It’s 20 years since Britpop went stratospheric as Blur’s third album Parklife went straight in at the Number 1 spot.
“Street’s like a jungle, so call the police…” is the opening to one of the most talked about albums of the ‘90s.
Blur would be the first to admit that they were in need of a big comeback following the milder than anticipated success of their second album Modern Life Is Rubbish. Their debut hit There’s No Other Way and its parent album Leisure had made them the darlings of the music scene, but times had changed and while there was enough critical acclaim for the band, it wasn’t translating into sales or chart positions.
So what next for Blur aka Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree? It was bolshy chant Girls And Boys that turned things around for the band, giving them their biggest hit so far when it peaked at Number 5. The track marked a poppier, cheekier sound for Blur, and paved the way for the release that would see Britpop go mega-mainstream – Parklife.
Britpop wasn’t a new concept. The beginning of the Britpop movement – essentially a media buzzword that covered lots of different types of music but was shorthand for "bands with a fondness for guitars from the UK" – is widely accredited to the cover of the April 1993 edition of dear departed music magazine Select featuring Suede frontman Brett Anderson. But while bands of the Britpop genre had enjoyed considerable success, it was Blur who first converted this into Number 1s and a mainstream following.
Parklife went straight in at Number 1, selling 27,000 copies in its first week – it would have to wait until the week before Christmas 1994 to notch up its biggest weekly sales, when it shifted almost 40,000 copies.
After Girls And Boys went Top 5, Parklife spawned three more Top 20 singles: To The End (16), Parklife (10) and End Of A Century (19). Parklife, featuring the vocal talents of Quadrophenia star Phil Daniels (well, he talks over it), comes out on top for sales, with 190,000 copies sold – Blur’s 6th bestseller overall.
For a while, Blur were the undisputed kings of Britpop, but only a couple of weeks earlier, Manchester band Oasis had released their debut album Shakermaker which may not have had made a huge impression the charts – reaching Number 31 – but certainly got people talking. It would be another four months before their debut Definitely Maybe would redefine Britpop again, and over a year before things really got interesting, with much vaunted Blur vs Oasis battle between singles Roll With It and Country House, which would be Blur’s first Number 1.
Altogether Blur have had 26 Top 40 hits, including 13 Top 10s, two of which got to Number 1. Their biggest selling single is the controversial Country House, which has sold over 540,000 copies.
Parklife is Blur’s bestselling studio album, with just over a million copies sold. It won the BRIT Award for Best British Album in 1995 and was the first of four consecutive chart-topping albums for the band, with The Great Escape (1995), Blur (1997) and 13 (1999) completing the quartet.
A further Number 1 album came with 2003’s Think Tank – their most recent studio album and the only one without guitarist Graham Coxon, who’d quit the year before.
The members of Blur have gone on to success outside the band. Most notably, Damon Albarn has enjoyed hits with his animated band Gorillaz, scoring five Top 10 hits, including a Number 1 with 2005’s Dare, and three Top 10 albums. Damon’s debut solo album Everyday Robots looks set to enter the Official Albums Chart Top 10 this week.
Bassist Alex James branched out into cheese-making and working with novelty pop band Fat Les, along with WigWam with ‘90s legend Betty Boo.
Drummer Dave Rowntree retrained as a solicitor and also directed an animated series, while dabbling in radio presenting.
Guitarist Graham Coxon has scored five solo Top 40 albums and seven solo Top 40 singles.
Blur reunited in 2009 to play a series of concerts, including headlining Glastonbury that year, and while they released a single Under The Westway in 2012 to promote a new boxset of all their albums, the guys say they have no plans to reform or make any more new music. ☹