I’ve just realised I haven’t picked up my blogging pen since February. It’s not been for want of unfinished drafts or great bands to write about (Colt 45 – remember that name, they’re great). However for this blog I want to revisit a certain fixed point in time, namely the chart that was broadcast on the 17th of April 1994.
The most interesting point about that week’s top forty wasn’t actually at the top where The Artist Not Calling Himself Prince At The Time dislodged Take That to claim his only UK number one with The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. It was all the way down at number 31 where a certain band called Oasis made their top forty debut.
The song in question (Supersonic) had been doing the rounds for a few weeks before that; I’m sure I first heard it on The Chart Show, probably in the Indie Chart rundown. In those days it was the standard for indie hits to graze the bottom end of the top forty and there was nothing to suggest Supersonic was any different. I did wonder at the time whether it might climb to twenty something the next week before falling back, however it didn’t.
Of course we all know what happened next. That summer Oasis singles were going top ten, a year later they were going head to head with Blur and a year after that they were headlining Knebworth having blown the doors off British rock. But this couldn’t have been foreseen at the time and context is everything.
So what else was selling that week in April 1994? Four places above Oasis was a new entry by two former Byker Grove actors (Ant)hony McPartlin and (Dec)lan Donnelly who were also making their top forty debut – their single Why Me managed to hold its 27 position the next week before dropping out but they hardly looked like future superstars. More significantly the Pretenders entered a place above with I’ll Stand By You; now a classic but also the last time Chrissie Hynde* mattered. Dance star Crystal Waters had a new entry at 17, reggae artist CJ Lewis was at eleven with his mangling of Sweets For My Sweet which would rise to a number three peak (weren’t the charts much more fun when records used to climb but I digress).
Which takes me on to the two top five new entries that week. At five were the Crash Test Dummies with Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and a place above were Erasure with Always.
Mmm x 4 was like marmite, even for rock fans, you either loved it or hated it with its deadpan baritone vocal and whimsical lyric. Personally I liked it. The melody seemed beguiling and it’s tale of schoolyard outsiders struck a chord with my thirteen year old self. Even its detractors had to admit it was different.
Two years before Erasure had scored their biggest hit with an EP of Abba covers and Always was their first new material since (a remixed old song to promote a hits album split the two). A deceptively simple synth ballad with a gloriously proposterous video (singer Andy Bell as a Chinese warrior duelling a mythical beast) this was one of the country’s biggest and most consistent pop acts making a grand comeback. Could Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have known that just two years later blokey indie rock would rule the airwaves and that their camp antics would look at best ridiculous and at worst hideously dated?
I liked Always. It ended up on Now 28 which soundtracked that year’s French holiday for me and it was one of my favourite tracks on that compilation. However come early 1996 I was blasting out (What’s The Story) Morning Glory with the rest of them. And yet, twenty years on, I found myself wondering if there is some truth in the argument that – for all their early magnificence – Oasis sucked much of the glamour out of British rock. Erasure (and their eighties contemporaries) challenged convention with overt sexuality and theatricality, Oasis (and the hundreds of bands who aped them) did so by boozing to the max and being free with their fists. It wasn’t as if glamour was missing from rock at the time; the shade of Ziggy Stardust still lingered and Suede began the year as its bright new hope. However by the end of the decade no guitar band would dare wheel out the heels and eyeliner and in 2014 little has changed.
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly went wrong but prior to 1994 rock and theatre almost seemed to walk hand in hand. Now they barely look at each other. Would an overtly gay couple be welcome at an Oasis concert (even in 2014 and if that band were still going) – not to accuse the band of homophobia but I think we know the answer? And rock fans would look a bit out of place supporting the likes of Scissors Sisters and Lady Ga Ga – acts influenced by Erasure. That chart in 1994 was a moment in time indeed.
*Midway through writing this blog I switched my attention to facebook to see an advert for her debut solo album – interesting coincidence.