric heights. The song is Suede’s finest work, so it takes a brave band to tackle the number, but the folly-bravura paid off for Basement, who concoct a rocker that’s almost as engaging as the original.
Basement released their rendition in 2012, just as Suede announced their intentions to return to the live stages in an attempt to reclaim the crown Oasis had unfairly robbed from them. The grizzly guitars centre Basement’s rendition of the tune, and the vocals soar through the sky, searching for an ear to land on. And reader, it’s a fiery cover.
7. Manceau – ‘Caught By The Fuzz’
Imagine The Beatles in 1967 recording a Supergrass song, and that’s what you get. The cover opens with a mellotron that could easily be mistaken as a Magical Mystery Tour outtake, but the recording then takes an interesting detour, as a pastoral guitar embellishes the soundscape, earmarking a more rock-oriented backbeat. And although this rendition lacks the joie de vivre of the original, it is nonetheless a sprightly, singular recording of a song that changes it into something bucolic and Beatlesque.
The tune was purportedly recorded live in the studio, and the video that accompanies the clip shows the bandmates in the creative flow. Clearly, the bandmates enjoyed the process of creating a tune, even if it wasn’t theirs, and the single music recording shows the band at the peak of their potential. For those of you who wonder why they know ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, you should re-watch Hot Fuzz to find out. To skip it would be criminal.
6. Fugitive Orchestra – ‘Female of The Species’
The original tune was infectious enough to merit a place in Cold Feet, the spirited Manchester comedy that made a superstar out of the Irish-born James Nesbitt. ‘Female of The Species’ might have endured the same level of success as some of the other Britpop hits, but it inspired this cover, and the world is all the better for it. The song is nominally sung by a cis male, imploring fellows of his species to be aware of the deadly powers a woman holds.
No, the sentiment hasn’t aged as well as perhaps it should have, but the vocals on this rendition are enjoyable, especially the way in which the singer beatboxes before playing a chiming guitar arpeggio that sandwiches the song. From that primitive beat, the musician builds up a whole backdrop based on samples and backbeats. “She deals in witchcraft,” he cries, a sentiment Nesbitt would be foolish to ignore.
5. Matt Nathanson – ‘Laid’
This is interesting because the cover could well be more famous than the excellent James original. Out of the two recordings, James’ version is the better one, but Nathanson does a decent job on the vocals, which likely explains why it appeared at various junctures during the American Pie franchise. In it, the singer recalls the gender roles, eye-liner and sweet nothings he enjoyed with a lover.
Judging by the passion of the vocals, the song comes from a place of great truth for the singer, and the cover is such that many think he is the original writer. But he isn’t. The original is a James composition, another band Britpop left behind. Curiously, James seems to be better remembered for ‘Sit’, despite being a poorer effort than the shimmering ‘Laid’, a piercing portrait of sexual relations that’s even more prescient today than it was in the 1990s.
4. Nick Cave – Disco 2000
This has to be tongue in cheek because Nick Cave sounds completely out of place on this tune. But on the basis that Cave is singing it as a pastiche, he creates one of the more interesting pieces for a genre Suede guitarist Bernard Butler felt was bordering on parody in the 1990s. Cave sings this Pulp tune in a detached, camp manner, making it one of the more jocular vocals in the Australian singer’s canon. It’s hard to hear a disco influence on a tune that was supposed to celebrate the sound of beats, but this isn’t the place to split hairs.
Instead, let’s comment on how giddily inventive it stands as a makeover, never losing focus on the spirit or intent of the Bad Seeds arrangement for their view of the tune in question. He sounds slow, slightly withdrawn from the memories of the song, suggesting darkness that soaks through the lyrics, giving the view that the halcyon days of youth weren’t the splendid times of youth, but a series of disparate incidents that led to nothing of great significance. Such is life.
3. Jess Sutherland – Longpigs ‘On and On’
Out of all the bands that wrote songs for this list, Longpigs were the most unfairly ignored, and it can’t have been easy for Crispin Hunt to watch Noel Gallagher receive the acclaim many thought should have gone to him. Over the years, Hunt has made peace with the band’s legacy and influence, particularly when many artists walked up to him, citing him as an influence. “I’m very flattered but apparently there was an awful lot of demand for it, so it’s been put out,” Hunt reasons. “What heartens me now is that I get a lot of really cool young bands who are coming in and saying, halfway through a session, ‘We loved your band’.”
If you’ve never heard of Longpigs, then you’re certainly not alone, but before you go to HMV to pick up a vinyl of The Sun Is Often Out, you should check out this stunning version of ‘On and On’, capturing the ghostly essence of the original, although it’s sung in a blinding manner that creates opulence, opera and understated glory.
2. The Fantastic Places – ‘Connection’
Elastica’s ‘Connection’ seems to be enjoying a re-birth, by virtue of its appearance in the Irish comedy Derry Girls. The song was one of the most swaggering of the 1990s, especially because it featured a feisty vocal that was brimming with confidence, contradiction and character. Shaded by the playfulness of the opening riff, the hook that centred the track is also the hook that ensured its success all these decades later.
The Fantastic Places rendition of the Elastica standard was done live, which makes the arrangement even more impressive, considering that they captured the elasticity of the original with a hefty combination of synth and guitar combinations. The vocals are a little weak, but the atmosphere is exhilarating in its design, not least because it’s done in such a small vicinity, bolstered by lights and changing effects.
1. The Mike Flowers Pops – Oasis ‘Wonderwall’
We saved the best till last, and The Mike Flowers Pop make something palatable out of Oasis‘ truly awful acoustic number. For once, the nursery rhyme melody makes sense, and placed against the saxophones and drums that cement the track, the lines “bring it back to you” holds greater pathos. Given the Bacharachian backbeat, the song is a more successful flavour of the 1960s than anything heard on (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.
There’s a case to be made that this is the definitive version of the song, Funnily enough, the Mike Flowers arrangement hit the UK charts while the risible original sat in the charts, perhaps giving listeners a palate cleanser after sitting through a waft of hackneyed masquerades that seemed desperate to show that Oasis were capable of moving people. Oasis were the ultimate rock band, and wisely they returned to their rock roots for Be Here Now, perhaps their finest hour, and certainly a more enjoyable effort to (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.