Track 32. If…, The Bluetones

Return to the Last Chance Saloon, 1998

Take a moment. Imagine that the Beatles wrote ‘If…’.

It’s not a huge leap to make. The song has a laid-back, shuffling bassline not a hundred miles from ‘Come Together’, and the singalong finale is positively Hey Judian. The lyrics are also Fab Four-esque, eschewing the usual boy-loves-other stuff to explore … well, I’m not 100% sure. A discussion of prison release dates, maybe?

But think what could have happened if it had come out thirty years earlier, perhaps replacing ‘Good Day Sunshine’ on Revolver or doing us all a favour and booting ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ into touch. Today, it would be an unofficial national anthem. Kids would sing it during school assemblies; football crowds would use it to abuse referees; we would hear it regularly via the hinterland music that soundtracks our lives.

Yet I almost never hear it. Outside of dedicated Britpop shows, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it on the radio. No one I know ever hums it, no cover bands take it on. And this is an injustice, because it is the fifth-best song of the 1990s (the others being, in ascending order, ‘A Little Soul’, ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’, ‘On And On’ and ‘Spice Up Your Life’*).

Bluetones 1995So good a song is it that it can heal damaged-if-not-fully-broken hearts. I listened to the Bluetones a lot at university; partly because they were great, but there were a lot of great bands around back then. But the Bluetones were the only Britpop band that my sort-of student girlfriend deemed tolerable (sort-of my girlfriend, not sort-of a student). As a result, Return To The Last Chance Saloon got many, many repeated plays back in ’98, as I leapt to the CD player to avoid the awful alternative of it being replaced by something from the (mercifully short-lived) drum’n’bass  genre.

The relationship didn’t end that well – for me, anyway, she seemed to survive easily enough – and by association, that album should have been condemned to a lifetime at the back of the drawer, never to be played lest it tugged at still-raw wounds. But even now, even though it still carries that painful whiff of rejection, I still love it. And I love ‘If…’ most of all, because it’s soaringly, achingly brilliant.

It’s curious, then, to discover that so few people share this view. It never makes listicles for the best Britpop tracks – not this one or this one or this one. And if the combined readership of NME honestly think that ‘Kandy Pop’ by bIS is a better tune, then I have little hope left for Britain.

Incredibly, ‘If…’ doesn’t even make lists of the top ten Bluetones tracks. And the official Bluetones 1998video on YouTube has a mere 55,000 views. Respectable enough, but still only 0.003% of the total garnered for ‘Baby Shark‘. Seriously, what is wrong with people?

One thing this demonstrates is just how much competition there was back then. At times, I struggled with writing my Britpop-themed book – it’s never easy trying to pen a grubby sex scene that you know your dad is going to read – but writing about the music never caused a problem. There were so many bands, songs, gigs to choose from, so many joyful musical memories to include, that it wasn’t possible to fit them all in.

I made sure the Bluetones were included though; no question about that. (They get a live gig and the title of the final chapter, if you’ve not already read it. And if not, why not?)

This is my last chapter-based blog post and, over the course of 33 songs, I have at times wondered whether Britpop is quite as important as we Nineties aficionados think it is. Did it really, hand on heart, have a greater impact than any other musical era? I have seen thousands of people – all of them roughly 10 years older than me – pack out a field in Guildford to watch a line-up of Sinitta, Kajagoogoo and one-quarter of UB40. Trust me, they were just as excited about it as any Britpop audience I have seen. Poor fuckers.

I don’t think there is anyone out there who would credibly claim that Bros were better than Blur, or that Five Star can hold a candle to Pulp. The point is, every generation likes to think that they produced the best music.

Only mine, though – the Britpop generation – is right.

Top three Bluetones tracks (other than ‘If…’):

Bluetones 1996

* This is a joke. Number 1 is of course ‘Flying Without Wings’.


Track 10: You’ve Gotta Look Up, Dodgy

Free Peace Sweet, 1996

Dodgy. Were they trying to tell us something with that name, a confessional moment of nominative determinism? Maybe it’s a trick that certain bands like to play with the band and album titles they choose. As my friend Stevie said after picking a CD from my collection: “Warning, Green Day. They’re not fucking kidding.”

The general consensus back in the Nineties was that Dodgy were OK, not much more: as their big hit had it, they were good enough.

Dodgy 96But by God they were reliable. Whichever festival you went to, there they were, second or third up on the billing. At around three in the afternoon, before you were properly pissed, they’d bound onto the stage, careering about like peroxide Labrador pups (plus the drummer) and giving it their all while the crowd paid half-attention, at least until they got round to ‘Staying Out For The Summer’, at which point we all went crazy and chucked cider everywhere.

As motivation/homework for writing my Nineties-set novel, I listened to the bands I hadn’t concentrated on back in the day. When it came round to Dodgy, I almost boycotted them on account of the diabolical name of their signature album, which contains not one but three crowbarred-in puns. But those were heady days; such behaviour can, just about, be excused.

On I ploughed, courtesy of everyone’s favourite Swedish online streaming service.

Less than a minute in, my head was nodding. I’d forgotten about ‘In A Room’. Hearing it again immediately escorted me back to those sun-drenched, lager-soaked, noodle-riddled festival fields, those teenage years when I didn’t have to worry about stuff like mortgages, career progression and why publishers keep rejecting my book. ‘Trust In Time’ is also highly enjoyable.

And ‘You’ve Gotta Look Up’ is another strong tune that I missed the first time around. It’s vibrant, easy on the ear, uplifting: everything that jangly festival pop should be. In fact, the whole album is a highly rewarding assortment of energetic indie bop.

Dodgy, I can only apologise. I misjudged you badly. I was young, too easily swayed by the stardust sprinkled by the bigger names of the Britpop scene. As I sat on the flattened grass of the festival field, flicking through the NME and waiting for Kula Shaker to come on, I should have paid attention. I should have listened. My mistake. My loss.

That title, though. Free Peace Sweet. Jeez.

Top three Dodgy tracks: