Europe Is Our Playground – 90’s Alt Travel Mixtape

One thing that has defined my travels has been music. Whether the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel when I was younger and travelling with my parents or more recently, Boards of Canada whilst spending a chilly winter evening surrounded by the Alps, Music helps to create a mood. It reminds us of the past and helps us get out of our heads and it can set the tone for an entire holiday (think road trip). The right music can be our very own soundtrack to whatever we happen to be doing and it is an indispensable part of travel.

Far too often though, travel playlists are much too focused on travel. That is, playlist after playlist appears with tracks such as The Clash’s London Calling or Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. I’m not arguing their validity, I’m just hoping to remind travellers that just because you’re going to Japan it really doesn’t mean you need to listen to Turning Japanese on repeat. That’s not to say that there aren’t any “travel songs” in this playlistm ‘cos there are, just less of the usual and more of the unusual. In fact, my all time favourite song that conjures thoughts of travel and reminds me of travelling to Germany to be with my then girlfriend (now wife) makes an appearance at the end of the playlist: the inspiration for this website’s name, Suede’s incredibly beautiful – “Europe Is Our Playground”.  

An Alternative 90’s Travel Mixtape |The Music

This travel playlist hopes to provide a glimpse of, and a musical journey through 90’s alternative music: rock, a bit of pop, grunge, trip hop and electronica. I’ve added a brief bit of info on each track below and have created a Spotify playlist which is linked below. Turn it on while you sit on a train, in your home, walking down the street, in the hotel or on a flight – sit back and imagine slotting a cassette tape into your walkman and hit play like the sun is shining and it’s 1995.

Click here to open the playlist in Spotify.

This mixtape is a collection for anyone who loved the alternative sounds of Silverchair and Soundgarden as much as the chilled beats of Portishead and Orbital, the hooks of The Dandy Warhols and the gorgeous Britrock melodies of Mansun.

The Dandy Warhols – Every Day Should Be A Holiday

This track sums up the 90’s for me. It’s upbeat and carefree, and it made an appearance in There’s Something About Mary. Courtney Taylor-Taylor was never more right: everyday should be a holiday.

EMF – Unbelievable

Unbelievable mixes hip-hop samples, rock guitars, typically southern-England vocals with lots of accent, plenty of bass and a bevy of samples of Andrew Dice Clay – the Dice Man in Pretty in Pink! Listen out for the casual “what the fuck” in the backing lyrics, which was played on air without any censorship, even when the song reached number one in the UK and was played relentlessly by everyone.

Leftfield- Open Up (Full Vocal Mix)

This is easily one of my all time favourite dance tracks. It features the wonderful John Lydon of Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited who delivers a superb punk vocal over a deep and dark piece of electronica. Interestingly, shortly after the track rose to fame, sometime in the middle of 1993 and became a regular on dance floors everywhere – there were a number of tragic forest fires throughout Southern California, and the “Burn Hollywood, Burn’ lyric was seen as inappropriate – leading to the song’s virtual banning on radio in America. I don’t care where you are in the world this is still as relevant today as it was in 1993. The female backing vocal/ sample adds a kind of Goa trance element to the otherwise acid style electronica.

King Missile – Detachable Penis

This one is perhaps one of the most obscure tracks on this playlist but it’s great. I was first introduced to it through an episode of Beavis & Butthead shortly after its release.  This is on my current generic travel playlist which I listen to when I go anywhere. The music is pretty generic – though I like the organ and the vocals that show the group’s beginnings from open mic poetry nights in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

No Doubt – Spiderwebs

No Doubt are just essential to any 90’s rock playlist in my opinion, whether your taste is rock, pop, ska or R’n’B. This is the opening track from their breakthrough album – Tragic Kingdom, and a great piece of 90’s pop-rock.

Primitives – Crash (’95 Mix)

A classic road trip song. Featured on countless travel playlists, millions of compilation CD’s and billions of movie soundtracks. It’s indie-pop at its most mindlessly cheerful.

My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes

My Bloody Valentine were responsible for some of the most tragically beautiful music of the 80’s and 90’s. This track is trademark to their sound, layer upon layer of reverb feeds the guitars into a dreamy vocal line that explores love and longing – perfect for a lazy summers day spent in an overexposed photograph of a lonely beach.

Alice in Chains – I Stay Away

Alice in Chains were, and remain, my favourite of the early grunge groups. Their sound started off very much in the rock & roll metal/ glam side of music and they slowly drifted to a softer post-punk sound that mixed country-esque melodies with deep thoughtful and often beautiful vocal lines. Their sound is less abrasive than Nirvana but was often just as heavy. This particular track though goes beyond that. It begins with acoustic guitars and a deep bass line that mingle with a string section all to the opening line of “Yeah, I want to travel south this year” and later, the repetition of “I stay away”.

Silverchair – Pure Massacre

It’s difficult to pick a Silverchair song – when I was a teenager Silverchair supplied some of the most cheery (and yet not) grunge-inspired rock songs, which I listened to on every bus and train ride. This isn’t the cheeriest of the bunch but the opening acoustics overlaid with that trademark Australian purr set the tone for what is one of the best hard rock tracks of the late 90’s.

Whale – Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe

Another slightly obscure track, but to those that were in the know Whale were as addictive as any drug and as relentlessly followed as any religion. Their rocky trip-hop sound defied any real genre and they took fans from metal, rock, pop and indie and even toured with the likes of trip-hop legend Tricky, as well as cult acts such as Placebo and Blur, but it was the funk bass and distorted guitars that set them apart…. That and their somewhat hypnotic lead vocalist, Cia Soro who wailed like a true diva… with braces. The video for Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe won the first MTV Europe Music Award for Best Video in 1994.

Gun – Word Up

What can I say? I like cheesy rock covers..and they don’t get (much) cheesier than this one. Gun hail from Scotland and managed, back in the dewy days of 1994, to secure a number 8 in the UK singles chart with this track adding some typically Scottish swagger, a guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a GnR track and serious amounts of attitude to one of the 80’s (and Cameo’s) most loved funk songs.

Mansun – Wide Open Space

The first time I listened to this song my only thoughts were “wow”, “just beautiful”. This is a song of memories and I have sat in the middle of nowhere and listened to this and thought all those same things whilst glaring at an impossible ocean and the vast expanses of the sky.

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun

The video for this song is a journey of itself (take a look) – but the song is haunting and stunning in places. The chorus is a lesson in melody and the guitars seem to simply wash in and out, while the vocals, expertly delivered by Chris Cornell weep through every part of the song, speaking of a chaotic future and creating a surreal, sad landscape (utterly different from the uplifting feel of the musical segments). Cornell once said about the line, “Times are gone for honest men”, that “(it’s) really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom…” which I think is apt. Personally I prefer the incredibly beautiful line “heaven send hell away no one sings like you anymore”.

Faith No More – Stripsearch

Faith No More were never exactly known for being ambient or even downbeat but this track achieves a beautiful level of ambience that reminds me of trip hop and electronica, rather than Faith No more’s trademark rock. The bassline steadies the entire songm while the vocals flutter in and out of various melodies stopping briefly to make way for Hudson’s stark and beautiful guitar solo, which seems to stand both in and outside of the song, weaving through it like thread through a needle. The video was filmed in Berlin and shows vocalist Mike Patton walking through parts of the city to a military checkpoint, when he hands over his passport for inspection the guards are set on Patton who is then held at gunpoint and arrested. It always reminded me of going through passport control – so watch this next time you have a bad time at a passport control point.

Orbital – Halcyon And On And On

I’m as guilty of loving this track as anyone who was bombarded by its presence on the airwaves in the 90’s or anyone else who ever attended a beach party – anywhere in the world – ever. It’s gorgeous. It conjures memories of deep blue skies fading into impossibly long horizons and the warmth of a sunset on a deserted beach. It is quite possibly the ultimate beach song.

Sneaker Pimps – Six Underground

The Sneaker Pimps were late comers to the whole trip hop scene, and they brought with them a poppier aesthetic sequened with layers of sequenced electronica and the girlish vocals of Keli Ali. True she only stayed around for one album – making way for the enigmatic Chris Corner (who was a founding member of Sneaker Pimps and later went on to form the excellent IAMX) after that, but that one album was simply wonderful. Six Underground is my favourite, and the biggest track, from that album. The slow and elegant hip-hop beats layer a rhythm beneath deep offerings of reverb and ambience, while Ali’s vocals, laid back and yet powerful carry the song to perfection.

The Smashing Pumpkins – Ave Adore

I was torn as to what to put on this list, between 1979 and Ave Adore, I chose Ave Adore as I remember when it was released – spring of 1998 – it was a beautiful spring and I remember buying the single and riding the bus to school with my earphones jammed in to my ears having a great time lost in the strange theatre that this track provides. Particularly notable is the deviation from the typical Pumpkins sound that this album brought – many weren’t a fan of this softer, darker side but I for one loved it.

Life of Agony – Weeds

Another mid-90’s track that was so important for the generation. We used to skate and bmx to a soundtrack of mixtapes and this track was a constant on those tapes – no matter who made it. Life of Agony bridged the gap between hard rock and the mellower alternative acts of the day. There’s an important message buried in this track – particualry visible in this line:

“I’ve wasted so much precious time Been skating along these fine lines Now these weeds have grown where the sun once shown And my life has passed me by..”

Ozzy Osbourne – Walk On Water (Demo)

I’m simply not a fan of Ozzy, never liked Black Sabbath and never got the reality TV show, but this track hits a spot. There is a mystical somewhat fantasy-like feel throughout – and it adds a great ambience to any road trip. The biblical references in the lyrics are better realised than he generally tends to achieve and the vocals fit the more laid back musical style – especially the synth/ heavily effected guitar that comes with the “I don’t walk on water” line.

Live – I Alone

Live’s buddhist message was lost in this track – the words “I alone love You”  being taken for a simple love song – instead of conveying the message that religion and truth must be found for oneself – not through the words of others. It’s a powerful and uplifting track regardless of the message.

Foo Fighters – Everlong

Who didn’t love the Foo Fighters of the nineties? The comedic feel of much of their later work was very much there only holding the hand of an alternative 90’s rock band that still knew how to throw in the occasional bit of metal – with poppy, sing-a-long melodies. Foo Fighters were one of a few bands that were responsible for putting rock music back in the charts (in England at least) and this track, and wonderful video, was their best. I’ve spent many a drunken night singing along to this track from Sheffield to Bangkok.

Bush – Swallowed

The slow paced grungey feel of this song complete with bass dropouts, croaky vocals and heavy dirty guitars made it a huge success in Britain – peaking as it did at number 7 in the charts. It lived on to be not only Bush’s most successful songs but also easily one of their best. It ends quite simply on “I gotta get away from here”.

Deftones – My Own Summer (shove it)

I still to this day treasure my 7 inch gold vinyl of this track. One of the best metal bands of all time and one of their most mind blowingly beautiful songs. It’s a summer song with a bit of a difference – trademark guitars and whispy vocals – heavy choruses and light bass-led verses – this is what 90’s nu-metal was all about. It’s not too complicated, it’s heavy and it’s melodic. It’s said that My Own Summer was written in Seattle during the hot summer of 1994, feeling trapped Chino Moreno boarded up his windows with aluminium foil and wished that the people on the streets would disappear and the sun would go away. He called this dreamworld “his own summer”.

Portishead – Wandering Star

Portishead were one of many Bristol based bands to make trip hop a world-wide thing. Their trademark rolling beats sit under layers of samples and delicate synth work and of course the often haunting and beautiful vocal work of Beth Gibbons – a sound synonymous with Bristol in fact – a sound that is both uplifting and dark – or as some have called it – a joyful melancholy. Interesting fact – Portishead is in fact a seaside town a short 8 miles away from Bristol where several members of the band grew up.

Suede – Europe Is Our Playground

As I mentioned earlier – this is my all time favourite travel song – of any genre and the inspiration for this website. I bought the single for Suede’s Trash back in 1996 and this was the unexpected, though utterly incredible b-side. I fell in love with it then and it still sends a flutter through along my spine every time I hear it. It became that bit more poignant years later in 2009 when I started dating my wife Maria who lived in Berlin at the time, so I would spend plenty of time in Europe whilst flitting between there, northern England and London. I adore the light bass line, the light ambient aesthetic and the subtle electronics in this song, but of course it’s Brett Anderson’s vocals that finish the track perfectly.

I wouldn’t normally do this, but I love the lyrics, so I’ve added them below for your pleasure:

Run with me baby, let your hair down through every station, through every town run with me baby, let’s take a chance from Heathrow to Hounslow, from the Eastern Block to France

Europe is our playground, London is our town so run with me baby now

Run with me baby, let your hair down through every station, through every town run with me baby, let’s make a stand from peepshow to disco, from Spain to Camber Sands

Europe is our playground, London is our town so run with me baby now…

Suede – Europe Is Our Playground