Blur's landmark third album, "Parklife," turns 20 this week. Credited with ushering in a new era of British music known as Britpop that paid homage to iconic pop bands such as the Kinks while intelligently satirizing British culture, "Parklife" cemented Blur's status as post-grunge heroes, spawned four hit singles (including the bouncy "Girls & Boys," for which they're best known in the U.S.), and went triple-platinum in Blur's native U.K. It also stoked the flames of the band's legendary rivalry with Oasis.
Twenty years later, lead singer Damon Albarn has gone on to front Gorillaz and the Good the Bad & the Queen, wrote an opera, and is about to release a solo album; while bassist Alex James became a gourmet cheese maker (seriously!), guitarist Graham Coxon released several solo albums, and drummer Dave Rowntree ran for political office. Blur is still sporadically active, headlining the Coachella Festival in 2013 and touring Japan earlier this year, but it's 1994's "Parklife" that put them on the map. To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, here are 10 fascinating facts about "Parklife":
1. "Parklife" was almost called something much racier.
The Blur boys almost named the album "Soft Porn." "Sport" was in the running too, but they settled on "Parklife" after much deliberation.
2. The cover art was almost much tamer.
It's hard to imagine something other than the muzzled, viscous-looking racing greyhounds on the cover of "Parklife," but it nearly featured something much tamer – a picture of a fruit and vegetable stall in London's Portobello Road. Buckingham Palace was also a contender, but the dogs won out in the end. “We centered in on the greyhounds because they had an aggressiveness we liked," Coxon explained in an interview. "We chose the ones with the most teeth. They look deranged, just longing to kill, and there’s a bizarre look in their faces."
3. "Girls & Boys" was Blur's highest charting U.S. single…ever.
For better or for worse, "Girls & Boys" – the album's lead single – remains Blur's highest charting song in the U.S. to date (it hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts). Ironically, this poppy, cloying track is not representative of Blur on the whole; their diverse catalogue is much broader and more complex, as U.K. audiences will attest.
4. Damon Albarn bragged that "Parklife" would redefine British music.
Before the record even came out, Albarn boasted, "When our third album comes out, our position as the quintessential English band of the '90s will be assured." It came close to doing so in the U.K., but across the pond…not so much. Rivals Oasis fared much better.
5. "Parklife" is sarcastic.
With lyrics like, "I put my trousers on, have a cup of tea, and I think about leaving the house," many people thought "Parklife" was a celebration of British life and culture. Truth be told, it was much more tongue-in-cheek than most people thought. "A lot of people thought it was a celebration of Englishness, but it was actually very sarcastic," Coxon told the Guardian. "The 'Parklife' single wasn't about the working class, it was about the park class: dustbin men, pigeons, joggers – things we saw every day on the way to the studio. It epitomizes what Blur were about – having fun and doing exactly what you want to do."
6. Blur got bored of the title track.
Blur had gotten tired of the album's anthemic title track, until they asked British actor Phil Daniels to read the now-famous spoken word lines in the song. "We decided Phil should have a go at 'Parklife,'" said producer Stephen Street. "The band and I were already pretty sick of that song, but he invigorated it and we were interested again – although personally, it's still not one of my favorites."
7. Heaven help you if you messed with Blur's cheese plate.
Apparently hanging out with groupies and, umm, eating cheese, were two of Blur's favorite pastimes during the "Parklife" tour. "There were a lot of groupies," recalled Louise Wener of Sleeper, who supported Blur on the tour. She also said that an elaborate cheese plate was always on Blur's rider. "One night, we sneaked into Blur's dressing room and destroyed their cheese plate. The band were furious…it seemed you could get away with almost any level of drunken and boorish behavior on tour, but heaven help you if you messed with their cheese plate."
8. The "To The End" demo featured vocals from Albarn's famous ex.
An early demo version of "To The End" – a song about overcoming rough patches in a relationship – originally featured vocals from Elastica's Justine Frischmann, who also happened to be Albarn's girlfriend at the time. Apparently they didn't make it through the rough spots (Albarn and Frischmann eventually broke up) and the album version ended up featuring Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab instead.
9. "Parklife" was "blast-off time!"
Although Blur's previous album, "Modern Life Is Rubbish," wasn't hugely successful, the band knew they were onto something with "Parklife." "I was around Alex's house when the 12-inch of "Girls and Boys" [Parklife's first single] had just arrived," recalled Mike Smith, the A&R man who signed Blur to their first publishing deal. "He put the speakers up at the windows and turned it up to the maximum volume so that everyone in Covent Garden could hear it. We were all dancing round his flat going: 'This is it. This is blast-off time!'"
10. The cover of "Parklife" is memorialized on a postage stamp.
When England's Royal Mail chose 10 classic British album covers to feature on postage stamps in 2010, "Parklife" was one of them, thereby immortalizing the racing greyhounds in postal history.