The idea came up more than a decade ago for "The Brit Box: UK Indie, Shoegaze and Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium," according to John Hagelston, Rhino Records' associate director of media relations.
"It was right after Brit-pop peaked," Hagelston said by phone from his Los Angeles office. "(The bands) Blur, The Verve, Pulp and Oasis had sold the most albums of their careers, and I thought it would be a good idea for Rhino to come up with a two-CD compilation of these types of groups.
"But the idea was shot down. In fact, it was shot down a couple of times. The reasoning was that since the movement had just peaked, those who like the music would already have all the albums. In short, no one thought it would be a hot seller."
Well, fast-forward to 2004. "The idea came up again from someone else ... and I got pulled into it because I have a lot of knowledge of the music."
Hagelston told the compilation team that in order for the box to be done right, it needed to include bands that are considered the founders or the Brit-pop sound of the 1990s. "Back in the '80s there were all these independent-rock bands that are the roots of the music. So we wanted to make sure we included some of those bands in the set."
After meetings and discussions, the producers decided to make a four-CD set, featuring 78 songs that give a good, comprehensive history of Brit-pop. "What I looked for were those songs that were catchy and sounded British. There are a number of bands featured in this box set that have relatively long careers Oasis, Blur and Pulp to name a few. But there were also a lot of bands that had that special sound that only had one or two 'hits.' Those songs that had that '60s-pop feel, or close to it. So we made sure that we had some of those songs represented as well."
So in the company of such bands as My Bloody Valentine and Manic Street Preachers, the box includes The Catherine Wheel, Teenage Fanclub and The Mighty Lemon Drops.
Dave Newton, guitarist for the Mighty Lemon Drops, said he was honored that his former band's song "My Biggest Thrill" was included in the set. "Funny thing was the fact that the song was basically an extra track when we recorded it in 1986," Newton said by phone from Los Angeles. "We didn't think too much of it but it encapsuled what we were trying to do at that time. There were no overdubs and no fancy studio work. It was just us."
Newton said it's great that 20 years later the song is getting new life. "Never in a million years would I have thought the song would be that important. We were just some restless kids wanting to make music of some sort. Never did we think we'd be part of a 'music movement.' But we found ourselves in it without really trying."
The reason the music stands out, according to Hagelston, is because there is a good chunk of the population who grew up with that style. "The music stands up on its own. Some people who listened to it felt the longing of getting out of the teens. And now those same people are longing to get back to their teens. There is a special exuberance to the music."
Trying to get the licensing rights to 78 songs for the box set proved to be the biggest problem, but some of the songs were already part of the Warner Music family, the Rhino Records' parent company. But that didn't help when it came to attaining the rights of some of the other songs. "A lot of these tracks were done by independent artists and not on major labels to begin with," said Hagelston. "So we had to track down the songwriter or publisher and that proved to be a bit hard.
"But with five of us working on the project, it kept going and ended up well. Although there are a a few songs that didn't make the set because we didn't get signed off on them."What surprised Hagelston the most was finding songs that he didn't know. "I am a huge fan of the music, but there were songs that I either have never heard of, or had heard once and then forgotten about. Swerve Driver's 'Duel' comes to mind."