It’s been a minute or two since I’ve done one of these iterations posts – they do take some time do, you know – but I’ll ease back into it with one of the landmark songs of shoegaze and dreampop, arguably Ride’s signature song, “Vapour Trail”.
Written and sung by Andy Bell, it was the closing track on the original edition of their debut album Nowhere. Bell discussed how he wrote the song in an interview with MTV in 2011:
I remember writing the riff in a hotel room on a very early Ride tour. We were in a bed and breakfast type scenario, and I was sitting on a bed with an acoustic to get that four-chord pattern which is really very simple. It’s played on two 12-strings. People seem to be quite interested with the guitar sound on this record, if there are fades or effects, but there’s not; it’s just two 12-strings. It’s just one of those magical songs. That’s the one that everyone talks about on the album in my experience. These songs are the easiest to write and the ones that you don’t really think about at the time. It came out so easily and it has that effortless feel to it. I guess it is the one I’m most proud of from that era.Going Nowhere With Ride’s Andy Bell @ MTV
And bandmate Mark Gardener offered his thoughts on it in an interview with Under The Radar in 2015:
“Vapour Trail” is one of fans’ favorite Ride songs. Was it obvious to you guys from the beginning that it would be the big track from the album?Track-By-Track: Ride’s Mark Gardener on Nowhere – The Classic Shoegaze Album: Dissected @ Under The Radar
Not really. I think we thought it was great—and obviously we did because we made it the album’s closer, and you always want a strong track at the end. But no, I think we were probably all too close to it to hear it objectively. But once people really started reacting to that one and picking it out, we realized that we had something great.
Again, it was more from Andy initially. I think a mutual friend had said a few words about vapour trails. It was a bit inspired by that. It was one of those occasions where I said to Andy, “When you sing it, it sounds great. You should sing that one.” I just thought it sounded really good, and so we made sure that he sung it and I think it worked out really well.
“Vapour Trail” was released as a single in the US in April 1991. Interestingly, it used the same cover artwork as the band’s Today Forever EP, which was released about the same time in the UK. Guess they wanted to maximize whatever they paid for that shark photo,
It’s probably safe to say “Vapour Trail” has been played at every Ride gig since Nowhere was released; here’s video of it from their 1992 Brixton Academy show, released as part of the 2012 reissue of Going Blank Again:
They’ve also played it in session not once, but twice for KEXP. In 2015, just acoustically with Andy and Mark while at OFF Festival in Poland:
And in 2017 at KEXP’s studios in Seattle, plugged in with the full band:
Bell also played in by request during one of his pandemic webcasts in May 2020:
For covers, you’d think that as one of the seminal songs of the ’90s (my own bias), there’d be more versions out there but no. But there are some. The Divine Comedy included a pretty faithful reading as a b-side for the “The Pop Singer’s Fear Of The Pollen Count”, released as a single from 1999’s A Secret History Of… best-of compilation:
And Seattle’s Trespassers William recorded a version as a single for the 2003 UK release of their second album Different Stars, and it was so good that when the album was re-released in North America again in 2004, it was on the tracklist, replacing a U2 cover. This remains a version I love almost as much as the original.