In 2018, Liverpool band the Lightning Seeds achieved a rare distinction in British pop music.
Their familiar football anthem – Three Lions – became the first song in history to enjoy four separate stints at Number One in the UK.
The iconic tune, featuring comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, was widely heard on the terraces this year too as the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 championships were finally played out in 2021.
Three Lions truly captured the spirit of coming out of lockdown – a chance for fans to sing together in pubs, clubs and football grounds after long months of morale-sapping restrictions.
The song started life in 1996 when the Football Association asked Lightning Seeds’ front man Ian Broudie to write a tune for the Euro 96 tournament due to take place in England.
He agreed on the condition that it included Baddiel and Skinner, who were hosting the popular late-night TV programme Fantasy Football League.
Broudie also rejected the FA suggestion that England players should take part. He wanted Three Lions to reflect the feelings of fans who were disappointed ’90 per cent of the time.’
Hence the regretful lyrics including ‘Thirty years of hurt’ and ‘So many jokes, so many sneers, But all those oh-so-nears.’
The enduring optimism of England fans was captured in the line ‘It’s coming home’ originally referring to the fact that the last major international tournament played on home soil was the 1966 World Cup.
But the words also started to stand for the repeated blind faith that, in spite of everything, England might just do it this time!
While Baddiel and Skinner shared the vocals on the recording, the noise of fans in the background actually came from Brondby supporters taped by Broudie during a UEFA Cup tie at Anfield in 1995.
Three Lions went to Number One in the UK singles chart in 1996, encouraged by the Lightning Seeds’ credibility in BritPop and the performance of the England team on the pitch.
A brilliant 4-1 win over the much-fancied Netherlands in the group stage was followed by a 4-2 penalty shoot-out triumph over Spain in the quarter-finals.
Then came the crushing disappointment of going out 6-5 on penalties to eventual winners Germany.
Three Lions was so popular on the terraces that German striker Jurgen Klinsmann said his team-mates were singing the song themselves on the way to Wembley stadium! They beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in the Euro 96 final.
It was little wonder that Three Lions went to No. 16 in the German charts as fans even belted it out in when the team paraded the Euro trophy in Frankfurt. It is still heard on German radio today.
Three Lions topped the charts again in the 1998 World Cup year when a version with updated lyrics featured a cameo from Geoff Hurst and appearances from John Regis, Chris Evans and Robbie Williams.
The song was Number One again in 2018 when England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia. It dropped like a stone, however, once England had been eliminated by Croatia 2-1 after extra time.
Three Lions remains the Lightning Seeds’ only UK Number One, but the group also enjoyed Top 20 success with Pure in 1989, Change, Perfect and Lucky You in 1985.
The year 1997 saw the singles You Showed Me, What If and Sugar Coated Iceberg also reach the Top 20.
The Lightning Seeds were formed in Liverpool in 1989 by vocalist and guitarist Ian Broudie, who had previously been part of post-punk band Big in Japan and Original Mirrors.
Broudie had also produced albums for groups including Echo and the Bunnymen, the Fall and Wall of Voodoo.
The name Lightning Seeds came from a misheard lyric from Prince’s 1985 single Raspberry Beret, in which he states ‘thunder drowns out what the lightning sees’.
The band’s first album, Cloudcuckooland, was essentially a one-man show with Broudie playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals. He added new members from 1994 when the group started touring.
In 1997, the Lightning Seeds performed at the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield along with the Beautiful South and Dodgy. Frank Skinner joined Broudie on stage.
More recently, in 2014, artists including Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen and Terry Hall of the Specials, celebrated Broudie’s career at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
The Lightning Seeds were on the road again in December 2016 supporting Madness on their British tour.
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