Even though Britpop could be seen as one of the most effective government strategies to market an entire country, as a matter of fact, this is entirely not the case with the genre. Despite the fact that prime minister Tony Blair used the new wave of bands for his election campaign, Britpop emerged in the 1990s, with its own sound reflecting a new vision of the world and on life.
So what is Britpop and how can you jam to its typical sound? These are the questions we’re going to answer in this blog post. Expect a bit of history, some theory and a few songs to jam along to, picked from our brand new Britpop Channel.
The end of the 80s in the UK was characterised as dull and boring for youngsters. With the rise of party drugs like weed, cocaine and xtc, the party scene slowly started to grow. The Stone Roses were one of the most promising bands of that time, but because of legal problems with their label, the band kind of disappeared right after dropping their self titled debut record “The Stone Roses” in 1989.
The music scene was left with a void that needed to be filled. Since there was no one in the British scene who could do that, the audience turned her head to the other side of the Atlantic, and Nirvana stole their hearts. The Grunge sound conquered the UK overnight.
The pop culture from the U.S.A. has always had a great deal of influence on the United Kingdom. No wonder British bands in the 70s and 80s have tried to mimic the American accent and the way of composing songs. In the beginning of the 90s, this all changed when artists like Massive Attack, Pulp, Oasis, Suede, Elastica and Blur entered the scene.
Suddenly, song lyrics told the story of the dull life British kids face every day. A life on gray streets in industrial towns, and the stiff upper lip way of life of a true Brit. All that jazz, backed up by a raw, punky sound, drenched in Beatles like harmonies and melodies, and sung in a local accent, became what we now refer to as Britpop.
“Working class culture was often sneered at as being crude”, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker explains in the documentary “Live Forever, The Rise And Fall Of Britpop”. “Instantly people got on to the fact that maybe it was a bit more alive than the supposedly high brow culture.”
Times were changing and the typical upper class associated with Great Britain were no longer considered cool. On the contrary, it became hip to be a labour voting, working class lad. The mainstream embraced this new cultural identity, which was embodied by stars as Jarvis Cocker and the Gallagher brothers.
Birth of Britpop
According to some, the birth of Britpop can be dated back to the release of two songs in the spring of 1992; “The Drowners” by Suede and “Popscene” by Blur. Both bands were the answer to the Seattle Grunge sound. They embraced all that’s British; the accent, a bit of the sound from the past and last, but not least, the Union Jack.
It has to be said that most of the groups associated with the term Britpop hate the name of the genre, but marketing will be marketing and art will be art. Britpop was growing and sold big time in the 90s, so nobody got hung up on the name.
The typical Britpop sounds
Where does the typical Britpop sound come from? We kind of already gave that away earlier. Of course some of it is borrowed from bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also from groups like Joy Division, the Sex Pistols and New Order. It’s a mix of all those melodies, rawness, melancholia and… a solid injection of new blood and ambition.
Even though the genre was pretty popular in the mid 1990s its commercial succes slowly became its own pitfall. According to music historians the period in which Britpop was part of the mainstream can be dated between 1993 and 1997. After that it slowly dissolves into British pop music. The genre paves the way for an accessible sound on which various bands like Arctic Monkeys and Orange Skyline, as well as pop icons like Robby Williams, continue to build.
Some Britpop classics
So the 90s mainstream pop culture definitely was partially dominated by Britpop. Some would argue that one of the most popular songs from that era is “Wonderwall” by Oasis. Others will say its “Common People” by Pulp. Does it really matter in the end?
If you want to jam to some great Britpop tracks you’ll have to get the hang of the genre. How? By playing along with our Britpop Channel of course. So let’s take a closer look at some Britpop classics that define the genre.
Suede – The Drowners
Starting of with “The Drowners” by Suede released in 1992 and marking the start of a new genre. To avoid hard chords just tune your guitar half step down to Eb and transpose the song to E using the transpose tool in Chordify. Ready? The chord progression looks much better doesn’t it?
If you transposed the key to E, you’ll notice that this track consists of a lot of basic chords like the D chord, the C chord, the A chord, the E chord and the Em chord. There are only two exceptions, which could be seen as challenging: the C#m chord and the F#m chord. If you need some help with those, just check out our barre chord tutorial.
Blur – Popscene
In contrast to the melancholic song by Suede, “Popscene” by Blur is much more uptempo, clearly reflecting the punk genes of the band. This track may sound easier than “The Drowners” but the fast chord progression and the double amount of barre chords will make it a bit more of a challenge.
Again we see the typical Britpop ingredient at the core of these songs: the basic chords underneath the British vocal line. They just give the track a nice and clear sound. If you want to learn to play this track, here’s a tip: take it step by step. Loop the verse using the looping tool and play it until you have mastered it. After that, proceed to the chorus and do the same.
Oasis – Wonderwall
After the two grandfathers of Britpop, it’s time for the commercial stars. We already discussed the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis in a popular sense. But let’s take a look at how the song is actually structured musically. Compared to the previous two tracks, this one is a bit more complicated. At first sight that is. Written in the key of F#m makes the chord progression of this track looks slightly more challenging.
But nothing is what it seems, because look what happens when you place your capo on the second fret. When you do so, the intervals between the chords remain the same. The only thing that changes is the way you have to position your fingers. As you can see, the chord progression has transformed to a perfectly basic one. Simple, nice and tidy consisting out of an Em chord, G chord, D chord and some power chords.
Pulp – Common People
“Common People” by Pulp sold over 1.3 million copies in 1995. That’s a lot of records, mind you. But that is not the only reason people argue this is the best track Britpop gave birth to. Another – more legit argument if you ask us – is that the lyrics embody the whole essence of the genre. The British working class – who struggle with everyday financial problems like having enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table – versus the upper class of wealthy Brits who are clueless to how the majority of the population spend their days.
Music wise, the lyrics are backed by a pretty straight forward chord progression, consisting out of the C chord, the F chord and the G chord. Even the triads are spreading the message of the common people. There’s no need to act sophisticated, keep it simple, keep it tidy, keep it British. Enjoy and happy jamming!