Saturday 23 January 2021

10 from the Stone Roses

Following on from previous 10 from ... blogs that have included Primal Scream, The Charlatans, The Lemonheads and Belle & Sebastian (see the end of this blog for links), I strangely found it harder to narrow down a list of 10 of my favourite Stone Roses songs, despite the fact that they have a much smaller back catalogue to choose from. Very early on it was clear that I would be leaving out 3 or 4 real favourites.

For me, The Stone Roses were the most perfect band in the world for around 3-years. From the release of Elephant Stone in 1988, through 1989 when the band released their eponymous debut album and the Fools Gold single, to Spike Island and Glasgow Green in 1990, they couldn't put a foot wrong.

The hair, the clothes, the personalities, the politics, the belief, the artwork, the singles, the b-sides, the album, the ambition with music and shows, landmark gigs that were like cup finals ... the Empress Ballroom, Alexandra Palace, Spike Island and Glasgow Green.

Stone Roses, Charing Cross, Glasgow

Sadly it was 1991 before I got into them when I was 15, so I then spent 4-years waiting for them to release new music! But in that time I bought everything on 12-inch, 7-inch, CD and cassette, including bootlegs. I hunted down old Melody Makers and NME's in Virginia Galleries in Glasgow and basically devoured every piece of music and information I could find about the band. Old interviews turned me on to Love, northern soul, The Misunderstood

I remember the video of the legendary Blackpool Empress Ballroom show coming out in 1991. I bought it at Tower Records and went home to watch it several times. They were magical, I wanted my hair like Ian Brown, I dreamed of playing guitar like John Squire, I marvelled at Reni playing drums so effortlessly and how Mani was so super cool.

Stone Roses, Glasgow Rooftops

The music weeklies tried to track the Roses down to find out what was happening with the follow up, but after a long court case against Silvertone, the band all moving to various parts of the country, relationships breaking up and forming, becoming fathers and different kinds of drugs, not to mention lack of management, a healthy bank balance and no set deadline, the Roses were in no rush or state to make a new album.

Which, on reflection, is a real shame. The way they moved from their debut LP to grooves like Fools Gold, One Love and Something's Burning leaves fans wondering what kind of blissed out tunes they could have created during that time.

There was finally activity in 1994 with the release of Love Spreads as a single and then the Second Coming LP. I took days off work to buy them and remember going home and literally watching my record player as I placed the LP on, wondering what would come out of the speakers.

The Second Coming didn't flow as effortlessly as the debut, but it still hangs together as a good album. Rough round the edges at times with the beautiful Tightrope, breaking into electronica with Begging You, there is the well publicised rock/Led Zep riffing at times, epic soundtracks like Breaking Into Heaven, loose jams and beautiful songwriting like Tears. You can read my blog on The Second Coming HERE

Try as I might, I couldn't get a ticket for their Barrowland shows that winter. Reni left, Squire broke his collarbone and their 1995 Glastonbury headline show, which would surely have been a triumph, was stolen by Pulp, Squire left and the Roses died a very public death at the Reading Festival in 1996 as Brown and Mani played on.

So I never saw the Roses first time round or through the Second Coming. I did catch Brown and Squire several times, I bought Mani a pint or two one lunchtime, I even caught Reni play Tuts with his short lived band The Rub, I saw Brown and Squire both do sets largely of Roses songs and I caught Mani loads of times with the Scream.

And then ... the Roses were reforming. I caught them in Amsterdam and cried, I had my mind blown on the Sunday at Heaton Park, I was left underwhelmed when they revisited Glasgow Green and then reminded of why I loved them at the last ever T in the Park.

The new material was exceptionally disappointing and they dragged it out for another 2 years. They got the paydays they deserved and brought joy to fans across the world. And then that was that.

If I consider the Roses to have been the perfect band for a few years, if I have loved them since the age of 15 (30-years!!!) how do I choose my 10 favourite songs?

Well some favourites have had to be left out including the mellow grooves of Going Down and Shoot You Down, the chiming flowing Mersey Paradise and the epic Tears.

But push come to shove, at the time of writing, here are my 10 favourite songs by the Stone Roses.

Sally Cinnamon (12-inch version)

The Roses formed in 1983, releasing their debut single So Young/Tell Me in 1985, but it was the release of Sally Cinnamon in May of 1987 when The Roses sounded (at least on record) like they had found their sound.

Gone were the brash sounds of the debut and in were melodies and chiming Byrds-esque guitars, then with a roll of Reni's drums, we're off and Ian Brown is singing of being chased by rain clouds that would join his tears and allay his fears, girls tasting of cherryade and a girl sent from heaven.

The little lift into the first chorus of sent to me from heaven, Sally Cinnamon you are my world is immediately transferred into the next verse

Pop, pop, pop, blow, blow, bubble gum

You taste of cherryade

Squire lets rip on guitar after the second chorus, the Roses are in full bloom; 

Then I put the letter back, in the place where it was found

In the pocket, of a jacket, on a train in town

The single version comes in just under 3-minutes, the 12-inch allows time for a little jam outro with Reni sounding superb on the drums. Timeless and thrilling guitar pop.

Made of Stone

Sometimes I fantasise 

When the streets are cold and lonely

When asked by the NME what Made of Stone was about, John Squire replied that it was about scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final dressed as Spiderman on a Harley.

The chorus hints at the desolation and frustration caused by the Tory government across Britain in the 80's. The streets are cold and lonely, cars are burning and Brown asks; 

don't these times fill your eyes?

Squire's guitar intro sounds melodic, melancholy and sad, but Brown's verse seems to lift the guitar into the euphoric chorus. And oh what a chorus, all of Heaton Park seemed to be lifted a foot in the air when this kicked in back in 2012. To hear 75,000 people singing sometimes I fantasise, when the streets are cold and lonely was an experience I will never, ever forget.

After the second chorus Squire gives us a beautiful soaring solo leading to a third and final chorus, before a chiming guitar outro leads us to the conclusion.

Anyone who wonders why the Roses mean so much to people after all these years should listen to this song.

She Bangs The Drums

Guitar pop perfection. Mani's bass groove, Reni on hi-hat action and then Squire kicking in with heavenly sounding guitar and Brown singing about hitting the groove.

Kiss me where the sun don't shine

The past was yours but the future's mine

You're all out of time

The second verse ends with Brown and the band lifting the song effortlessly into the chorus

Through the early morning sun

I can't see her, here she comes

She bangs the drums

And then we're into another outstanding uplifting skyscraping chorus and there are no words to describe the way Brown is feeling, sometimes there just are no words, sometimes you just know.

The Roses then lead us on a glorious 40-second instrumental, taking us higher, dropping it down, rising again before guitars, bass and drums crash together twice to lead us into another chorus that feels like even more of a rush than the first one. 

It's not enough, the chorus comes again before Squire's guitar chimes through to close. She Bangs The Drums is a sheer rush of guitar pop perfection in my book.

Ten Storey Love Song

This should have been the comeback single for me. I cried when I saw the Roses in Amsterdam in 2012 and they played this. Ten Storey Love Song sends tingles down my spine every time I hear it, the way the band lock into the intro groove before Ian comes in with one of his best vocal performances backed by Squire's chiming guitar.

When your heart is black and broken and you need a helping hand

When you're so much in love you don't know how much you can stand

I'm not sure what the hell the chorus means, I don't care, it is a Ten Storey skyscraper of a love song. Squire's lyrics, Brown's voice, he has enough love for two when his partner is down. Beautiful and uplifting, the production is sublime and Squire dazzles on guitar.

Standing Here

I should be safe forever in your arms is a lyric that melts my heart every time I hear this song.

Starting with Squire conjuring glorious sounds from his guitar, the band then fall in behind him, Mani and Reni lock into a groove with Reni shuffling effortlessly about the drums. Squire just sounds like he is improvising over the top of them, a beautiful jam. Listen carefully for Reni's stunning backing vocals at times.

I really don't think you could know that I'm in heaven when you smile

As a teenager Standing Here appealed to me more than any other song for a while. Lines like that described how I would feel every day if a girl I fancied smiled at me. 

The breakdown into I don't think you think like I do (another amazing lyric) then leads to arguably the most beautiful 2-minutes in the Roses cannon.

Squire's guitar is just so considerate and melodic, Brown's whispered vocals are spine tingling, Reni is just soooooooo good.

I could park a juggernaut in your mouth

And I can feel a hurricane when you shout

I should be safe forever in your arms

Tightrope (album + Crimson Tonight EP live version)

The Roses spent a long time on The Second Coming, yet one of my favourite songs sounded like it had been bashed out round a campfire on acoustics. 

John Squire's lyrics make it clear that he was hopelessly head over heels in love when he wrote them. Reni's backing vocals are sublime, Brown on lead delivers one of my favourite performances. You can hear someone talking in the background at one point, it all adds to a charm that is remarkably different to any other Roses song.

Lyrically, this is like a big love poem.

In the half light of morning, in our world between the sheets

I swear I saw her angel wing, my vision was complete

And I know I'll never want another lover, my sweet

Can there be more in this world than the joy of just watching you sleep?

I don't know just what to feel

Won't someone tell me my love is real?

Are we etched in stone or just scratched in the sand

Waiting for the waves to come and reclaim the land

The live version on the Crimson Tonight EP captures Roses mania and Brown in fine voice as the Roses flow through the song backed by the crowd.

The rawness of the album version against the tenderness of the song, the way Squire is pouring his heart out in the lyrics, sung by Brown, it's a gem.

This Is The One

This Is The One is simply majestic. Squire's guitar sounds thrilling at the start as it chimes and crashes before leaving Mani's bass to rumble beautifully, before the chimes come back again, this time crystal clear, another crash and then Ian Brown comes in with possibly his best vocal performance.

Talking of plans, desire, promises ... this is the one.

Everything bursts to life when Reni comes in on drums;

I'd like to leave the country, for a month of Sundays

Burn the town where I was born

The trick of quiet / loud / quiet / loud has been worked by many bands over the years. On This Is The One, the Roses go for it, chorus after chorus as Squire's guitar sets a course for the sun.

It may go right, it may go wrong

This is the one, this is the one, she's waited for

Tears filled my eyes every time I saw the Roses live when they played this song. It is packed with emotion, delivered with care, finesse and also with power.

Check this live professionally filmed footage from Coachella

Waterfall (12-inch mix)

This is the Roses at their best for me, vivid imagery from the lyrics, a real kind of house groove to Mani's bass, Reni just totally on it with his backing harmonies and beats, Squire's gorgeous chiming guitar and then the instrumental section which highlights what a brilliant band they were, everything gels. 

The 12-inch version has the band jamming for over 2-minutes at the end, the Roses enter into a glorious flow, bring it back to bass and beats and then Squire kicks in with some wah-wah guitar before gradually coaxing riffs mixed with more wah. At 4 mins 55 the band then kick into a final flourish; Reni, Mani & Squire on fire.

Now you're at the wheel

Tell me how, how does it feel?

Fools Gold

Fools Gold is the sound of Stone Roses at their peak, almost 10-minutes of funk groove via bass, beats, wah-wah guitar, samples and the coolest person in the world at the time on whispered vocals about friends searching for gold and ready to steal it off each other.

Nothing that the Roses had produced, not even the album closer I Am The Resurrection, hinted where they were going to go next.

The Roses went off on one, sampling the beat from Bobby Byrd's - Hot Pants (bonus beats) with the bass line from Young MC's Know How, which itself was loosely based around guitar from Isaace Hayes Theme From Shaft.

The bass line is inspired by Young M.C's Know How 
which was a tune we were really vibing off at the time 

Fools Gold was recorded over the summer of 1989 and released in November of that year. If the Roses album had been the soundtrack to pre and post club parties, Fools Gold became the sound of the party - the real indie dance crossover - if there really is such a thing, the Roses would pour scorn on such statements, they simply made the best music they could.

The beat and bass groove are in from the start, it's fresh, it's funky, it sounds like nothing 4 white boys from Manchester should be creating. But then things were changing dramatically in 1989, particularly in Manchester, a city embracing ecstasy and all kinds of music from Detroit to Ibiza - people wanted to dance and expand their horizons - international, continental.

Brown doesn't take long to come in the gold roads sure a long road, winds on through the hill for fifteen days

Things move up a notch for the I'm standing alone ... section and all the time the beat and bass keep grooving while Squire coaxes majestic sounds from his guitar.

By the time Brown whispers his last Foo-oo-oo-ools Gold we still have over 4-minutes left of this incredible tune and we are treated to the magical delight of Reni, Mani and Squire vibing and riffing off each other. They sound in their element, in the zone, in their own world.

On the Sunday at Heaton Park my mind was blown by the psychedelic funk the Roses produced during Fools Gold. The Shane Meadow filmed footage remains utterly joyful to watch, the smiles on stage, Ian walking along the crowd, Squire going crazy, Reni being Reni, the band just gelling. WATCH HERE

I Am The Resurrection

The epic closer to the Roses eponymous debut highlighted what a magnificent band they were. 

Starting with Reni's pounding drum beat, Mani joins on bass and then Ian comes in on vocals. It's not long before Squire is adding gorgeous riffs and flourishes over it all. 

The verses flow through to an absolutely euphoric chorus that has Brown straining for all he is worth to deliver it. A short instrumental leads back to the chorus again.

I am the resurrection and I am the light

I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like

Resurrection then breaks down to close at 3-minutes 35 seconds, before Mani fires a little bass riff that then leads to a further glorious 5-minutes of Squire, Mani and Reni taking the listener on a real journey into the heart of the Roses.

They could play! The Roses are let loose to display their majestic powers, there is another brief pause at 5-minutes 15, before the band jam on for a further 3-minutes, Squire takes things to another level as his guitar soars from 5-minutes 57, before bringing it down to beautiful chimes at 6 minutes 17. 

The band build up again, Reni pounds on his drums like a Motown classic, Squire is firing off all kinds of sounds on his guitar and Mani is holding things together.

Utterly magical. Check the version from Blackpool Empress Ballroom HERE where the band stretch it to beyond 12-minutes. 

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

What a fantastic piece of writing and really evocative of those times, your writing brought back so many memories. Your descriptions of the music are really, really great although I think in my top ten I'd have squeezed in Elephant Stone, Mersey Paradise and Badman somehow!