THE 1990s IN REVIEW: ROCK AND POP - Samplers' paradise

Nothing was safe or sacred. Anything could be covered or parodied. By Nicholas Barber

The second-last number one single of the 1980s was "Let's Party" by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. In case you are lucky enough not to remember it, "Let's Party" was the third in a series of novelty singles which pasted snippets from old Bill Haley and Glenn Miller recordings over perky rhythm tracks. The last number one single of the 1980s was "Do They Know It's Christmas", as revived by a gaggle of unmusical teeny- boppers who called themselves Band Aid II. Who would have predicted how large these two singles would loom over the following 10 years?

The 1990s were the decade in which the sampler became the most important instrument in pop. The methods pioneered by Afrika Bambaataa, among others, were standard practice: you made records out of earlier records. Portishead and Tricky created their best tunes by looping the same Isaac Hayes riff. The Verve and Robbie Williams built anthems on other people's string parts. The biggest hip-hop singles owed their sales to the melodies they lifted from the Police (Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You"), Stevie Wonder (Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise") and, again and again, the Bee Gees (Pras's "Ghetto Superstar").

It has been the karaoke decade. Pop ate itself, and sampling legitimised bands who were openly, deeply indebted to their heroes. At best, there was Britpop, an explosion of smart young guitar bands who countered American grunge with exaggerated Englishness; the "battle" between Blur and Oasis was front-page news, although the stylistic division between the groups amounted to which track on the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake they preferred. At worst, the karaoke decade meant a deluge of cover versions performed by all the boy bands and girl bands and boy-and-girl bands who followed in the dance steps of Take That and the Spice Girls. Some wannabes went the whole hog and called themselves "tribute bands", only to achieve a bizarre kind of stardom of their own.

No wonder that a defunct band reformed every week in the 1990s. In some cases the reunions were welcome; more often the musicians were cashing in on nostalgia - going into business, in essence, as tribute bands to their younger selves. Some of the groups who buried the hatchet were Culture Club, Madness, Blondie, the Eagles, the Monkees, Kiss (the face-paint line-up), Fleetwood Mac (the Rumours line-up) and Led Zeppelin (almost). The ultimate reunions were the two which no one quite believed would ever happen: the Beatles and the Sex Pistols.

Alongside the sampler, the piece of technology that shaped pop this decade was the compact disc. In tandem with the proliferation of radio stations and TV channels devoted to yesterday's hits, the new format allowed old records to be rediscovered, re-issued and re-evaluated. Performers from Nick Drake to Noel Coward found fresh audiences. (The other effect of the CD was to add 15 minutes to the length of the LP. If I had to review every album of the 1990s in two words, those words would be "too long".)

The ever-accelerating hunt for something original to recycle - if that makes sense - has brought us to a place where anything goes. Easy listening, Seventies disco ... just pour on the elixir of postmodern irony and any pop corpse will twitch back to life. Not that I'm complaining. The trend has given us a decade of rich and varied music; any genre can be enjoyed if there is something enjoyable in it. Ten years ago, liking "world music" was sneered at as worthy and pretentious. Today, dancefloors everywhere resound to Cuban beats.

The rise of the compilation album can be seen as part of the same mix'n'match phenomenon. Instead of buying a whole LP by a band, the public now prefers to buy LPs comprising tracks by 20 or 30 different bands: no artist this decade has as many fans as Various Artists. And soon we'll all be compiling our own albums by downloading our favourite songs from the internet.

That isn't very different from what people who make records do already. Look back at the decade that looked back and you will see that if you wanted to be a pop star, you no longer cooped yourself up in your bedroom, practising your guitar - you cooped yourself up in a record store, digging out obscure funk LPs to sample. Fatboy Slim is a prime example of that. And more than one review of his last album compared Norman Cook to Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers.



A remixer/band collaboration.

1991 MASSIVE ATTACK: BLUE LINES Each track provided lesser groups with careers' worth of ideas.


Rock is reborn.


American pop of peerless intelligence and dignity.


Britpop's unbeatable template.


A blast - and the record that made it OK to copy the Beatles.


Sold 25 million copies. Almost as many copycats followed.


Hope for the future of the five-piece white male guitar band.


Arguably, the album that exemplifies the decade.


Marries rap, soul and reggae - and makes it look easy.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London