A monthly look back at the music we were listening to exactly twenty years ago. All of these singles were released back in June 1998. You can read a bit about each individual track and listen to each one, or alternatively, you can launch this YouTube playlist below, which also features some bonus tracks and live performances. This edition features Pulp, James, Super Furry Animals, Embrace, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Ultrasound, Bernard Butler, Ian Brown, Gomez, Kenickie, Wagon Christ, the Propellerheads, and a reappraisal of England's official World Cup song from 1998...
We'll begin with an emotional, anthemic single from Embrace, which was all over the radio at the time. It can be found on their magnificent debut album 'The Good Will Out'.
Released as a single 20 years ago and still a great song. Dusty, bluesy, stoned oddness from Gomez. Currently out on tour celebrating 20 years since the Mercury Prize-winning debut album Bring It On.
Recorded for their Number 1 'Best Of' compilation, here's an underrated and brilliant track from indie legends James.
Hard to believe its been two decades since this amazing non-album single from the Super Furry Animals became a UK chart hit. If you're ever feeling miserable, angry or unhappy, then 'Ice Hockey Hair' can put the smile back on your face. It's like musical Prozac, and it gets extra points for the vocoder and filtered drum solo. One of those very special songs from my youth. And if you didn't know, SFA frontman Gruff Rhys recently released his new solo album 'Babelsberg'.
Some very slick grooves, courtesy of Ian Brown. 'Can't See Me' was taken from 1998's superb 'Unfinished Monkey Business'. This track featured fellow Stone Roses Mani and Reni.
People often forget that former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler made two solo albums, the first of which was actually a fantastic and underrated work of the post-Britpop era. 'People Move On' spawned three UK Top 40 hits, including the swelling 'A Change Of Heart'.
If you've never heard of Ultrasound before, by the time you've finished listening to this you'll probably be wondering why they didn't become a huge phenomenon. When this absolute epic was released as a single 20 years ago, it may have made the UK Top 40, but the music world was never ready for Ultrasound. After returning years later, the fact that their stunning 2012 comeback album Play For Today never made the Top 40 proves that the mainstream STILL isn't ready for Ultrasound. The mainstream's loss... Their third album 'Real Britannia' was also a corker. The band will be playing a few gigs later this year.
Melancholic summery indie pop from Kenickie, a much-loved band who were fronted by now-DJ/presenter Lauren Laverne. This single was taken from their second and final album 'Get In'.
Difficult not to get emotional while listening to this sad, touching moment from Pulp's underrated post-Britpop masterpiece 'This Is Hardcore', a record that I would put up there as one of the band's finest albums. Maybe the best father-and-son song of all time.
Some terrific big beat-infused tunage. The riotous 'Bang On' was taken from 'Decksanddrumsandrockandroll', the only album by Bath-based electronic duo the Propellerheads. Coincidentally, I bought a CD copy of that album in a Greenwich charity shop just the other day for a mere 20p. Needless to say, more than worth every penny. This single was a UK Top 40 hit back in June 1998. Both members Will White and Alex Gifford are still involved in various separate projects.
This is in my humble opinion one of the best singles of the late 90s. Catchy, raucous and then soothingly melodic, it's a superb Welsh indie opus. This underrated treasure reached number 60 and the video was made by legendary cult comedy duo Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish. It can be found on the group's album 'Gorky 5'. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci also has the distinction of being the only band to have 8 UK Top 75 singles without ever making the Top 40.
It's been years since I last listened to Wagon Christ aka Luke Vibert, whose music I remember being played often on John Peel's show. This track was from the Power Of Love EP.
While England are still in the World Cup, let's take a look back at our nation's official football song from 20 years ago. This one features some very talented people. And the Spice Girls. It's one of the strangest collaborations in chart history, and it's also very symbolic of the era.
On one side you had indie legends Echo And The Bunnymen, whose comeback album 'Evergreen' should've been their well-deserved and long overdue commercial success, but somehow wasn't. There were Simon Fowler and Tommy Scott, who were respectively the frontmen of Ocean Colour Scene and Space, two groups who were both enjoying huge success a couple of years earlier in the climate of Britpop. By the time 1998 came around, both groups were about to see their chart success begin to wane, so perhaps they were roped into taking part in this all-star football anthem by their PR people as an attempt to help keep them in the mainstream public eye. Or maybe they just wanted to work with EATB genius Ian McCulloch. Either way, it turned out to be a blessing. This sounds a lot better all these years later.
In the other corner, there was the vocally-challenged pop combo, whose own commercial fortunes seemed to be declining too, after disappointing sales of their second album and the release of a dreadful cash-in movie. It's an even more unlikely collaboration when you consider how hostile the indie guitar scene was towards pop acts in the 90s. And some would say rightly so: It's no secret that I thought the Spice Girls were an absolute abomination. By 1998, the dizzying highs of the Britpop years were soon to fade into memory. There was lots of incredible music being released, yet the mainstream seemed to be more distracted by this manufactured pop act who seemed more interested in having their faces on kids lunchboxes than making music. I always see them as being partly responsible for the decline of a golden age for music. By 1998, I had already realised that. By now I expect many others do as well.
I'm almost offended by the fact that this song is listed on YouTube as "The Spice Girls featuring England United" when it is first and foremost a Bunnymen track featuring some guest singers, with the female five-piece acting as mere backing vocalists. Back then, a surefire way to put me off buying any song would be to feature The Spice Girls on it. It was probably for that reason that I never bought myself a copy of this single, despite my fondness for the other musicians involved and being a big football fan at the time.
The pop act's involvement looked like it was a simple ploy to shift more copies. Although apparently, it was McCulloch himself who "wanted to mess about with the idea of who to involve. I didn't want All Saints, I wanted the Spice Girls because people didn't want them to be there. Usually, I run a mile from other people in the music business and I don't enjoy videos at the best of times, but the Spice Girls turned up dressed to the nines, looking larger than life and made it work. It was a good laugh."
Almost like the late 90s equivalent of the 1914 Christmas Truce, the video shows the indie team and the pop team putting their differences aside and having a kickabout in the backyard. Everyone involved looks slightly uncomfortable except for the girl group, who by this point were pros at using any occasion as another opportunity for publicity. But despite the look on Simon Fowler's face that seems to suggest "why the hell did I agree to this?", by all accounts, everybody had great fun.
Interestingly at the time, the NME reported that the song had "beaten rival entries from Blur, Pulp and The Lightning Seeds". While it's a safe bet that the Lightning Seeds track was 1998 re-recording of Three Lions, it is unclear whether Blur and Pulp both recorded new tracks intended for an England football single or whether they had put forward existing songs. 'Glory Days' was pretty much the only Pulp song from the era that would've fitted in with the mood of the World Cup, and could've been their biggest hit since Common People.
It was also reported that 'Top Of The World' was planned to be recorded as a "‘Perfect Day’-style collaboration" with vocals from the likes of "All Saints, Cast, Jarvis Cocker, Finley Quaye, Louise, Robbie Williams plus members of the England squad." Imagine that... this track could've actually featured an even more mismatched combination of people.
The song was overshadowed that year by Fat Les's much more terrace chant-friendly Vindaloo and was criticised for supposedly being too melodic for a football anthem. But like the classic Three Lions two years before it, the song captures that same naive sense of hope, as well as an undertone of sadness, underachievement and the feeling that the ultimate prize will always be just out of reach. Imagine how great and nostalgic this song would've sounded now if England had actually won the World Cup that year...
It's no World In Motion, but it is what it is. Consider this a reappraisal.