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.