England’s No.1…. through No. 50
Blame the Arctic Monkeys. Seems like the British music press can’t stop celebrating how wonderful British music is right now. Just a few weeks ago, the NME ran its list of the Greatest British Albums Of All Time – you know, the one in which Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not was deemed a better record than anything by The Beatles, Blur, Pulp, The Clash, The Jam, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Specials and The Who. Now it’s Mojo’s turn: in the March issue (yes, mum, my subscription finally came through) the ongoing challenger to Classic Rock monthly follows its Kinks cover story with a list of The 50 Greatest British Tracks Ever! (Exclamation mark is theirs.)
The Mojo writers take a somewhat more objective view than their colleagues at the NME, listing tracks chronologically rather than in any order of greatness, and limiting each artist to one song a piece. Some choices are painfully obvious – ‘A New England’, ‘Panic’, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ and ‘Common People’ among them – and some are quite surprising. ‘Wuthering Heights’? I guess so. ‘Sultans Of Swing’? Never thought about it that way. ‘Hurry Up Harry’? Wait, weren’t these meant to be the Greatest British Tracks Ever!? Meantime, you can argue that ‘That’s Entertainment’ and ‘Our House’ are no more or less quintessentially British than just about everything else by, respectively, The Jam and Madness, but you’re hardly likely to disagree that these acts warranted representation.
The most obvious omission among acts is the one that launched “lad culture” – which seems to me to have been the most overtly “British” youth development of the last 20 years. Yes, I’m talking about Oasis. Perhaps Noel Gallagher did not have his finger on the common man’s pulse, after all.
But look closer – which might be easier to do from my distance back across the ocean – and Mojo‘s provincial prejudices are clearly revealed. There is by my initial scan, with the lone exception of Van Morrison, a complete and total lack of acts from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Can we really claim ‘Hurry Up Harry’ by Sham 69 as any greater than ‘Top Of The Pops’ by The Rezillos, ‘A Design For Life’ by Manic Street Preachers and ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones? Or is it just that a cockney accent somehow qualifies as more “British” than one which emanates from over the English border… When you’re employed as a magazine writer in central London, that is?