Retro Review: Top Gear Anthems / Cool Driving Music

A quick history lesson. Back in the Day, BBC2 was pretty much the only place to see cool cars. The show Top Gear had been around in some form or other since the 1970s, when it started on local telly and it actually reviewed everyday cars and motoring stuff in a fairly serious manner, and later it went national with people like Angela Rippon or Noel Edmonds who would try to say something interesting about a mini metro to fill five minutes of content. Noel Freakin’ Edmonds, for crying out loud! But in the 1990s something happened that would change all that.

Those early shows must appear cultural artifacts now, to anyone who sees them (Youtube away). These were the days when the corporate side of things hadn’t entirely merged with the media, before it was easier to buy positive opinion than to actually produce a decent product. The BBC being taxpayer funded and not dominated by rabid left wing climate change fanatics at that point must have thought that having a car show was a pretty cool idea, and producers actually had the nuts to defend their baby a little bit, which meant presenters felt free to say that a car was a big pile of donkey doo if that’s what they thought. The British car industry being what it was this used to happen pretty often, and so the show did pretty well because people appreciate honesty, or they used to, or something. God knows you don’t get that much from TV now, but we won’t even go there…

Anyway, everything changed when a certain Mr Clarkson realised that no one was actually watching this show for serious reviews and that featuring really fast exciting cars that no viewer actually had a cat in hell’s chance of owning was a good way to get more people watching. It was fun. It was aspirational. The show then received a reboot in the early 2000s at which point they hired two blokes called Hammond and May and made it as silly as possible, they put Stars in Reasonably Prices Cars and made them race each other. The show broke America, Clarkson punched a producer, it got cancelled and then came back on Amazon with a shedload of money spent on it.

In short, it was rock ‘n’ roll.

Amber Freakin’ Heard even appeared on it. Tom Cruise appeared on it. Tom Freakin’ Cruise!

The cool image was re-inforced by sometimes using cool rock music in the show, and it was cemented by releasing compilation albums of FM radio friendly tracks that might or might not have featured on telly – of which there were at least 9 released that I know of from a quick search. And I have two of them here. Not saying they’re the best, or anything. They’re just the two that I “road tested”.

OK, what i mean is I happened to pick them up in a charity shop. But it is instructive: The first one is from 1998, around the time I first remember watching the show, and the second is from 2007, so they cover around a decade of ground around what might be, looking back now, the very peak of petrol culture around the fin de siecle transition.

What were we doing at that time? What were we thinking​?

It’s worth noting that while these CDS were obviously made chiefly for listening to in the car, I probably listened to them at home on my Mum & Dad’s CD player because I was a sad kid. You probably had to copy them to a tape to listen to in the car if you had a basic model up until about 2010, when car companies finally started putting CDs in things as a standard option, once CDs had already been obsolute hardware for about five years.

Late Capitalism, kids.

_

SO what you are wanting to know is, are these CDs any good?

The first represents a mainly 90s radio rock set across two CDs, while the second is one half landfill indie of the worst millenial kind (that entire scene was crap I don’t care what you say) but the second CD is a different beast featuring mostly late 70s / early 80s crusing tunes that is actually by some way the best disc of the four here. It also proves that Robert Plant could still be great post-Led Zeppelin, “Big Log” featured here is an absolute highlight and badly deserves re-discovery despite having a shit name.

Seriously, go and watch the video right now. Do it. Have a laugh at Rob’s naff 80s shirt. Then come back here. I’m not done with the review yet :/

Of the nineties stuff represented here the first CD of Anthems is the more upbeat side while the second has a somewhat darker, grungier feel (it’s still mostly normie radio-friendly stuff like you’d get on Radio 1 at that time, don’t get me wrong). For some reason there are also two Iggy Pop tracks, which are about as many as you need, and a few others 70s tracks for punk and glam cred (no 80s here!). At the time I used to enjoy the pop stuff like Sheryl Crow (still do), but now I find that the heavier moments such as Levis Ad one-hit-wonders Stiltskin or the old-school punk of Cockney Rejects are the real stand-outs. The rest is forgettable, you’ve heard it a million times before if you lived through it and owned a radio or a television in the age before we did all that with our phones. Lenny Kravitz does a semi-passable Jimmy Hendrix impersonation. Skunk Anansie is a shouty woman. Radiohead are still depressed. Edwyn Collins “Girl Like You” has aged as well as you could have hoped for, but Embrace’s “All You Good Good People” has aged better than it ever had any right to do. Suede, Supergrass and Placebo always sucked. The Dandy Warhols suck. I’m not sure if they always did, or they just worked really hard at it.

I’m going to ignore the cheesy side of disc one on Cool Driving Music, because it isn’t cool or particularly driving at all. Corporate-approved Indie Rock music really derailed after about 2010, and the last compilation of Top Gear tunes, pumped out as a triple-threat 3CD set in 2013, really shows that things hadn’t moved on from that uninspired mess at all, featuring a mixture of the same samey artists popular back then along with survivors from the 90s scene – I know some of these early millenial bands are coming back now, but seriously does anyone remember this stuff fondly for other than nostalgia reasons?? By the way, that last CD of 2013, Driving Anthems (similar name, they might have called it The Last Cash-In)? It also features Iggy Pop, Embrace, and The Dandy Warhols, all of whom must have excellent agents – as we shall see.


Nirvana was an influence, here.

As I said, the second disc of “Cool Driving Music” is by some way the best here. As even this is fifteen years old (God I feel old now) I suppose it’s all retro now. I mean the old ones are the best, that’s true, but the older the better apparently. From Patti Smith’s “Because The Night” (the one Springsteen tune that I can actually tolerate, because he didn’t sing it) released in ’78, to Phil Collins, to Purple Rain in ’84, it proves that this was a very fertile period for rock music and doesn’t get enough rep. The exceptions to the general theme are Skynard’s “Free Bird”, being from ’73, and Thin Lizzy from ’76, and… alright, there’s loads of early 70s stuff as well on the second half of the disc.

I love the seventies.

This looks like it was free off the back of a cereal pack. Do Better

Deep Purple’s “Burn” would be a standout on any other album but it slightly suffers a bit from appearing later on, and I wish they’d done it more by chronological order. The Dandy Warhols also appear here again, for some f***ing reason. They’re the only band on both discs apart from Roxy Music and – damn! Embrace appear again, on the first CD. Radiohead also appear again but it doesn’t count, because it’s the same f***ing song as they put on the album from nine years earlier. Which means that if you bought both you got ripped off , and you ought to write to the BBC and ask for your licence fee back.

In fact, stop paying your licence fee anyway if you didn’t already. Switch off. Go out and drive around in a car and burn some fossil fuels before the boomers try to make us all atone for all the damage they did to the world in their lifetimes by making petrol 2.99 per litre.

Listen to some rock music at anti-social volume while you do it. It will probably really wind up Angela Rippon.

6.5 fluffy dice (out of 10)

-F

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