S-Tier Songs, Vol. 9

It’s time for a new entry in the S-Tier songs series. For an explanation of what that’s about as well as a list of the other songs, head here.

Today’s song is very well-known, in many cases it’s the band’s only known song in America. Many people know the song without knowing who the group is at all. It’s only two minutes long, it’s the second song off the album and my only blogging regret is not making it the second entry in this series.

Blur – Song 2

Blur entered 1997 in a curious position. They’d been crowned kings of Britpop in 1994 after their triumphant Parklife record and tour. In 1995 they seemed poised to build momentum with The Great Escape and their initial single Country House, but then the British press went mad for Oasis and left Blur in the dust, even going so far as to change reviews of the album. Oasis went on to become the biggest band in the world for awhile as Blur sat at home wondering what happened.

By 1997 Blur were ready to get back at it, and this time they were leaving behind the Britpop elements they had previously worked so hard to be known for. The group convened around more lo-fi and grunge sensibilities and released their self-titled album to a new world that was about to move on from the Britpop scene.

While Blur would become internationally celebrated for the self-titled album as a whole, it was Song 2 that would take on a life of its own and become the band’s most recognizable hit. And, of course, as the story goes with many of these hit songs, the whole thing was a joke and an accident.

The above video outlines the origin story of Song 2 as told by Blur guitarist Graham Coxon. The song began as an acoustic piece on Damon Albarn’s guitar, featuring whistling in place of the song’s now-immortal “woo hoo” bit. Coxon suggested adding a bunch of noise to the tune and actually playing it for the record company as a gag. Albarn obliged and the band turned in the fully-formed, distorted as all hell Song 2 to the record company. Instead of being met with a sour reaction, the label execs loved the tune and Blur were off the to the post-Britpop races.

Song 2 was a well-received hit in Blur’s native UK and it also did something the band had been previously unable to do – it broke in the rest of the world. Song 2 charted on the higher end in many countries and became a staple of college and modern rock radio in the United States. Britpop as a whole hadn’t fared massively well on American shores, save for Elastica and Oasis. But now Blur arrived with a grunged-up tune just in time for the post-grunge era to truly take over rock radio. The song has been a part of sporting events, video games and other media ever since its release 25 years ago.

Background and reception are all well and good, but what really is Song 2 on about? Well, it’s a two minute song full of lyrical nonsense. The most noteworthy lyric is “woo hoo,” it’s the signature part of the song and the one many folks know the tune by. A fair few people couldn’t tell you who Blur is or the name of the song but they know “the woo-hoo song” by heart. And nobody, including the people who wrote it, can tell you what any of it means.

And that’s the beauty of music – not everything has to have a pinned-down, easy to digest meaning. Song 2 is a total lark through the English language and its only memorable words aren’t even really words. The whole thing from lyrics to instruments is just noise being made and it all works splendidly together. That’s not to say no thought went into it – as Graham Coxon outlines in the interview video, he was looking for specific sounds. And he got far more than he bargained for, with the song often cited as his greatest work.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Song 2 is a monument to absurdity and noise and it tackles its premise extremely well. The song was a huge hit for a band reeling in an identity crisis after the events of 1995. Their response was to shrug off the sounds of their given genre and explore new areas, which led to a new legacy for the group that would far outshine the Britpop movement. It’s a simple song with no comprehensible theme and it’s just a bunch of noise, but it captured the attention of people all across the world.

Album Of The Week – January 31, 2022

Sometimes I know well ahead of time what the AOTW is going to be. Other times, like this current edition, I don’t really decide until I sit down to write. For some totally unknown reason not all related to last week’s music news cycle I’ve had Blur on the brain so now I’m going to visit one of the high points of their eclectic discography.

Blur – Parklife

Released April 25, 1994 via Food Records

My Favorite Tracks – Parklife, End Of A Century

Parklife represents the second of a trilogy of Blur records that would come to shape and define the emerging term Britpop. In fact, if one were to wonder why the term was called Britpop as opposed to the seemingly more suitable Britrock, Blur and Parklife would be the signpost for why.

The album is a collection of varied styles that examine the British life through many different lenses. While it is a musical hodgepodge, they exploration of styles does well to convey the mostly sardonic look at typical British life and style. Everything from dance beats to jangly riffs can be found as the record plows it course through England.

The album opens with a dance party on the hit single Girls And Boys. The song has a simple point – Damon Albarn was inspired to write it after watching people get drunk and hook up in night clubs. The song is not praise or criticism of the practice, rather just observation. I’d see the scenes described in the song play out a few year later when I was in Europe as part of the US military. And yeah, Girls And Boys pretty well nails it on the head.

While the musical stylings of Parklife are overwhelmingly upbeat in nature, the topical fare isn’t always a party. London Loves and Jubilee both take aim at the corrosion of substance in culture. The chill vibe of Badhead belies the heavier subject matter of falling away from a loved one. Tracy Jenks observes a man’s midlife crisis, while Trouble In The Message Center handles the inevitable hangover after a night of partying.

While the 16-track album is a wonderful listen in whole, I find my two personal favorite tracks toward the record’s beginning. The third song End Of A Century is a guitar-driven roll through the “late stage” phase of long-term relationships as well as a nod to the winding down of the 20th Century. The song hits at the mundane nature of life while also looking toward the new millennium. It’s a very identifiable vibe and also makes me want to scream at them to stay put and avoid 2020 especially. The refrain “it’s nothing special” truly defines the song’s context.

For all of the contemplation of British life and culture to be found through the album, nothing hit the nail on the head like the album’s title track. Parklife became the defining song from the album and its cultural significance rings true still nearly 30 years after its release. Blur recruited actor Phil Daniels to deliver the song’s verses in spoken-word fashion while Albarn handled the sung chorus. The bright and cheery tune masked a bit the absolutely sarcastic sneer at British park life.

The song hasn’t lost its touch in the decades since release. Left and right it’s easy to find people who still point to Parklife as the “ultimate British song.” It’s become a celebration of that aspect of Britain even while many can acknowledge the sneering intent behind the track.

Parklife the album would be a huge success for Blur. They sold a few million copies of the record in the UK and across the European continent. The band would line up for awards left and right, basking in the newfound acclaim as the “it” band in British rock. Their more artistic approach won out among the populist masses.

At least for one album.

Blur would get about a year to enjoy the accolades brought forth from the success of Parklife. The “Battle of Britpop” was just on the horizon, and while Blur won that battle, the downslide just after when the British music press turned on them would mark another uncertain chapter for the group, one ended when the band jettisoned the concept of Britpop and embraced alternative and garage rock instead.

None of that is the story of Parklife, however. The album remains a high water point for the Britpop movement and marked the point where Blur shook off their early failures and became a successful, noticed band. While the group weren’t working class stiffs themselves, they were able to offer up a view of British life that connected with a wide audience. Both the record and the title song are offerings whose significance outweighs even their successful record sales and awards. The album peered into British life and as a result became a foundation for Britpop to continue building on.

On Wednesday I’ll get into the Damon Albarn versus Taylor Swift thing that happened last week and dominated the news cycle until Neil Young came along.