The Top 10 Tracks By The Charlatans – Ranked
The Charlatans are among the most influential yet somewhat underrated British rock bands of the past three decades, so choosing a top 10 tracks is challenging. Since forming in 1988, they have released 13 studio albums, all of which charted in the UK Top 40, with three of them reaching number one.
The band also have had 22 Top 40 singles and four Top 10 entries in the UK Singles Chart, including the classic hits “The Only One I Know” and “One to Another”.
With such a long and successful career, it’s surprising they’re not held in a much higher regard. One reason for this could be that they were making their name during the Madchester scene, which was dominated by groups such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.
The band’s sound, a driving rhythm section and sprawling Hammond organ fitted perfectly with this exciting, new indie-dance scene that was taking over Manchester and spreading it’s influence across the country.
The Charlatans Top 10 Tracks
10. Sproston Green
Sproston Green is the third single and the final track on the group’s debut album, ‘Some Friendly’. It was released in February 1991 and is essentially taken from a jam session centred around the Hammond organ, to which so many early Charlatans tracks are.
The track stood out during the band’s live shows and quickly became a fan favourite. The song’s lyrics are, somewhat unromantically, about two people in a ‘late-night liaison’ in a park. You may have noticed that the cover artwork for the single picture above has ‘UK’ after the band’s name. This cover, pictured above, was used for the track’s US release, where the band had to add the UK after their name due to a 1960s American folk rock and psychedelic rock band with the same name.
Judas is the second track from their seventh album, ‘Wonderland’, and sounds as much of the album does of the group’s foray into a more American soul sound. Hearing Tim Burgess burst into a falsetto came as a bit of a shock at the time to fans, but it soon sounded like a singer experimenting with vocal styles. At the time of release, Burgess was quoted as saying he was inspired by legendary singers such as Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder and how he felt like bursting out into song and not giving a crap as to what anyone thought of it.
The lyrics are allegedly about the bands accountant – so it sounds like that relationship didn’t end well…
The second track on our list from the group’s debut album, ‘Then’, is another track that has all the hallmarks of early recordings by The Charlatans – a driving rhythm section and those swirling psychedelic organs. The song is the second single and was released on the 10th of September 1990, reaching number 12 on the UK charts and number 4 on the US Alternative Airplay Chart.
The lyrics discuss how many of Burgess’ friends were beginning to settle down while he was still trying to find some meaning in his life.
7. You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty
You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty’ originally appeared on the 2001 album ‘Wonderland’ but it wasn’t released as a single until their greatest hits album in 2006. The track was due to be the third single from the ‘Wonderland’ album. The release was soon cancelled after the song appeared in a UK beer commercial.
Not only are the lyrics full of confidence, but the sound is of a band that is enjoying themselves and doesn’t give a crap if you’re not, “I don’t have a care, this is my world.” As the opening track for the album, it displays a swagger that drags the listener along – “An effortless melding of Stones and Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and computers.” – Q Magazine.
6. One To Another
Released in 1997, One To Another is the first single from their fifth album, Tellin’ Stories, and their first single following the death of the band’s legendary keyboardist, Rob Collins. The single remains their highest-charting song in the UK, reaching number three on the UK Singles Chart.
With an aggressive Led-Zeppelin guitar riff and a piano that sounds like it’s being beaten to death, One To Another is a stomping four-and-a-half minutes of perfect 90s Britpop with a hard edge.
5. North Country Boy
While writing the group’s fifth album Tellin’ Stories, singer and lyricist Burgess spent hours listening to Bob Dylan and Wu-Tang Clan, analysing their use of vocal rhythms. The outcome of those hours can be heard most apparent on North Country Boy. Having read that last sentence, you will never be able to listen to the track again without hearing the folk and hip-hop legend’s influences in Burgess’ vocal style on this track.
The second track released as a single from one of the bands most successful albums, North Country Boy, reached number four on the UK charts.
From the funky Hammond organ opening, it’s clear that Weirdo ranks high on the scale of Charlatans tracks and is a bit special. Released in 1992 as the first track from their second album, ‘Between 10th and 11th’ reached number 19 on the UK charts and proved to be the group’s most successful release in the US, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The song was originally going to start with guitar, bass and drums until the band’s producer, Flood, who had just finished working on U2’s Achtung Baby, added the outro Hammond section to the beginning.
While the album the track is taken from didn’t fare well (mainly attributed to Tim Burgess’ struggles with writer’s block during this period), Weirdo has stood the test of time.
3. Plastic Machinery
Released as a single in 2017, Plastic Machinery is the newest track on this list and was taken from the album ‘Different Days. The song features Johnny Marr from The Smiths and Anton Newcombe from Brian Johnstone Massacre on guitars and is simply an infectious and exhilarating track with a buzzing guitar riff.
The track is quite possibly the strongest single released by the band in 20 years with Tim Burgess’s snarly singing style in full effect with strong lyrics that salutes originality in a totalitarian society.
As well as the strongest single for almost two decades, the album the track is taken from, Different Days, was the bands strongest in years. It reached number 4 on the UK Album charts, the highest position since 2001’s Wonderland, with many critics and fans calling it the best in 20 years.
2. Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over
Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over was the third single from the bands fourth album, ‘The Charlatans’ and reached number 12 in the UK Singles Charts. The guitar and piano that runs through the song both evoke The Rolling Stones, and the slightly distorted guitar solo midway gives the song a hard edge.
It sounds full of confidence and ambition, of a band starting to feel like they belong. The track was an instant fan favourite and remains so at live gigs to this day.
1. The Only One I Know
The Only One I know was the breakthrough song for The Charlatans, reaching number 9 in the UK singles chart in the summer of 1990. The band and the song were undoubtedly helped by the burgeoning indie-dance ‘Baggy‘ scene that had taken Manchester by storm, but the track would have been a hit at any point from the late 1960s onwards.
All of the hallmarks of a great Charlatans track are in this song – a constant swirl of Hammond Organ and the ever-forceful bass and drums driving the track. The song was initially intended to be an instrumental but all that changed when the urge for nicotine forced Burgess out;
“one night after tea with mum and dad, I went to the local garage to get some fags and halfway there realised I had the melody and some words. I didn’t have my Dictaphone, which I always carried around with me, so had to pelt back to my mum and dad’s to get it before I forgot it all. I never got the cigarettes.”
Not only did the track almost stay as an instrumental, it nearly didn’t get released as a single, but a friend of Burgess who had tagged along to a recording session for a track titled ‘Polar Bear’ told them they were recording the wrong song.
“We went into the Windings studio in Wrexham to record the song Polar Bear as our second single, but my mate Jonah – David Jones – said: “You’re recording the wrong one!” He’d come to all our gigs and pointed out that everyone went nuts for The Only One I Know. Then when we got to the studio there was a fax from Beggars Banquet, who’d just signed us, also saying: “We think you should record The Only One I Know.”
Despite a 30-year career and thirteen albums, ‘The Only One I Know’ is still the track most people will think of when the Charlatans are mentioned. A testament to a song that will be found and loved by generations to come.
While many bands have come and gone and then come again for a hefty payday, The Charlatans have stayed the course despite deaths and breakdowns and deserve a special place in the pantheon of British music.
Check out the Spotify playlist with these tracks and 10 more honourable mentions.
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