Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Blur: The Singles 1990-1999

Having released their debut single in 1990, 1999 marked the tenth year as recording artists for Blur. To celebrate, they issued the unsurprisingly titled “10 Yr Boxset”. It included re-pressings of all 21 of the band’s “regular” singles to date, with a bonus “preview“ disc of their then forthcoming new single, “No Distance Left To Run“. Each CD was housed in one of the original sleeves for the relevant pressing, and bonus tracks from all other formats were added - meaning some discs had a running time equivalent to an LP.

Of course, the box set could not cover all bases. It was very impressive, but of course, being a CD format meant that singles originally pressed on coloured vinyl were obviously out, whilst Blur’s perchant for multi-formatting also meant that some singles had appeared in different covers on other formats. Furthermore, gig freebies and fan club singles were also excluded. In this article, we shall look at the singles included in the box, and there is also a list of the “missing” releases absent from the box for the reasons listed above. Promo’s, however, are omitted from this list.

She's So High/I Know
There's No Other Way

Blur’s first three 45’s were all lifted from their often maligned debut LP, “Leisure”, although “She’s So High” was actually issued as a AA-side with a non album cut, “I Know” - a fact more or less written out of the band’s history. “She’s So High” and “Bang” were both issued on four formats each, with each format coming in a differently coloured sleeve.

The 12” of “She’s So High” made reference to the A-side being included in it’s “Definitive” mix, but all copies seem to play the standard 7” edit used on all the other formats. With the exception of the “remix” 12”, all formats of “There’s No Other Way” used the same basic photo, although the cassette edition adopted a slightly different sleeve design.

Both “There’s No Other Way” and “Bang” dented the UK top 40, but the fact that Blur went stellar post-”Parklife” has helped all of these singles - and all other pre-”Country House” releases - sell for quite inflated amounts on the collectors scene. Despite being semi-disowned by the band, even original pressings of “Bang” will fetch no less than a tenner.

She’s So High (Edit)/I Know (7”, Orange p/s, Food FOOD 26)
She’s So High (Edit)/I Know (Cassette, “Single Hippo” p/s, Food TCFOOD 26)
She’s So High (Edit)I Know (Extended)/Down (CD, Purple p/s, Food CDFOOD 26)
There’s No Other Way (The Blur Remix)/Won’t Do It/Day Upon Day (Live) (Remix 12”, “Negative” p/s, Food 12FOODX 29)
Bang/Luminous (7”, Green p/s, Food FOOD 31)
Bang/Luminous (Cassette, Purple p/s, Food TCFOOD 31)
Bang/Explain/Luminous/Berserk (CD, Orange p/s, CDFOOD 31)

The Wassailing Song

Although it wasn’t planned as such, “Popscene” became one of only a handful of non-album A-sides that Blur would release. As such, the single has become something of a cult release, with plenty of Blur aficionado’s (myself included) claiming it to be the best thing the band ever recorded.

“Popscene” was taped during the sessions for what should have been Blur’s second LP. Although it is now being claimed to be the “First Britpop Single”, it doesn’t sound like a Britpop single at all. It’s raw, noisy, aggressive, and about as far removed from the jingle jangle baggy sound that defined “Leisure” as it is possible to get. Although the band would soon after record material that was pure-Britpop, inspired by a “hatred of american music”, “Popscene” actually sounds like a less grungy Nirvana. Given that, during a John Peel Session in 1997 plugging the Pavement/Dinosaur Jr inspired “Blur” LP, “Popscene” was the only old song the band played that night, it does seem fair to state that “Popscene” effectively arrived five years early.

“Popscene” was a relative failure, stalling outside the top 30. Soon after, due to various “happenings“, the second album sessions were abandoned. “Never Clever” appeared in live form only as a B-side, the studio mix eventually turning up some years later on a Food label sampler, whilst the other surviving songs crept out as B-sides. The band refused to allow “Popscene” to be included on the eventual second album, 1993’s “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, claiming that as it had performed so badly on the charts, they believed the fan base didn’t particularly deserve to have it on the record, as they seemed so disinterested in it. And so, the cult of this 45 has grown - when the band issued their “Best Of” in 2000, the track was famously missing from the Audio editions. Indeed, it was not until 2009 that the original version finally made it onto a Blur LP, when it appeared on the “Midlife” compilation.

“The Wassailing Song” is the first of four singles to be omitted from the box set. It was given away as a gig freebie at a 1992 London gig, but is considered by many to be so bad, that some people who got given a copy upon hearing it threw it away! It has never appeared on any subsequent Blur releases.

Popscene/Mace (7”, Food FOOD 37, minor differences in top half of sleeve to version in boxset)
The Wassailing Song (7”, Food BLUR 6, 500-only gig freebie)

For Tomorrow
Chemical World
Sunday Sunday

And so we come to the single releases from Blur’s - in my opinion - greatest LP, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”. Openly inspired by The Kinks, this was the record that really started Britpop - although other British bands like Suede had started their careers before this album surfaced, this was the first record to really SOUND British. Suede were more glam, Pulp were still finding their feet but “Modern Life” hit the nail on the head. Even the artwork was pure Pop-Art, with the steam locomotive on the front, and the inlay showing the band sitting on a District Line tube train. With it’s brilliant mini-instrumentals ending both sides of the record, it was a perfect record, whilst the noisy likes of “Colin Zeal” and “Coping” recalled the “Popscene” sound.

All three of the singles were issued in multiple formats, including double CD sets with different B-sides on each. “Sunday Sunday” offered up a series of early recordings taped when the band were still known as Seymour, although the second CD included a couple of traditional songs, including the music hall tune “Let’s All Go Down The Strand”. The other track, “Daisy Bell”, got a rare live airing at the band’s 1995 Mile End Stadium show.

“Chemical World” and “Sunday Sunday” appeared on coloured vinyl 7“, both backed with tracks unavailable on any other formats, although the B-side of the former, a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, would later (with selected other B-sides) appear on 1994’s Japanese only CD, “The Special Collectors Edition”.

For Tomorrow (Single Version)/When The Cows Come Home/Beachcoma/For Tomorrow (Acoustic Version) (CD2, unbordered p/s, different cloud formation on image to boxset edition, Food CDFOOD 40)
For Tomorrow (Visit To Primrose Hill Extended)/Into Another/Hanging Over (Cassette, “Squashed up” p/s, Food TCFOOD 40)
Chemical World (Edit)/Maggie May (Red Vinyl 7”, Food FOOD 45)
Chemical World (Extreme Edit)/Young & Lovely/Es Schmecht My Ark (CD2, mispressed copy with opening bars of A-side accidentally missing, Food CDFOOD 45, most copies play regular edit)
Sunday Sunday/Tell Me (Yellow Vinyl 7”, Food FOODS 46)
Sunday Sunday/Daisy Bell/Let’s All Go Down The Strand (CD2 “Popular Community Song” edition in ‘Victorian’ family p/s, Food CDFOODX 46)

Girls & Boys
To The End
End Of A Century

1994 and “Parklife”, the band’s commercial and - to some extent - critical breakthrough. If “Modern Life” had too much scuzzy lo-fi guitar noise for your ears, then this was the album that was Britpop through and through. Yes, there was the punk panic of “Bank Holiday” but otherwise, the album was even more Kinks-like than it’s predecessor.

“Parklife” was a triumphant album, one that fully deserved it’s four Brit Awards the following year, but it’s by no means perfect. At times, it veers a bit too near “Carry On”/”Confessions Of A Window Cleaner” territory, but when it gets it right, it’s faultless. Even the packaging, with the track listing shown in the form of a greyhound race card, is brilliantly conceived.

Having multi-formatted themselves to death on earlier releases, things calmed down a bit for this album. In most instances, the singles were issued on two CD’s with exclusive tracks on each, with other formats simply offering up some/all of these tracks in a different order. Unlike earlier singles, there were no “vinyl only” b-sides this time around.

The second “To The End” CD included remixes of “Girls & Boys” by Pet Shop Boys, and came in a suitably emblazoned sleeve - although the basic photo was the same as the first CD. With “Girls & Boys” also using the same basic picture cover for the different formats, it meant that it wasn’t until the release of the third single, “Parklife”, that the decision was taken to issue the second CD in a notably different sleeve. The first CD and the other formats came in a “Beer Glass” sleeve, although there were design differences on the 12” edition to the other formats.

“Parklife” was the first Blur album to spawn four 45’s, presumably due to their new found fame, Food figured they could get some real mileage out of the record. However, the band were running out of B-sides, and as such, only three formats were issued for the final single, “End Of A Century“. The B-side of this single as far as the 7” and Cassette formats was concerned, also appeared on the CD, which contained one extra song. Unfortunately, both these b-sides remain two of the worst things the band ever committed to tape, and this was not lost on reviewers when the boxset emerged - the lack of bonus tracks meant that not only did the “End Of A Century” disc have the shortest running time, but it was also the least interesting musically.

Girls & Boys/People In Europe/Peter Panic (CD2, white bordered p/s, Food CDFOOD 47)
Parklife/Beard/To The End (French Version) (CD2, blue “beermat” p/s, Food CDFOOD 53)

Country House
The Universal
Charmless Man
Death Of A Party

Whilst “Parklife” was the sound of a band tuning into the Zeigeist at just the right time, then “The Great Escape” was the sound of a band trying just a bit too hard. Not a disaster, but compared to what had come before, an often flawed disappointment. Even “Stereotypes” sounded like a Stereotypical Britpop 45.

In the run up to the album’s release, the band headlined a massive outdoor show at Mile End Stadium, where they performed some tracks off the LP. One of these was the first single from the album “Country House”, and one of the CD Singles issued for the song featured this and three other songs taped at the show, and was housed in an appropriate sleeve depicting the Canary Wharf building. A re-recorded version of “To The End”, with Francoise Hardy (and previously issued as a single in France) was one of the B-sides on CD1, and was a different version to the “French” version of the track that appeared on the B-side of the “Parklife” single.

“The Universal” also appeared in Live EP form - designed to look like a film poster (it was listed as “The Universal II” on the cover), it included live recordings of “Great Escape” material from a recent BBC Radio 1 live session. But after hitting the arena circuit at the end of 95, things started to go pear-shaped. Critics started to turn against them, and internal problems started to surface again. In early 96, the band famously appeared on an Italian TV show but with half the band missing, and performed their latest single with a cardboard cut out of one of the band members on stage along with one of their roadies.

Two more singles were issued that year, although B-sides were again in short supply, and so both “Stereotypes” and “Charmless Man” appeared on one CD format only, rather than two. The former was issued the day before Valentines Day, and thus the 7” edition came in a unique “Valentines” sleeve, pressed on pink vinyl. At the end of the year, the band’s newly launched fan club gave away the first of a planned series of annual Christmas singles - a 1992 demo of a track that would appear on their next LP, “Death Of A Party”, was released as a one track CD Single.

Country House (Live)/Girls & Boys (Live)/Parklife (Live)/For Tomorrow (Live) (CD2 “from Mile End Stadium”, in ‘Canary Wharf’ p/s, Food CDFOODS 63)
The Universal (Live)/Mr Robinson’s Quango (Live)/It Could Be You (Live)/Stereotypes (Live) (CD2, “Live At The Beeb” EP in unique p/s, Food CDFOOD 69)
Stereotypes/The Man Who Left Himself/Tame (Pink Vinyl 7” in “Valentines” p/s, Food FOOD 73)
Death Of A Party (Demo) (Fan Club CD, Food DEATH 1)

Song 2
On Your Own
I Love Her

With the 1995 arena tour being somewhat evident of a band who had now garnered something of a teenybop fan base, and with question marks over just how good “The Great Escape” was or wasn’t, the band began to re-evaluate what they were doing. Inspired by Coxon’s love of American lo-fi rock, the band began to work on an album that would be a complete U-turn away from “The Great Escape”.

In the summer of 1996, the band played a show at the Royal Dublin Showgrounds, where they showcased two new songs. The first, “Chinese Bombs”, was so fast and over so quickly, it made the Ramones look like Peter Paul & Mary. The second, longer and slower, but still under two minutes on length, was untitled, and being the second new song played that night, was referred to on stage as “Song 2”. The title stuck, and it would prove to be a vital cog in the “New” Blur that re-emerged at the end of the year.

“Beetlebum” was sent to radio at the end of the year, and was quite a departure from the chirpy “Charmless Man”. Both the song and the video had a melancholic undertone - it seemed that for this band, the jolly Britpop party was over, and now it was time for the comedown. Whilst other acts continued to follow the path the band had trailblazed with “Parklife”, Blur were two steps ahead, and 1997’s “Blur” album would show just how uncompromising and ground breaking the band could be when they wanted to be.

Each of the four singles issued from the album included alternate mixes of Blur songs, with a remix of “Beetlebum” turning up on CD2 of the single of the same name. An acoustic version of “Country Sad Ballad Man”, originally on “Blur”, turned up on “Song 2” whilst “MOR” came backed with mixes of both “Beetlebum” and “Movin’ On”. “On Your Own” was backed with live versions of songs from a John Peel session. A live version of “Popscene” was one of the tracks included, and in Australia, the single was marketed as a AA side of the two - further enhancing the cult surrounding the original 45 from 1992.

The boxset made some strange choices when it came to sleeve designs. For some reason, the “Beetlebum” disc used the same image as the original CD1, but with both the band name and title absent. “Song 2” came in the rarer “black” sleeve, as used on the original CD2, rather than the expected CD1 sleeve. Again, the band began to run out of B-sides by the time “MOR” was issued, so the disc in the boxset featured the same track listing as the original CD - nothing more, nothing less. Strangely though, the Dutch edition of the single came backed with a series of acoustic re-recordings of selected Blur songs, but the decision was taken not to issue these tracks in the UK at all.

Fan club singles followed in late 97 and 98. These were notable in being the first fan club releases to include Blur tracks that have not appeared in any other form since.

Beetlebum/Woodpigeon Song (Red Vinyl 7”, Food FOOD 89)
Beetlebum (LP Mix)/(Mario Caldato Jr Mix)/Woodpigeon Song/Dancehall (CD2 in “Blurred“ p/s, Food CDFOODS 89)
Song 2/Get Out Of Cities (Purple Vinyl 7” in “desert“ p/s, Food FOOD 93, CD1 also issued in same cover)
On Your Own/Popscene (Live at Peel Acres)/Song 2 (Live at Peel Acres) (Clear Vinyl 7”, Food FOOD 98)
On Your Own/Chinese Bombs (Live at Peel Acres)/Movin’ On (Live at Peel Acres)/MOR (Live at Peel Acres) (CD2 in unique p/s, Food CDFOODS 98)
MOR (Road Version)/Swallows In The Heatwave (Orange Vinyl 7”, Food FOOD 107)
I Love Her (Fan Club CD, Food LOVE 001)
Close (Fan Club CD, Food CLOSE 001)

Coffee & TV
No Distance Left To Run

1999’s “13” saw the band move further away from their Britpop days. From the gospel sway of “Tender”, to the punk thrash of “B.L.U.R.E.M.I”, to the atmospheric electronics of “Caramel”, this was no “Parklife”. The band further alienated their fan base by opting to play the album more or less in it’s entirety when they went out on tour, even doing so when they hit the festival circuit in the summer - a move which came in for some criticism.

“Tender” was issued on three formats, with a sticker sealed blue vinyl 7” being issued as a non-chart eligible format at a later date. Cassette copies were also all originally shrinkwrapped. “Coffee & TV” came backed across the formats with four remixes of “13” album track “Bugman”, one per band member, with each remix being given an actual song title, rather than just a name of a remix, although these were included in brackets on the sleeve. Several “Bugman” promos were issued just before the release of “Coffee & TV”. A non-chart eligible 12” of “Coffee & TV“, with all four mixes as B-sides, was later issued in a sticker sealed sleeve, and the boxset uses this cover. The same image was also used for the first of the two original CD singles, but was slightly cropped for that format.

The original releases of both “Tender” and “Coffee & TV” had the band name and title on the stickers attached to the sleeves, not as part of the actual artwork, and as the boxset replicates the original artwork, this means no text appears anywhere on the front of the sleeves used in the boxset. Early copies of the box set featured a faulty copy of “Coffee & TV”, which skipped halfway through, and EMI offered to replace this disc at no extra cost.

By the time “Coffee & TV” was issued, details of the boxset had already been announced. As such, when I bought my copies of the single, I decided against opening them, as I knew the B-sides would be available in a couple of months time. As such, you may be able to find sticker sealed copies of all four of the original formats that were released, with the stickers still intact.

Whilst it is not unusual to see boxsets including “bonus” discs, this boxset was unique in offering a preview copy of Blur’s next single, “No Distance Left To Run”. The boxset version used what was to be the same sleeve for one of the CD singles, and the extra track, a remix of “Tender”, was scheduled to be one of the b-sides. When the single was finally given a full release, numerous extra tracks were also added, making the boxset version a bit pointless.

Tender/All We Want (Blue Vinyl 7”, Food FOOD 117)
Tender/All We Want (Cassette, picture sleeve printed at right-angles, Food TCFOOD 117)
Tender/French Song/Song 2 (LP Version)/(Video) (Enhanced CD2 in unique p/s, Food CDFOOD 117)
Coffee & TV (Single Edit)/X-Offender (Cassette, “Half” p/s, Food TCFOOD 122)
Coffee & TV (Single Edit)/Trade Stylee/Metal Hip Slop (CD1, cropped p/s, Food CDFOOD 122)
Coffee & TV (Single Edit)/X-Offender/Coyote (CD2, unique p/s, Food CDFOODS 122)
No Distance Left To Run/Tender (Cornelius Remix)/So You (CD1, Food CDFOODS 123)
No Distance Left To Run/Battle (UNKLE Remix)/Beagle 2/No Distance Left To Run (Video) (CD2, Food CDFOOD 123)
No Distance Left To Run/Tender (Cornelius Remix)/Battle (UNKLE Remix) (12“, Food 12FOODS 123, slightly different sleeve to CD1)
No Distance Left To Run: The Making Of (DVD EP, includes two different videos of “No Distance” and videos for “Tender (Live)” and “Battle (Live)”, plus bonus features, Food DVDFOOD 001)

There was no fan club single at the end of 1999. I shall cover later Blur singles and albums in a future blog.

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