I have to admit, actually, as you probably realise if you’re a regular listener to the programme, that I’m slightly mystified by the great appeal of the Stone Roses. I don’t hate them, as one or two people suggested with their votes, sort of, “I know you hate them, but I’m voting for them anyway!”, that kind of stuff, but it’s really not true. I was gonna say that they sound to me at times like Herman’s Hermits, but that’s not quite true either. I do that just to annoy you. (JP, Boxing Day 1989, mid Festive Fifty rundown)
Well, you must have played them at some point, John. Moreover, I think this is where the great man and I are going to have to dissent. I was working at Our Price when this LP came out, and it virtually never left the turntable. It united various factions of music lovers, having something I think for almost anyone: the casual vocals, more than faintly psychedelic backing, drum loops and alternately delicate/frantic guitar solos defined what the summer of 1989 was all about. Yes, they never had a Peel session, were never offered one in fact. But their eponymous LP (not the first, as I found out when I went to a record fair in Plymouth and saw the real first LP , Garage Flower, on offer for £50) was what has come to be known in a cliched manner as a stunning debut. The mess they became after legal wranglings (trying to get themselves out of their contract with Silvertone when they realised they could make more money somewhere else) is best forgotten: but worth remembering that the dreamy, almost childlike atmosphere of the whole thing might just have been inspired by John Squire’s work on that children’s TV nostalgia fest par excellence, ‘Wind In The Willows’.
Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but when a work inspires superlatives such as this does, the writer can be allowed a bit of leeway. It was startling for me to find out when reading up for this post that they had been going since 1980 in one form or another. Squire and Ian Brown had met in senior school and went through the usual process of forming bands and adding and discarding members before recording that abandoned first LP with Martin Hannett. This was 1985, and, though I can’t profess to owning the album or having even heard it, it was Joy Division/Magazine influenced (apparently), a world away from the bell-like sonorities of their first release in 1987 that sounds anything like the sound we know, Sally Cinnamon. Immediately, something was apparent. The sixties were being recreated in longing fashion, but with the sensibilities of a band that had been scalded by punk and partially seduced by Northern Soul and New Romanticism.
When Muni was recruited from the earlier aggregation Waterfront, the new sound, according to Brown, fell into place, and the resultant single Elephant Stone led to their initially successful but ill-fated deal with Silvertone. Then the John Leckie-produced masterwork hit the shops in 1989, and the public swooned. There was a int of narcissism in the works, too: I Wanna Be Adored (FF 1989 #29) could well have been an ode to the singer’s or guitarist’s ego, but something, just something, made it impeccably right and the laughter died on the lips.
Alan Wren’s white hat and the self-conscious posing against sand dunes seems to come from a long-forgtten and hazily remembered past, but at the time this kind of thing was just what the doctor ordered, and I think it was a brave choice to open an album with a meduim-paced track like this. ‘Singalong potential’ (as JP thought) it may have had, but Made Of Stone (FF 1989 #17) moves the listener in a way that is difficult to define, with a nagging hook that never lets you go and words that are affecting in a non-cloying way. Here we see the memorable first appearance of the Roses on the BBC, when a power outage enrages Ian (“Amateurs! Amateurs!”).
Of all the tracks on this still highly listenable album, the one that grabs from the outset with a very familiar-sounding bassline recast in a style all their own is She Bangs The Drums (FF 1989 #7), a truly original lyric underlining this paean to first love that hits the right spot in exactly the same way as Teenage Kicks. Finally, I Am The Resurrection (FF 1989 #6) scores top marks on the narcissism register, but, if you’ve never heard this, be prepared to be swept away by the sonic thrash that finishes the song and the album.
Fools Gold (FF 1989 #23), a single-only slice of cavernous funk that has been used as the backdrop to many an ad and film (witness its somewhat out of place appearance in Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels), shows another side to the band’s makeup. It tests the patience of the listener in the 12 inch version that Peel played, but is certainly infectious and highly danceable. This is Madchester, giving the Happy Mondays a run for their money, and the waft of baggies and E tablets returns in a second. Here’s the famous TOTP performance, with Ian making it abundantly clear that it’s all, erm, ‘live’.
So there it was: four NME awards, a Spike Island gig and another top ten single later, it seemed like Roses all the way. Then came the fall of the band, as mentioned above. Their later Geffen effort, Second Coming, was too late and too little, and by this time the world had moved right along. Recent rumours of a reunion appear to be just that: rumours. As they should stay.
We were four grown men. Our destinies were in our own hands. We had pure love. And we fucked it up. We George Bested it. (Ian Brown, Select Magazine, 2000)