Entertainment Music

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Still mad for it: The Stone Roses' iconic debut album turns 30


First coming: The Stone Roses’ Brown, Reni, Squire and Mani in 1989
First coming: The Stone Roses’ Brown, Reni, Squire and Mani in 1989
Starting point: Happy Mondays were the first Madchester band
John Meagher

John Meagher

For a certain generation it was just as significant as David Bowie and Mick Ronson playing 'Starman' on Top of the Pops. It was November 1989, and The Stone Roses were making their debut on the distinctly high-brow The Late Show.

They were there to play 'Made of Stone' from a debut album that was already helping to define that year in music. But they only got a minute into the song when, due to an apparent power outage, they were forced to stop.

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The rest - available for your pleasure on YouTube - should be watched through laced fingers. Host Tracey MacLeod is desperately trying to salvage the situation, while Ian Brown can be seen and heard angrily complaining in the background. As MacLeod reads the autocue for the next segment, the frontman is behind her on camera berating the Beeb's technicians as "amateurs, amateurs".

It's TV gold - and weirdly apt for a band who, on that first album at least, were truly great in the studio, but far from stunning in concert.

Thirty years ago this month, The Stone Roses released their self-titled debut album and helped kick off the comparatively short-lived, but far-reaching Madchester movement.

It ushered in a sound from that most musically fertile of British cities in 1980s - Manchester - that distilled acid house, dance culture, psychedelia and 1960s pop in a magnificently ramshackle fashion.

There were several fine Madchester bands, not least the Happy Mondays and Shaun Ryder's follow-up outfit, Black Grape, as well as the likes of Inspiral Carpets and fringe attractions such as A Guy Called Gerald - the solo outing of 808 State's Gerald Simpson - but it's the Roses (originally known as the decidedly less good monicker of Angry Young Teddy Bears) that left behind the movement's single greatest album.

Listening to The Stone Roses 30 years on, it's hard to believe that the UK press were largely lukewarm when it was first released. Q moaned about John Leckie's production while the NME declared it to be "quite good". Such is the reviewer's curse, unfortunately.

It's true that a handful of the songs still feel throwaway, especially - to these ears - 'Bye Bye Badman' and the sub-minute, stoned 'Scarborough Fair' homage, 'Elizabeth My Dear', but the good stuff is monumentally special.

At least half-a-dozen tracks would be worthy of inclusion in a Great British Songbook, if such a thing existed. The opener, 'I Wanna Be Adored', built steadily into an anthem of the times. It's immediately followed by the album's most commercial track, 'She Bangs the Drums', featuring irresistible guitar work from John Squire. The third song, 'Waterfall' would be released as a single two years later, and it marks the final component of the best opening salvos of any debut album.

Starting point: Happy Mondays were the first Madchester band
Starting point: Happy Mondays were the first Madchester band

None of those songs were selected as the singles prior to the album's release on May 2. Instead, they plumped for, first, 'Elephant Stone' and, then, 'Made of Stone'. The latter was elevated thanks both to Squire's brilliance and Mani's inspired bass.

'Made of Stone' was, at least in part, inspired by the student rebellion in France in 1968 (which, don't forget, was just two decades removed from the album recording sessions in the autumn/winter of 1988).

Both Brown and Squire were fascinated by the events of Paris 68 and the expressionist album cover, painted by Squire, is directly influenced by it - observe the colours of the French flag and the sliced lemons which were reportedly sucked on by the protesters to counteract the effects of tear gas. In all, no fewer than six tracks were given the singles treatment and non-album track 'Fool's Gold' was released shortly after that ill-fated BBC appearance. And almost three years after the album's release, it's magnificent closer, 'I Am the Resurrection' was released as a single, too - not that Brown & Co had much say in the matter: by then, they were estranged from their label, Silvertone.

If there's one song that defines The Stone Roses, it's 'I Am the Resurrection'. It has everything, including Brown's best vocal, a trippy four-minute guitar coda dreamt up by Squire and recorded in one take and, of course, cocksure lyrics - "I am the resurrection and I am the light".

It played with Christian imagery - one developed further on their 1995 comeback album, Second Coming, whose very title echoed that of 'Resurrection'.

For a long period of the 1990s, no indie club worth its salt would dare not play the song towards the end of the night and, if memory serves, the much loved Rí-Rá in Dublin occasionally played it twice. Nobody seemed to mind.

So what were the parameters of Madchester? November 1988 - the release of the Happy Mondays' debut album, Bummed - is a fair starting point, and it really gained traction the following year thanks to the Roses. By 1993, it had become displaced by bands further south such as The Charlatans and Blur - neither strangers to a 'baggy' sound early on - and Suede were sweeping all before it thanks to their eponymous debut album.

But there were still flickers of great Madchester music after that. Second Coming - released on major label Geffen after the band had put their record company woes behind them - isn't nearly as poor an album as some think, and there's much to be said for Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight, Yeah. Both were from 1995, but by then it was another Manchester band, Oasis, that was sweeping all before it. Liam Gallagher was clearly inspired by Brown's simian frontman style.

Second Coming would be the last Stone Roses album to date and Mani would dismiss those pesky critics who had little good to say about the album. "They're just a bunch of sixth-formers," he said at the time, "who've spent too long pogoing around their bedrooms with tennis rackets. Their views and opinions are no more important than anybody else's."

Rewind to 1989 and it felt as though The Stone Roses could leave behind a footprint every bit as significant as those other Mancunian greats, The Smiths and New Order, but it wasn't to be.

Each of the quartet has remained in music, but it's true that the promise they showed 30 years ago was never fully realised. Ian Brown has released five solo albums of varying quality while John Squire's greatness seems to have been lost in such ordinary fare as The Seahorses. Mani's bass helped add muscularity to the underrated Primal Scream album XTRMNTR and drummer Reni has popped up here and there, but without making much impact.

They may have felt like their lauded debut was a millstone around their collective necks, but what an album to leave behind.

Years later, producer John Leckie remembered finishing the album and feeling that they had made something that would last the test of time. "They were always really positive and jumping up and down," he said, "but I thought it was really good because it all held together, there wasn't a weak track on it.

"We went to Abbey Road on the very last day, Abbey Road Studio Two, and we only had one day there, and we mixed 'Shoot You Down'. And then we played it back at Abbey Road, which was great, and everyone was buzzing."

And those who hear the album anew - or for the first time - after all these years know exactly what that buzz is like.

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