In June 1997, Select magazine came with a covermounted music CD containing eighteen tracks of ‘rare’ and exclusive indie that perfectly evoked the scene of the time.
For some reason, the me that had just turned twelve years old saw this edition of Select in Tesco and bought it. For some further reason, the current 35-year-old me still has that CD, and still absolutely adores a decent number of the tracks that CD contains.
I say ‘for some reason’ (the first instance of that phrase), but actually it’s not that surprising that 12-year-old me was attracted to it. The music I was listening to at the time was the likes of Blur, Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Kula Shaker and, err, Robbie Williams. Guitar-led indie was (mostly) appealing to me.
Further, CDs had recently been introduced to our household. We added a Matsui CD player to a 1970s record/tape/radio deck with big boxy speakers. It sat on a chipboard sideboard* in the dining room, and I mostly listened to music on that system while messing around on the computer.
* I love that band.
Buying new CDs was obviously a vast investment both at the time and for a kid of my age. So, cover-mounted CDs that came with magazines – when magazines only cost a couple of quid – were fantastic. Free music! Free software! Free… internet trials? (For me? A kid whose computer lacked a modem? That’s a tale of ignorance for another blog post…)
What I made of the content of Select magazine back then in the summer of 1997 is lost to the mists of time. But the CD clearly struck a chord. Music often does to listeners between the ages of 12-17. There’s some cliche that I can’t be bothered to look up that refers to this very phenomenon: that what you listen to then is largely what you’ll continue listening to into adulthood.
And so when I listen to the tracks on that CD – a handful of which are today readily available via streaming services (and I’ve therefore stuck them into a nifty Spotify playlist for those interested), I am transported… not quite to 1997, but to a sort of halfway house holding cell of somewhere between then and now: those songs have followed me around the whole time.
From the stand-out Blur track Get Out of Cities and running throughout the CD, which features artists like DJ Shadow, Suede, Stereophonics, Lamb and Silver Sun, there are a number of sharp indie cuts with buzzsaw guitars. The Kenickie track is a particular highlight.
Alongside these are a scattering of alternative mixes or demos – they are all, apparently, rare tracks, and so they will have been b-sides and off-cuts at the time. The ‘original demo’ for Suede’s Filmstar is a nice inclusion. Tracks by the more well-known artists have since turned up on anniversary remastered re-releases with bonus tracks, but a lot of the stuff on this CD isn’t on Spotify.
I realise that the lack of an appearance on Spotify isn’t really a strong signifier of a band’s status or the actual rarity of a song, but there’s a hint of that to it. Possibly a now well-established artist has made the decision not to put their ouevre on Spotify out of protest at the pittance artists are paid. Or these particular tracks have been deliberately left on the cutting room floor of bad 90s indie.
More likely, those bands whose music is absent from the platform today are just victims of falling through the cracks between gaining releases and magazine coverage in the 90s and the mass digitisation of actively published music in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
(Interestingly, Stereophonics’ Looks Like Chaplin didn’t turn out to be a rarity at all: it was the second track on their debut album which came out only a few weeks after this CD hit the magazine shelves.)
Being a cover-mounted CD of the mid to late 1990s, the disc also contains a data track which – apparently – gave the user access to Select magazine’s exclusive website, and trials of various Compuserve web services and so on… The executable on the disc is no longer readable but the wonders offered in the CD sleeve are a delightful insight into the burgeoning web of summer 1997, and a web I was still more than two years away from experiencing first-hand.
On the subject of it being a CD at all, it’s interesting to consider that it could very well have been a tape not much earlier (and I’d have had to make a tape dub of this CD if I wanted to listen to it in my room anyway). But, as a CD, I am free to skip around it. In reality, whenever I tend to play it, I seem to listen to it in full and in order. It’s like a mixtape in that respect, and it falls neatly into a pigeonhole of compilations of music that have entered my life at various points and gone on to become utterly totemic in their influence on my tastes.
That being said, what’s also interesting to me listening back to the CD now is that there are songs here that are… instantly skippable. I hear the opening bars and feel a deep-seated (multi-decade…) resistance.
I tried to fight that urge further on today’s listen and made it through a couple of tracks that I never really listened to before. I was surprised to let the Lamb remix play out beyond the opening bars and find I didn’t recognise it at all. It didn’t make me love them any more than I did before, but it was a nice feeling giving them another chance.
But Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, man. Sorry lads, but… no. I tried. I skipped around that song today, and I still couldn’t listen in full. I was surprised to hear from the closing seconds of this track that it was, in fact, a live recording. But just.. nah, man. No thanks.
I now have to admit that I’ve somewhat buried the lede. There’s one track on that album that I have adored the entire time. It’s a song I get in my head about once a month. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and it’s short and sweet and funny and melancholic and happy and rocking.
I’m talking (of course?) of the penultimate track: Silver Sun’s Bad Haircut.
It’s just… a perfect song, I think.
Listening now, I hear elements of Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta in the chorus, but overall there’s just a dynamic range to this song that I love. The production is so crisp, and guitars variously ring out and roar when needed. Humour and silliness runs throughout the lyrics, and right down to the final few seconds of studio banter, it leaves me with the feeling that the band were clearly having a great time performing and recording it.
Studio banter in recordings is, by the way, a real love of mine. Ever since I started listening to music through headphones, I’ve adored being able to hear little bits of chatter before or after a track, or getting the impression that the studio recording was laid down live rather than being tracked and over dubbed. The energy and the realness of those extra sounds has always made recorded music even more exciting for me.
I’ve listened to Bad Haircut so many times over the past 23 years that I feel a sort of synaesthesia when listening to it: a completely made-up music video plays out in my mind, cleverly segueing from the narrative of the song and the images portrayed in the lyrics over to the studio where the song is being played for those final silly comments culminating in someone announcing “thank you very much, Denmark,” a line I’ve found at once hilarious and yet entirely stupid the entire time it’s been in my consciousness.
I just love everything about that silly little song, so much. I’ll probably still love it just as much in another 23 years’ time.