Ahead of Ride’s performance in Liverpool later this week, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman counts down the top 10 shoegaze tracks from the genre’s 90s heyday.
24 years too late and I’m finally in fashion. Back in 1991, I was a teenager growing up in the Thames Valley. For the previous 12 months I’d looked northwards with envious eyes as the music world revolved around Manchester but suddenly the axis of cool began to shift towards, of all places, Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
A new wave of bands were emerging from Reading, Slough and Oxford and suddenly I was perfectly located to plunge headlong into a scene that was to change my life and which now, almost a quarter of a century on is garnering new plaudits and celebrating itself once again as the likes of Ride and Lush reform.
With a whole new generation of bands and artists now discovering the unique wonders of a genre once so derided and with Ride set to perform their shoegaze classic Nowhere in Liverpool this week, here’s a purely subjective top 10 tracks from shoegazing’s heyday.
10. Curve – Horror Head
Led by the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Toni Halliday, Curve looked to have the world in the grasp of their black gloved hands in the early 90s. Great tunes and sound that combined a perfect storm of shoegazing tropes from effects-heavy guitar to dreamy female vocals, Horror Head was the finest moment on their 1992 debut album doppelganger.
9. Revolver – Wave
This London-based trio burst onto the scene in 1991 and quickly became poster boys for the shoegazing scene with three wonderful EPs all of which reached number one in the indie charts. By the time their debut album, the woefully underrated Cold Water Flat, came out they had lost all their early momentum and sank like a stone. This six minute epic was the album’s elegiac last track.
8. Lush – Sweetness and Light
Before they morphed into the far less interesting Britpop-influenced band many people remember them as, Lush were almost the epitome of shoegazing with Miki Bereny’s ethereal vocals melding with a wall of guitar effects on a succession of stunning tracks. Recently reformed, they will sadly be without drummer Chris Acland who committed suicide in 1996.
7. The Telescopes – Flying
Part of shoegazing’s early wave alongside the likes of Loop, Staffordshire’s Telescopes were a far heavier proposition before moving towards a dreamier more fragile sound on 1992’s second eponymous album from which this almost hit single is taken. One of the first of the original shoegazers to reform, they continue to tour the world.
6. Slowdive – When The Sun Hits
Hailing from Reading, Slowdive were so intrinsically linked with shoegazing that they became the target of the many brickbats fired at the scene. Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers said he hated the band “more than Hitler” while critics turned against Slowdive’s perceived middle class upbringings. Time has been kind to them however, and albums like Just For A Day and Souvlaki are now regarded as classics. And rightly so.
5. Blur – She’s So High
In no way could Blur be described as a shoegazing band but this, their debut single, is undoubtedly a classic of the genre. Damon’s dreamy, spaced out vocals, Alex James’s lolloping bass and Graham Coxon’s wonderful backwards guitar solo come together to produce one of the era’s defining singles.
4. My Bloody Valentine – Soon
My Bloody Valentine’s legendary Loveless virtually defined shoegazing’s sound three years after the band had first sowed the seeds of the scene with 1988’s Isn’t Anything. Soon was the closest Kevin Shields came to recording anything approaching a hit single and yet it still sounds like unlike anything released before or since.
3. Adorable – Sunshine Smile
Coventry’s Adorable were always at the punkier end of the shoegazing scene but in Sunshine Smile they came up with one of the movement’s best choruses. The song’s hypnotic riff spins it way around a typical indie tale of unrequited love and frustrated angst getting faster and faster as frontman Pete Fijalkowski moans his way to a climax. They should have been huge.
2. Chapterhouse – Pearl
The Smells Like Teen Spirit of shoegazing, Pearl still sounds as magnificently epic as it did back in 1991. Like close friends, Slowdive (frontwoman Rachel Goswell provides backing vocals) they hailed from Reading but there was always something far more direct and melodic about the songwriting on their brilliant debut album Whirlpool. Pearl should have been a huge hit but it got to number 67. Bloody typical.
1. Ride – Vapour Trail
The band who took shoegazing into the top ten, it’s impossible to overstate the impact Ride had on a whole generation of befringed teenagers. Capable of writing beautiful, touching songs, the Oxford four piece hit their emotional peak on 1990s classic Nowhere album from which this touching, swirling mass of loveliness is taken. Songwriter Andy Bell described it as “a magical song”. He’s spot on.