This Was... Cult Fiction: Part 2 'This Is Easy'

Imagine, if you will - or indeed if you can bear to - an alternate universe where everything's backwards and Nathan Petrelli has slightly different hair and Trackspotting proved so popular that the compilers got to do a second volume. There'd be more Tarantino barrel-scraping, probably with that one by Tha Dogg Pound from Natural Born Killers wedged awkwardly between all the tune-averting rock'n'roll stuff. There'd be the entire eighteen million minute version of A Final Hit by Leftfield. And there'd be The Passenger by Iggy Pop, doubtless crowbarred in on the back of a spuriously generic claim that it had been used in 'an advert' (or even - shudder - as 'the theme from Channel 4's Passengers').

Thankfully, though, we don't need the time-bending shenanigans of one Peter Petrelli to correct the dimensional alignment on this occasion, and in reality it was, sensibly, the compilers of This Is Cult Fiction who got to do the compilation lap of honour. The first volume had of course diverted from its Tarantino-centric brief in all manner of interesting if vaguely related directions, but even so it would have been reasonable to assume that any follow-up would have basically just included more of the same. Well, how wrong we all were. And that's 'we' as in 'anyone who actually bothered guessing at the potential contents of a purely hypothetical follow-up that probably nobody had even had the slightest thought about'.

While This Is Cult Fiction was busy doing the rounds of the card-mounted counter-top record store display racks, a very strange offshoot of the Britpop phenomenon had been rapidly gathering mainstream-bound momentum. A world away from the 'Noelrock'-toting 'lad'-espousing flag-rehabilitating dullards that the scene would later come to be tarnished by association with, the original adherents of what probably wasn't really known as 'Britpop' at that point had - more through a lack of sufficient suitable sounds than anything else - invested a good deal of time and energy into mining the past for new pop favourites; not just the expected likes of The Who, Northern Soul and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity but also further-afield esoterica culled from European pop exotica, Swinging Sixties film soundtracks and the groovier excursions of Light Entertainment superstars. Known as 'Loungecore' to its devotees, and 'a sort of Easy Listening revival thing' to the world at large, whatever it was, it had picked up its pace and started to find its way into the charts and onto the TV, with The Mike Flowers Pops' much-better-than-the-original cover of Wonderwall only narrowly missing out on the Christmas Number One slot late in 1995.

Of course, people would eventually miss the point with all this just as they did with Britpop, ignoring the fact that it was originally about the music first and foremost and indulging in all manner of ghastly 'irony' with crooners and safari suits, and the age of Funtastian Retrololz was upon us. Before that happened, though, a couple of pre-ironists managed to get in there with some pretty dazzling pre-irony compilations of music that had previously been obscurer than obscure; Martin Green's definitive library music trawl The Sound Gallery and its more cerebral spinoff The Sound Spectrum (which you can hear more about here); London-based DJ team The Karminsky Experience and their globe-spanning mock-soundtrack In-Flight Entertainment (and its sequel that took the 'flight' into space); The Easy Project which looked more towards the groovy Marine Offences Act-contravening sound of Pirate Radio; and, less impressively, the sound of a point starting to be missed on K-Tel's Nice'n'Easy. And then, with impeccable timing, came the one that would show them all how it's done - This Is Easy.

The first thing that you notice from a look back at This Is Easy is that, contrary to popular belief, it didn't quite perform a total musical volte-face on the first volume in the series and the more Speeding On The Needlebliss-inclined percentage of its potential audience need not have felt any more alienated than they routinely pretended to in an attempt to show that they 'got' their favoured films. With a whole extra disc to play around with, there's plenty of room for movie and TV themes that are, for the most part, at the very least distant relatives of the ones that ended up on This Is Cult Fiction. Indeed, Midnight Cowboy puts in a return appearance here, albeit in a carefully chosen schmaltz-tastic orchestral reworking of the title theme by John Barry himself, and there's a cunning redeployment of Misirlou as almost unrecognisably reimagined by birdsong-bonkers 'exotica' bandleader Martin Denny, while the not-that-'easy' electric harpsichord jangles of more recent (and, at least compared to a lot of films that ended up on the first album, more deserving) sneaker-in-through-the-back-door-of-cult Get Carter turn up for the first but by no means last time in the series (though more about that - you guessed it - later), albeit most likely more than a little 'influenced' by its recent appearance on The Sound Spectrum, and if we're bending the rules to accomodate 'gritty' Westerns (as opposed to all those ones set in antiseptically clean municipal boroughs) there's the chant-tastic chart-troubling cover of the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly by Hugo Montenegro, and for a touch of King Cone-scoffing authenticity the original Pearl & Dean jingle is thrown in for good measure. Even the Burt Bacharach number chosen to open the set, Bond Street, originates from the soundtrack of the original - and some would say only scientifically recognised - Casino Royale.

In fact there's a lot of Bacharach & David to be found on This Is Easy - hardly surprising really, given that Noel Gallagher was at that point continually dropping the former's name as an 'inspiration' in the hope that it would deflect attention away from the fact that he was actually just purloining old Milltown Brothers songs and replacing the lyrics with something even more clumsy (and that's no mean feat) - but that's not actually as much of a good thing as you might reasonably assume. For while Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head shows up as the definitive BJ Thomas original, complete with the weird jerky Stereolab-inspiring stop-start outro, and Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Matt Monro are on hand to handle Walk On By, I Say A Little Prayer and (They Long To Be) Close To You respectively (as, regrettably, is Jack Jones for Wives And Lovers), and light music maestro Ron Goodwin at least has a charming melting-trumpet whirl through Do You Know The Way To San Jose? and What The World Needs Now Is Love, several other key compositions are drawn from an album where Bacharach himself elected to recast them in drippy orchestral instrumental arrangements with just the odd random line sung here and there, which wasn't what anyone wanted or needed. Probably not even Noel Gallagher.

Meanwhile, hailing somewhat slightly less from the same genre universe as the movie-skewed contents of This Is Cult Fiction come Un Homme Et Une Femme (the lift-door-opening-alike title theme AND the Panorama-purloined Aujourd'hui, C'est Toi, both in their rarely heard vocal versions), the maudlin, self-repeating and misleadingly tagged variance-free 'Theme And Variations For Two Pianos And Orchestra' from The Go-Between, and perhaps inevitably The Windmills Of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair, upon which the jury will forever be out as to whether it's really good or a little bit annoying. But just before those groups of seven individuals (including the token 'girl one') dressed as Mr. Pink larking around in the foyer before a late-night cinema showing of the still-banned-on-video Reservoir Dogs start to feel so utterly left out of proceedings that they briefly consider purchasing The Cult Files: Reopened instead, a fair smattering of faintly hip-to-the-zeitgeist TV themes come screeching up in their E-Types. The Champions, Strange ReportThe New Avengers, Man In A Suitcase, Tony Christie's earwax-shifting yodelling from the end credits of The Protectors, and of course The Pink Panther, who makes his way onto this list by virtue of having a snazzy car in the opening titles. No? How about because The Inspector was sort of like a jetsetting sixties detective if you bend the rules a bit, then bend the rules a lot, then just pretend that he was? Oh alright, please yourselves then.

Joining everyone's favourite anthropomorphic feline antagonist of Man With The Triangle Nose on an equally sizeable list of TV themes that (mostly) fit the bill musically, but pose something of an image problem for someone attempting to recast themselves as Patrick Mower on a spacehopper, are a couple of sporting-themed selections that at least evoke the image of retro Adidas gear, namely soccer-heralding Hammond undisciplinedness The Big Match, and the none-more-loungetastic Superstars, that bizarre BBC effort that strove to determine which sporting giant was best at standing on a school assembly bench over a paddling pool. And sounding great but presenting logistical headaches for all but the most 'ironic' of easy scenesters there's The New Adventures Of Black Beauty, Crossroads, Animal Magic and This Is Your Life, the latter two in heavily if barely perceptibly truncated space-saving edits, which is something that as we shall see would later become the lone blot in the copybook for the This Is... series.

Elsewhere, popular bandleader Ray Conniff is given the chance to show off some of his stereo test disc-ready instrumental readings of seventies MOR pop hits, and actual literal sixties non-MOR pop hits come courtesy of Aretha Franklin (I Say A Little Prayer), Dionne Warwick (Walk On By), Chris Montez (Call Me), Sergio Mendes (Chelsea Morning), Honeybus (I Can't Let Maggie Go), Fifth Dimension (Up Up And Away), Nancy Sinatra (As Tears Go By) and Sandie Shaw (There Is Always Something There To Remind Me, unfortunately in 're-recorded by the original artists' form), and a couple of full-on lounge legends show up to show everyone who's boss; everyone's favourite pal of Bear Asking For 'Cookies' Andy Williams with the Blur-purloined ode to Music To Watch Girls By, Bert Kaempfert's naggingly catchy Daktari-goes-mod silliness A Swingin' Safari, and best of all the wonky whistling and outer space backing vocal effects that make up Esquivel's interpretation of something that may at one point have vaguely resembled Sentimental Journey.

In acknowledgement of The Sound Gallery's library-scouring efforts there's also room for The Riviera Affair and Girl In A Sportscar, two tunes that are probably stuck in your head already if you ever watched any post-Loaded BBC2 magazine show, and there's that trademark This Is... touch of where-the-fuck-did-that-come-from? courtesy of Mason Williams' Classical Gas (a tune that had probably previously been mainly associated with those damn crazy hippies, or at the very least with Lord Winstanley urging you to claim that thirty seven and a half pence water rates rebate on This Is Your Right), some Herb Alpert numbers as hurriedly reworked for cash by 'The Mexicans' for the long-lost Decca album The World Of Tijuana, and modern-day walking embodiment of all things lounge Count Indigo, whose My Unknown Love as recorded in cahoots with The Mike Flowers Pops is probably the second greatest track to be found on here.

So, you're no doubt wondering, what IS the greatest? Well, that honour has to go to one of the few artists to appear on both this and the first volume - Isaac Hayes, whose brilliantly yet hilariously elongated take on The Look Of Love frankly ticks off every last item on the list of what a good 'loungecore' track should be; funky, schmaltzy, Bacharach-penned (with an extra point for having been originally penned for Casino Royale), full of extemporising flutey nonsense, virtually unrecognisable as the song it's supposed to be, positioned somewhere between Easy Listening and 'proper' music, and actually genuinely really, really good. So, um, a bit like Theme From Shaft, then.

As a whole, This Is Easy more than meets all of those criteria too. Trying to define a genuine subculture for the purposes of raking in the megabucks is a risky and rarely-attempted gambit - for a comparison, consider how nobody dared to do a Hey Hey It's Yer Grunge Rock Superpals! type compilation only a couple of years earlier - but this impressively broad and knowledgeable sweep of the sounds that were being frugged to by the big-trainered girls and boys in clubs that they thought only they knew about pulled it off in style, and there's probably some truth to the suggestion that its success led directly to the genre-led actually-quite-good compilation market as we know it today. The compilers weren't about to start resting - or indeed lounging - on their laurels, though. There was a complete change of direction to be getting on with...