Since the first edition of “The Bloody Classics” almost 2 years ago that covered Cliff Richard’s 1959 debut album Cliff, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing over 60 years worth of British alternative music. The road from Cliff to Porridge Radio was a bit bumpy in places and had some pretty interesting twists and turns on the way. Now we have reached 2020, It seems appropriate to take a look back at some of the best tracks I’ve enjoyed from 7 decades of music, so here’s my ultimate track list:
Cliff Richard and the Drifters - Move It (Cliff, 1959)
It may not fit in perfectly with the later tracks but, since I’m a firm believer in respecting your origins, Cliff has to start us off. This feels like cozy, classic, fun American 1950s rock and roll. It’s a great reminder of how far alternative music has come though and you’ll hear elements in this that will run through the rest of the track list right up to the present day. Cliff was a genuine trailblazer.
The Who - The Ox (My Generation, 1965)
Regular readers of The Classics will know that a good drummer is my one weakness. How could I resist including this Keith Moon masterclass in the art of drumming? It remains unsurpassable.
The Kinks - Little Miss Queen of Darkness (Face to Face, 1966)
One of the first British band’s to focus on the world around them in their lyrics (a theme that was subsequently to become very popular on the alt and punk scene), this is certainly not one of their cheerier numbers. It’s still a great track though. It sounds very much of it’s time while still feeling resonant. Also, I just think The Kinks get overlooked in favour of other 1960s bands and I want people to listen to them more.
T-Rex - Monolith (Electric Warrior, 1971)
Glam rockers T-Rex were hugely influential on both sides of the Atlantic and that influence also spread widely across musical genres. Monolith feels like the quintessential T-Rex song for me. It’s grandiose, both lyrically and in the melody but you can’t help but enjoy it. It’s the sound of a band at the very top of their game and although they didn’t stay there for very long, it was awesome while it lasted.
Mott The Hoople - All The Young Dudes (All The Young Dudes, 1972)
This is one of my favourite songs so I’m shamelessly including it. It also means you get two David Bowie tracks on this list, so that has to be a win. It feels appropriate though since so many other important British bands of this era are referenced in the song. It’s a perfectly pitched mix of glam and more standard rock and of course it’s also the song that saved this band from breaking up. Interestingly in the article I wrote on this in 2018, I wistfully said I’d have liked to have seen them live. In the summer of 2019, I achieved that goal and they sounded just as good as I had hoped, even all those years later.
The Damned - See Her Tonite (Damned Damned Damned, 1977)
There’s probably some sort of rule that any well rounded playlist needs a love song but you know by now that I’m never going to be able to bring myself to include anything soppy. The Damned released the first British punk single and this is their version of a love song, It’s a long way from a ballad and, though it isn’t that shouty, it’s properly punky enough and therefore an acceptable example on the theme. It’s the only one you’re getting.
The Sex Pistols - Problems (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, 1977)
I could have picked any song from this album since they are all great, but for me Problems stands out. It’s tight and well crafted with guitars and drums that are just as strong as one another. It shows that punk has always been more than just anger and noise (although it still provides plenty of both). It’s a clear evolution from the earlier tracks on the list and feels a world away from Cliff - though both he and The Sex Pistols were accused of corrupting British youth. You wonder if the people who were so scared of Cliff could ever have predicted that he would pave the way for The Sex Pistols less than 20 years later.
The Rolling Stones - Lies (Some Girls, 1978)
Contrarian that I am, I had to pick the least known song from an album of well known tracks. It epitomises the Stones’ brief dalliance with punk for me. It’s slightly wild but they can’t truly let themselves go. It’s a fun track to turn up loud though and you should. If only to get it the exposure it deserves (If you remember my original article on this, rest assured that the “Play Lies live” campaign lives on).
Buzzcocks - Autonomy (Another Music in a Different Kitchen, 1978)
It probably seems weird to describe a punk song as beautiful but I think this one is. It has a haunting quality that I love and definitely seems like a precursor to a lot of 1990s American bands like The Offspring (who have covered this song). It shows how quickly the genre was evolving too and it really stands the test of time.
The Jam - The Eton Rifles (Setting Sons, 1979)
Probably one of the most well known Jam songs but it’s just everything that is great about The Jam in one song (side note: Setting Sons is my favourite Jam album and I love The Jam). It has clever lyrics, the melody is brilliant, it rips along and you can’t help but move to it.
The Clash - The Guns of Brixton (London Calling, 1979)
Another shameless inclusion of a song simply because I love it, but this song is a perfect example of The Clash’s brilliance. A number of musical styles combining to create a great beat and tell a story that would have resonated with many people at the time and continues to resonate today. It’s just a brilliant rock song from a brilliant rock album.
David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes (Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), 1980)
Malevolent, beautiful and quintessentially Bowie. Just an incredible piece of music.
The Pogues - Thousands Are Sailing (If I Should Fall From Grace With God, 1988)
A great example of the evolution of bands that came from the punk scene. This is a brilliantly constructed song that explains the roots of the band and the Irish emigrant experience. The lyrics perfectly capture the risk along with the hope of immigrants across the world.
Elastica - Waking Up (Elastica, 1995)
The riff that starts this song is the epitome of 1990s Britpop for me. A classic example of this genre from a band that deserve much more recognition in my opinon.
Suede - Starcrazy (Coming Up, 1996)
Forget Blur v. Oasis. Suede were the best Britpop band. Coming Up is such a near perfect album to me that it’s hard to pick one stand out track. Purely because this is not one of the better known ones, I’ve picked Starcrazy
The Libertines - Time for Heroes (Up The Bracket, 2002)
A classic Libertines track, great melody, brilliant drums and guitar and of course it’s a song about rioting, what more could you want? Proof that the punk scene was still alive and well and bleeding out into other genres.
Hard-Fi - Unnecessary Trouble (Stars of CCTV, 2005)
Now for something a bit poppier. Still a brilliant indie track, but with more of a commercial flavour than the rest of the list. It’s catchy and cool but still a bit angry.
Biffy Clyro - Bubbles (Only Revolutions, 2009)
Another poppier track from a band known more for their less jaunty numbers. It’s a great mix of epic noise, fast guitars and simple lyrics. Biffy remain a consistently brilliant band, but Only Revolutions is still my favourite of their albums.
Bullet for My Valentine - Dignity (Fever, 2010)
I couldn't keep away from hard rock for long. This is one of the highlights of a strong album. It does have a bit of a nu-metal vibe but it still sounds great and just as fresh ten years on from its release. In fairness, it is also one of the band’s more accessible tracks.
Florence and the Machine - Seven Devils (Ceremonials, 2011)
A relentless beat, a beautiful melody and of course an incredible vocal. Something completely different front the rest of the list but no less worthy of inclusion.
IDLES - Never Fight a Man With a Perm (Joy as an Act of Resistance, 2018)
While I realise this risks being a bit jarring, I couldn’t resist closing with the most exciting punk band on the scene at the moment. This is a classic track in the punk tradition with a strong beat and a tight rhythm section while still including some of IDLES’ trademark positivity and humor. For me it’s the perfect way to end our journey through British musical history.
So, there it is, the 21 songs that were my highlights of writing these articles. Of course it’s just my opinion and you could easily listen to all of those albums and pick out a completely different playlist to represent the standout tracks. Perhaps you think I’ve focused too much on the 1970s or I’ve leaned too much towards punk at the expense of other types of alternative music. For me though, that has been the great joy of listening to all this music. Nobody will ever agree on what the best tracks are, and nor should they have to. I haven’t loved everything I’ve heard but there has been something there for everyone and it’s been amazing to hear the diverse variety of great music that has been created in Britain over the last 60 years. It’s been an absolute pleasure to listen to it and share it with you. Long may the tradition of great British music continue.