The 12 Best Britpop B-Sides

From Suede to The Bluetones via all your other faves, here's the best unsung tracks from an era that shaped British culture...
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From Suede to The Bluetones via all your other faves, here's the best unsung tracks from an era that shaped British culture...
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Back when there was no choice but to trundle down to a shop to buy a single, b-sides were the exciting unknown. Less a necessity in these downloading days, the quality of a band's flipsides is nonetheless a veritable gauge of how committed they are to their fans. Lazy remixes and live performances mean they don't love you. Britpop left some great ones behind. Here are some of its best and, in the spirit of fairness to bands that aren't Oasis, only one song per band has been allowed.

Suede — My Dark Star (a-side Stay Together)

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If you believe the media, Suede pretty much started Britpop. Superior to its a-side, not least because of the lyric "with a tattooed tit", My Dark Star broods over guns, India and Jesus. Watch the MTV acoustic performance for some excellent Bernard Butler strumming and not-so-excellent Brett Anderson gyrations.

Pulp — Underwear (a-side Common People)

A minor cheat as it's on the Different Class album, but it came out as a b-side first. Debuted in Belgium with incomplete lyrics: such is Jarvis Cocker's desire to see you in your underwear that it feels somewhat tempting to oblige him and strip there and then, regardless of environs.

Supergrass — Sex! (a-side Lenny)

One of the more consistent bands to come out of Britpop, singer Gaz Coombes moonlighted as official Exemplary Sideburn Ambassador during the nineties. An ambling country and western ditty composed of reassuring sex advice for anyone out there struggling with the ins out and outs of it.

Oasis — Alive (a-side Shakermaker)

Full of solipsistic hubris, Oasis were Britpop's totem, and the ultimate b-side band. Alive never made it past the demo stage because Noel was writing so many songs that it was forgotten about. Still, the coarse result is an overlooked, vulnerable sounding moment and confirms the hearsay that, once upon time, Liam could sing.

Blur — Red Necks (a-side End Of The Century)

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Always more inventive than Oasis, Blur's Red Necks is a bizarre cut of Britpop and yet, in a way, antithesis to the whole scene. Yes, that really is Graham Coxon's Southern American impression against a plodding keyboard. Allegedly recorded under the influence. Who said drugs can't be fun?

Radiohead — Banana Co. (a-side Pop Is Dead and Street Spirit)

More standing alone, sulking at the edge of the Britpop ball, Radiohead were another band that could be just as good with their b-sides. Originally an acoustic song on Pop Is Dead, it was fleshed it out in its haunting fullness for Street Spirit and almost made it on to The Bends album.

The Verve — I See The Door (a-side On Your Own)

A band that were never quite Britpop but never not. The dark and languid sibling of its a-side, I See The Door is one of those songs that you paradoxically enjoy being depressed by, so comforting it feels inside its womby warmth.

Ocean Colour Scene — Huckleberry Grove (a-side You've Got It Bad)

Ocean Colour Scene were completely of the times, but the good times. Huckleberry Grove could easily have been written by Britpop forebears The Kinks. The wistful trumpet solo and delicate melody make you want to don your bucket hat once more and drink Hooch in a field full of friends.

Mansun — An Open Letter To A Trainspotter (a-side Stripper Vicar)

A dastardly underrated Britpop band. This song is about as close as you can get to enjoying something resembling an 1970s easy listening song, with Bacharach-esque ivories tinkling on in the background, without feeling guilty. True fans will know that it was also a secret track at the end of Attack of the Grey Lantern.

Strangelove — Ghost Haddock (a-side Sway)

Screw Liam. Stranglove's eccentric Patrick Duff was the best Britpop frontman, even if the band never quite reached the mainstream. Ten minutes' worth of Duff's Chaucerian ramblings, it recounts that popular macabre tale of the couple who met at a car boot sale. Dead fish, bodies, necrophelia. You know the one.

Manic Street Preachers — Sepia (a-side Kevin Carter)

An AWOL member the year before didn't stop them coming back in 1996 with one of the most memorable Britpop albums [A Design For Life]. A b-side from that period, carried by galloping beats, Sepia was inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's denouement and the lyrics are purportedly in memoriam to Richey Edwards.

The Bluetones — Nifkin's Bridge (a-side Marblehead Johnson)

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Mostly,and unfairly remembered nowaways for the single Slight Return. The Bluetones had much more to offer. Nifkin's Bridge is a soft and tender number. So it may come as a surprise to find out that the title is slang for the perineum. Which is also soft and tender. Clever.