This Is England 90 – and the music that kick-started a generation

We’ve been waxing lyrical about Channel 4’s latest incarnation of Shane Meadows’ brilliantly on point This Is England ever since the new series premiered on our screens a couple of weeks ago.

This Is England ’90 follows in the footsteps of Meadows’ original 2006 film and its preceding televised series – This Is England ’86 and ’88 – by presenting completely on-point social comment, while also being blackly funny at heart.

It also continues the tradition of amazingly well researched period detail that will have your nostalgia buds firing for the days of yore; from questionable dress sense (that seems to have come round full circle again recently), to the even more questionable hairstyles, and even the nicotine-stained net curtains that recall weekly trips to that auntie who always smoked too much.

But one area in which the show has always excelled has been the always incredible soundtracks, and This Is England ’90 is no different.

It’s even more exciting now the series has moved into the a time span this writer actually lived (albeit as a newborn baby), with regular glimpses of songs from actual living memory.

With the recent announcement of a special CD release of some of the best tracks to have graced the soundtrack (due for release October 2), we take a look at some of the songs that kick-started a generation of young hopefuls. Be sure to check out our in depth two-hour playlist at the bottom of this piece. It’s a treat!

The La’s – There She Goes

In one of the most brilliant moves in licensed theme music/archival footage juxtapositions of all time, each week’s episode of This Is England ’90 begins with the chiming chords of Liverpudlian indie-rockers The La’s’ ‘There She Goes’, interspersed with striking footage of the infamous Poll Tax riots.

It’s all done very deliberately to cast audience’s minds back to a time when divisive conservative leader Margaret Thatcher – who had been undercutting the working classes for over a decade leading to mass civil unrest – was coming to the end of her prime ministerial duties, signalling an optimism in Britain that things really were on the up for the average man on the street.

Of course, by this point there was still a lot to do to erase recent memories of miner’s strikes and the grey tones of 80s Britain, but music began to reflect a shifting attitude, full of hope and ambition, but still carrying a healthy weight of pessimism.

The Stone Roses – Fools Gold

Back in 1990, a new branch of the always burgeoning Manchester music scene was beginning to finally find its feet in the wider consciousness.

“Madchester” as it affectionately came to be known, was the blending of traditionally guitar based indie-rock with dance music elements from the booming rave culture. Throw in a few psychedelic ‘influences’ and you get that classic Madchester sound, best exemplified by North West bands like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets.

Nowhere is that unmistakably ‘baggy’ sound more exemplified than in the opening bars of ‘Fools Gold’; that percussion heavy breakbeat that seems to lollop around, taking in bongos and reverb heavy snares as it goes.

Madchester of course takes a prominent place in the lives of This Is England ’90’s characters, representing a youth movement determined to take a sub-culture as their own. Of course they were going to go for the first veritable British scene of the decade.

It became a kind of go-to musical escapism at a time when a departure from bleak social politics was needed. It’s no coincidence Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ starts with the infamous “we’re gonna have a party” sample.

Beats International – Dub Be Good To Me

Of course, with the ever present influence of acid house and rave culture making its way into popular music, it was inevitable that straight up dance records too would capture the imagination of Britain’s youngsters, bringing in influences from punk and indie-rock with them.

Such was the case with Beats International, formed by Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook in the late 80s, and perhaps most famous for their hit ‘Dub Be Good To Me’.

The song is based on the bassline from the Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’, a song that depicts feelings of 1980s discontent towards the heavy-handedness of the police that led eventually led to the Brixton riots of 1981.

A sure-fire hit at indie-discos up and down the country at the turn of the decade, but one with links to a politically charged song that nobody would forget in a hurry.

The Lemonheads – Different Drum

Of course, we’re dealing with This Is ENGLAND here, and it’s easy to forget our musical cousins from across the pond.

But American music has always been an unavoidable influence throughout the history of UK popular culture, and bands like the Lemonheads and the Pixies go a long way to highlight the differences between Britain and our US allies.

Where British music dealt with drab goings on by ramping up the party with Madchester to imbue a strong (if temporary) sense of optimism, American music was coming down the escalator the other way, questioning the good times with a foreboding sense that it could all go very wrong, very quickly.

The two met in the middle, and formed grunge and other alt rock mainstays. But before then we had lighter classics from Evan Dando’s outfit.

Ride – Dreams Burn Down

The early 90s music scene was where things started to get really interesting in the grand scheme of things.

By that, we mean it was the beginning of the mass of varying sub-cultures, which we believe culminated in today’s musical landscape where just about anything and everything is available to everybody all at once.

Of course, the inescapable influence of the internet had a hand in all that, but prior to the 90s, you either liked what your parents did, or you liked whatever it was that people your own age did, and took in whatever was included in that bracket at the time.

The 90s began to see more choices develop for music fans. We’ve covered the acid house influence of Madchester, and the jangle-pop hangovers of bands like The La’s and James.

But where Madchester was taking pills and forgetting its troubles at the Hacienda, shoegaze bands presented a shimmering, depressant alternative.

Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Lush et al, were just some of the bands hiding wry smiles behind impenetrable guitar wails.


So, there you have it. Just five of the songs that helped to define an active music scene in 1990.

We’ve not even touched on the aggro hip-hop of Public Enemy, or the bonafide pop smash of Madonna, but fear not! Our two hour playlist should have you covered for the very best music 1990 had to offer.


The This Is England ’90 OST is due for release on October 2. You can pre-order it here