It was a columnist in music industry magazine Music Week who first flagged up the issue. Writing in July 1995 they noted that August 14th was set to be the industry’s own “manic Monday” with circumstances ensuring that a greater than usual array of big music names had all lined up releases for that day. As well as singles from hot female stars like Bjork and Michelle Gayle (no, really) there were more or less nailed on dance smashes from Clock and The Real McCoy, but perhaps most significantly of all both Madonna and Michael Jackson had new singles listed for the date. The fact that British rock stars Oasis and Blur were also down for an August 14th release seemed small beer in comparison.
In the weeks that followed some juggling of dates took place. Both Madonna and Jackson saw their singles pushed back a week, only for the Madonna single Human Nature to return to its original date when it was noted that there was still going to be an unwanted Michael Jackson-related collision. That still however left two big names in the frame. Blur with their eagerly anticipated new single Country House, the first single from their forthcoming Great Escape album and Oasis with a new song called Roll With It, the follow-up to Some Might Say which had given them their first ever Number One single back in May and the second single from their still untitled second album.
The potential clash of dates came as something of a shock to EMI, the newly minted owners of Blur’s label Food. Their history had one of being studiously avoiding such potential battles, with even releases by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arranged to mutual convenience to ensure the two apparent rival acts never truly went head to head. But their hand was forced. The Great Escape was due for release in mid-September and conventional marketing practice was for the lead single to be given several weeks to bed in before challenging its sales with competition from the parent album. In any event, the promotional plans for the single were set in stone and could not be moved without some difficulty. It was all down to Creation Records boss Alan McGee who had no such qualms and had spotted the potential for mischief. With the Oasis v Blur rivalry having been stoked by his charges in interviews since the start of the year it seemed the most logical thing in the world to have the two acts duel it out in the charts as well. The release of the Oasis single was moved to directly spoil Blur’s party and there it would stay.
The resultant “Battle Of Britpop” was immediately seized upon by the popular (and indeed quality) press, glad of something to fill column inches with during the summer. By the time August 14th arrived anticipation had been stoked up into a frenzy. This was a battle for a generation, a head to head fight to see who were the true icons of cool. The fact that it made the singles charts the most relevant they had been outside a Christmas period for some considerable time seemed almost a sideline by comparison.
As the 20th anniversary of the occasion approaches there will inevitably be a string of retrospective pieces published across the net and in the printed press and it seemed foolish not to leap about that particular bandwagon too. But what I want to do is put it all in its proper context, that of the rest of the singles chart that week and the records which the two bands were competing against themselves. Over the next few days then I’ll publish a full countdown of the Top 40 singles that week and their place in popular culture. Once we get to the top and THAT battle (the result of which everyone is now familiar with) I’ll put that in its own context and hopefully reveal some trivia that you won’t necessarily read anywhere else.
Stand by then for a quite fascinating ride and an iconic moment in British musical history. One which not only prompted (as you might expect) news reports on children’s television.