Our editors have chosen another year to look back at what they were listening to and this time it’s the turn of Fran Slater and Nick Parker to head back to 1999.
So, Nick, I figured we should start with some context.
This was actually a hugely nostalgic experience for me putting this particular playlist together. I was 15 in 1999 and looking back I think it might have been one of the times in my life when I was most obsessed with music. But it was different to the obsession I have today. 15 was probably my most sociable age ever, and so many of these songs are tied up in memories of friends and parties and early gig experiences. Some of them may not hold up too well, but I loved how much joy they bought to me. This list also reminded me that this was a majorly transitional year for me in terms of my music tastes, so that was interesting…
So what about you? What were you up to in 1999? How big a role was music playing in your life? How cool did you think you were? And how bad was your hair?
I picked 1999 for two reasons really. Initially I just thought you might be best able to talk about your musical interests at the end of the decade, at 15, rather than at the start (when you were apparently a measly 5). When I really got into it though, I realised it was also a big year for me: I decided to ask Jill to marry me, and to leave England for America. I was living in Bristol with her, her short visa running out, and working a dead-end job in a bank(!). The music of this year was a huge support then, as I felt the mix of uncertainty about the future, and also at the same time a desperate need to escape the rut I felt I was in (I wrote about this a bit in our very first Why Music Matters, btw).
But it goes without saying that my hairstyle was amazing throughout.
Looking at my list first then, I notice that the conversation you and James had about the lack of women on your lists from 2003 applies to mine here too. I count just one female member in all these ten bands in total. It’s pretty embarrassing to be honest, and I think it implies some issue of mine, rather than the music industry’s (as you debated in your article). All I can say in my defense is that over the following couple of years I would grow up and conclude that PJ Harvey, Karen O, and Beth Gibbons (among many others) would define my musical taste going forward. Seems like I had a lot of growing up to do (even though I was 23).
Now that I’ve exposed my embarrassment, I’ll say it was great to revisit this stuff, for the most part (I’ll let you take a guess about which band has aged worst for me in the years since).
As for yours, I only know about half of them at all! I’ll start with my low point so far: Stereophonics – surely now you’d agree that they were a pretty tedious band fronted by a melodramatic pop star trying too hard to sound like a rock and roll hero?
Look. I’m not gonna sit here and say the Stereophonics were game changers or anything like that, but they do get a bit of a rough ride I feel – Kelly’s voice is actually superb. Would be amazing to hear him in a less overblown band. But they’re a hugely sentimental band to me – before I became obsessed with The National, Stereophonics were the band I’d seen live the most often. Just Looking doesn’t really stand up all that well these days. It’s pretty throwaway. But they do have songs that have aged better…
I’m surprised to hear there was half my list you hadn’t heard. What was new to you? And which of the new ones do you hate and like the most?
Your list was a pretty pleasant surprise to me actually. There were a few songs that made my own shortlist. And I’d been expecting you to pick 10 different versions of bands with Lou Barlow in, if I’m honest.
Go on. See if you guess which three of yours made my own shortlist.
I’ll guess Supergrass, Placebo and Blur… am I right? (That last one was a joke of course). On the Blur track though, I’ll say that I was actually never much of a fan of the band, but this song offered two things that I still cared about a great deal in 1999: (1) it had an amusing video (remember those?), and (2) it allowed me to surreptitiously make as clear as possible to people that I fucking hated Oasis.
On your list, I knew Reef a little in general, but not this song, and from my vague recollection this is pretty out of keeping with their usual stuff, no? I like this track actually, and it’s a nice gentle turn in what mostly sounds like a pretty party-orientated playlist.
After that delicacy, your playlist then takes a hard fucking turn. You warned me not to listen to your list in the car, with my 12 year old, on our holiday road trip last week. You were not wrong! Fuck me man, I think that Dre song might be the most harsh, obcene track track I’ve ever head (then again, that’s not saying much, is it).
Several of your tracks were pretty popular in the charts, from what I remember (RHCP, TLC, Macy Gray). What was your main route to finding new music? Mine was mostly being obscure for no real reason – I loved a lot of American Lo-Fi bands when I was living in Manchester, then switched to Manchester bands as soon as I went to live over there (yes, I know that’s a pretty idiotic move on my part).
Oh, it was definitely the Blur. I know I slag off Damon Albarn a lot now, but Blur were massive for me back then – both ‘Coffee and TV’ and ‘Tender’ were on my shortlist. Although, I have to say, they’ve aged like milk. Not good at all anymore.
Placebo was also on there, so you got two out of three. The other was the Idlewild. I fucking love that song, but when I thought about it it was probably something I came to a bit later than 1999 so it didn’t make the cut. I’m slightly surprised to see them on your list, though. Were you a big fan?
Love that Reef song. Honestly, though, it’s not that much of an outlier for them. Their singles were usually rockers, but the albums had much more light and shade than people give them credit for.
Interesting to hear that your way of finding new music isn’t that different today from what it was in 1999. I was definitely still in the process of finding a lot of my stuff through the charts, hence the Macy, RHCP, and TLC tracks you mentioned. Any thoughts on these?
And I think it was the fact that I know you like to look for the obscure that made your chart friendly list so surprising to me. What would you say is the most obscure song on your list? And how did you find it?
Funny – I really had to fight the impulse to add a load of far more obscure stuff to my playlist, which I was genuinely keen on, but wasn’t a big deal for me that year if I’m honest. I must just still desperately want to look cool, even all these years later.
I’m fairly sure the Quasi would be the least recognized by most people from my list. It was really a massive one for me, from what must have been my favourite album that year. As I discussed when I did a “Why I love” in a past Podcast, this band and this album taught me a lot about both singing technique and lyrical process. Even now, when I know I’m going to be recording some singing myself in the near future, I listen and sing along to this album a lot to prepare.
As far as the more chart friendly stuff you mention from your list, it’s a mixed bag for me. I was never into RHCP, even then, mostly because of the insufferable “boppy” (yes, that’s a technical term) bass playing and style of Flea. I mean the guy’s involvement almost ruined a project with Thom Yorke for fuck’s sake!
Macy Gray I did quite like though – I thought her raspy voice and slightly off-time delivery was really refreshing. TLC pretty much passed me by…
Looking at your whole list initially, my biggest concern was the inclusion of Limp Bizkit. I can’t really overstate my contempt for that band, except to say I thought that even by the standards of Nu Metal (which I fucking HATED) they were the absolute worst. That said, I’m so relieved that Method Man takes the bulk of this track, so in the end it’s a bullet dodged. Excited to read recently that the band are making a comeback – that should give me some good fodder for the podcast!
Not sure if you planned the order of your playlist much (I didn’t really, with mine), but it works really well to end with Moby. Of course I heard lots about him in this period, and I think on the basis of this track I should have paid him some more attention, and this song holds up well over 20 years later.
I feel you have been (very oddly) fairly nice about my list so far, which is making me uncomfortable. A gift then: What was your least favorite song on my list, and why?
Well that Beck song is fucking intolerable – really, I can’t get through a full listen of it and I’ve tried 4 or 5 times. I’ve always been lukewarm on Beck and thought he was pretty hit and miss, but ‘Debra’ is so bad that I don’t think I can listen to him again. What on earth made you choose that? (Is this more like the response you expected from me?)
Also, that Super Furry Animals song is a major miss for me. It’s just someone saying Night Vision over and over again for about an hour.
And, while you’ve named the Quasi song as a standout, it’s not doing a lot for me.
And as you’re asking for it, I would say the playlist as a whole is another addition to the pile of evidence that you’re not as big a ‘fan of experimental music’ as you like to think.
But no, in all honesty, I enjoyed the list a lot. The one really pleasant surprise for me was the Pavement track, as they don’t really grab me usually but that was great.
As for Moby – I would say that track, and the album it came from, probably hold up best from my 15 year old tastes (if we ignore the fact that he’s a total knobhead). Play was a stunning album, and I saw him at Glastonbury that year. What a set.
Also, when discussing Limp Bizkit please remember I was 15. They’re awful. But actually, ‘N 2gether Now’ is probably the one salvageable song from their back catalogue…
So. Looking at your list, then, what would you say is the song that most represents your tastes today? And what have you moved furthest away from?
Fran full of rage and dubious opinions – we’re back in business!
The Beck song still makes me smile, and to be honest I prefer this direction in his work (i.e. the off-kilter, wry parodic style), over the straight acoustic stuff. I still remember putting this on during a house party before the millennium turned, and getting some very odd looks, so I guess I’m in the minority.
This SFA track is all about the tone, not the lyrics – your lyrical fixation at the expense what the rest of us call music is debilitating!
Ok, rant over.
I will admit though, that your question about how my current taste is represented in this list is an interesting one, and I have to go with the SFA, for the tone of it, and the awareness of the full frequency range in the build of that track. For me it still sounds the freshest of any of these songs, 20+ years later.
On the other hand, the Badly Drawn Boy seems really tired to me now – every time it comes past as I listen to the playlist, I have to stop myself from skipping.
From your list then, which track had the most enduring influence on what you listened to after that point?
Well if its makes you feel any better, I think the tone and music of ‘Night Vision’ is irritating as hell, too. So at least I’m consistent. It also sounds like the most dated song on your list to me – couldn’t be more nineties.
In terms of what had the most enduring influence, it would have to be the Eminem. I first heard him in 1999 and before then I’d never purposefully listened to any hip-hop. So he ushered me into the genre. And even twenty odd years later, it is still the genre I get the most excited about.
Just one last question from me, then. Is there any 1999 music you’ve discovered since that you love?
Tbh, I don’t really think so. It was a frenetic year of activity personally for me, and in those stressful times I often find I fall back on familiar sounds, rather than new stuff, so I don’t think it was a high point of listening to loads of new music for me. These ten (and the albums they came from) were on heavy rotation, along with loads of older stuff (like the ubiquitous Sebadoh of course) filling in the gaps.
What about you?
Yeah, the same to be honest. There were other things that could have made my list (Gomez, for one) – but looking back at 99 I think I’ve pretty much covered where I was at.
I wasn’t as much of an album purist back then as I am now, so some of these songs existed in a bubble for me. But in terms of albums that are full of memory and we’re major influences for me, 1999 was a bit of a special. The Eminem, Dre, Macy Gray, Reef, and Stereophonics albums all fill me with nostalgia for happy times with friends and family, as do the Idlewild, Placebo, and Blur from your list. So yeah, looking back at 99 has been more than worthwhile. Nice one.
Agreed – it was a really good process to go through. Cheers.
Words by Nick Parker and Fran Slater.