Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles of the 90s

Some of Freaky Trigger‘s younger readers may be disturbed to learn that the Prodigy, those tough-minded harbingers of a glorious urban-electronic future where we all quote Goering and learn how to snowboard, used to be a pop band. Listening to the four-minute-warnings collected on their Prodigy Experience album, hyperactive ravey blasts which boasted genuine irreverence rather than learned attitude, their descent into the draggy, surly big beat of Fat Of The Land looks like one of the 90s’ grossest and most cowardly wastes of talent. “Out Of Space”, recklessly inventive and relentlessly commercial, is the Prodigy’s finest moment.

Some things don’t change, of course: they sampled Kool Keith then, too. But now the great man’s words are treated with care and respect and get whole tracks to themselves. Back then, Liam Howlett changed Keith’s pitch up for him – the Ultramagnetics’ sample on “Out Of Space” is sped up into the delirious chipmunk squeak that was rave music’s defining sound, a sound absolutely essential to the music’s none-faster thrill and absolutely anathema in to the fretful producers and critics who wanted dance culturally legitimised. Helium Keith shares trackspace with a sample from Max Romeo’s “Chase The Devil”, grandiose and breakneck sequencer buildups, and comically deflationary bouncing noises. What made Howlett stand out was what makes every brilliant pop producer stand out – an itch to innovate coupled with an unprejudiced ear for the obvious. Anyone who’d dismiss the breathtaking opening of “Out Of Space” – where eerie, hovering chord-clouds are pierced by a capering, taunting synth line – as ‘cheesy’ is no better than a fool.