I read somewhere recently that time is the mother of all biases. And there was me thinking that it was just a wee healer that waits for no man. The jist of the meaning didn’t click at first, but a bit like understanding the sensation of treading over hot coals, you have to put yourself in the right shoes.
Last week while listening to Radio 2, I found myself bopping about to Pulp’s Common People. It got me thinking about how great the music of the 90’s was, and how that particular song has become an iconic reflection of the times. Released in October ’95, just a couple of months after the heat of the Oasis v Blur chart single race, it coincided with my first stints to the dancing as the term Britpop was just hot off Stuart Maconie’s lips. The daddy of all lanky poet laureates, Jarvis Cocker, wasn’t far wrong when he realised the band had ‘written something that had the slight pretensions to the anthemic.’
And in mid-bop it hit me, this link to time being the mother of all biases in regard to music. As for every Common People to hit the airwaves in the final decade of the 20th century, there’s a Tubthumping, a Mmm Mmm Mmm and a Barbie Girl turning up to ruin a 90’s compilation triple album. Chumbawumba? Crash Test Dummies? With monikers like that, it’s a wonder the demo cassettes got opened by their recording studio lackeys.
My first memory of the 90’s musikwise was Beat’s International’s signature tune, Dub Be Good to Me. I recall skiving up the back of music class playing and rewinding and playing it on my chunkified Sony Walkman with orange-sponged earphones. I had no idea then that it was a rework by way of the S.O.S Band. And so marked the next ten years of released samples, remixes and woeful covers; read Vanilla Ice, Jive Bunny and Boyzone. A year later on a rainy Sunday night my ears fell upon Smells Like Teen Spirit, which for a worldwide gang of us was like hearing Rock Around the Clock or Love Me Do for the first time. It didn’t take long before the wardrobe was chocka of holey lumberjack shirts as the Doc Martin’s lay by the door. Three years later, I fell into the rank and file of Oasis trendies equating to a cleaner facade verging on the mod. You never realise while in the busom of it, but the age of 17-21, it’s the time of prime. It’s the heyday years of dancing, parties, sex, broken hearts, finding a job, not finding a job. . .and if you’re lucky all backdropped with a fantastic soundtrack. While the world seems a smaller if not more complicated place that in the 90’s, I wonder what’ll be the Common People equivalent for today’s kids? My parents spent their courting days in the dancehalls of Glasgow in the era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks, of which I’ll be eternally envious of. But my time was most definitely the tail end of the last century. New Labour, Britpop, pre-internet boom. Days of heady optimism as I recall, as we counted down time to a new millennium.
Throughout the 90’s we didn’t think we were amid any form of fashion revolution per se, as we skulked around with curtain hair (the lads) and lacquer sprayed demi-waves with optional scrunchie (the lassies) waiting for an equivalent to the mini skirt, a pair of platforms or a set of shoulder pads to define the decade. But you only have to watch a Les Dennis hosted episode of Family Fortunes to look back on what was really going on. Waistcoats were in big time, worn loose. Mustard and maroon was the ultimate colour combo. Everything was buttoned up, shirt and blouse wise to the gullet, though flowy from there on down. Tartan, check, lumberjack patterns, lime jeans, batwing sleeves; a litany of a la mode tragic when put altogether. And there was us thinking there was no particular trend. Just pull some 90’s photos out from the back of the wardrobe for an equal laugh and cringe to prove otherwise.
The 90’s is definitely not the only decade to suffer from the notion of time being a good filter. If you’ve ever caught an episode of Top of the Pops Seventies, currently doing chronological re-runs on BBC4 at the weekends, you can’t help but notice that there was some amount of dross ladened among the gems that made the decade of flares, feather cuts and kipper ties as tragic as it was golden. I hung around a long time for the series to reach the third week of January in 1977 to Sky Plus the show that was originally broadcast the day I was born. David Soul of Starsky & Hutch fame was pick of the pops that week with a song that was, well, no Bohemian Rhapsody nor a No Woman, No Cry if you know what I mean. I might’ve settled for a Waterloo, in comparison. As a sideline, halfway through I was freaked out to see Gary Glitter perform possibly the worst song I’ve ever heard. Clearly my birth week wasn’t a vintage one – but tuning into the show in the weeks after I realised it was similar mush to be persevered through to get to the climax of a Don’t Cry For Me Argentina or a Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. Folk that herald the 70’s as the best decade of post-rock’n’roll are children of the mother of all music bias, it would seem. Ultimately perhaps, it pads the suggestion that we only remember the gold.
The 90’s might not be looked upon as some kind of classic era in time, but for those who were teenagers during those years we’re likely to look back fondly on the decade that gave us Fu-Gee-Las, Naf Naf Jackets, Reebok Pumps and Flip Fantasias. With our rosy-tinted specs pressed against our noses, that’s just as it should be.