The Stone Roses were Ian Brown
, on lead vocals
; John Squire
; Alan Wren
, or "Reni", on drums
and backing vocals; and Gary Mounfield
, or "Mani", on bass guitar
. The band had brilliant all round musical ability, but excelled on bass and drums. All too often, bands get away with having only a top class lead guitarist, but Reni and Mani were staggeringly talented, as can be seen in the sheer musical challenge presented by pieces like "I Am The Resurrection
". Stone Roses fan site Sally Cinnamon
(www.sallycinnamon.co.uk) summarises very succinctly the reasons for the Roses’ success:
This is a band that controlled its own destiny, with no small debt to the driving arrogance and ambition of Brown, the sheer musical ability of Mani and Reni and the suberb 'Tune' writing skills of the reflective John Squire.
The Stone Roses’ first album shared their name, and stands as one of the most astounding debuts of any group. It was lauded very highly on its release, and every song on here is brilliant. It’s not surprising that their second album is eclipsed by their first. Some tracks do stand out, notably She Bangs The Drums, Made Of Stone, and I Am The Resurrection, this last having a claim to being best rock song of the 80s.
The album cover was done by John Squire shows a background of spattered paint; the influence of Jackson Pollock is very visible, and the band were openly fans of his. “The Stone Roses” is displayed in block capitals upon it. The letter “O”, however, is replaced with a slice of lemon; two other lemon slices adorn the cover, for reasons which shall (hopefully) be made clear.
Released in 1989, the album has the following eleven tracks. The length of the songs is given in brackets:
- I Wanna Be Adored (4.51)
- She Bangs the Drums (3.44)
- Waterfall (4.37)
- Don’t Stop (5.17)
- Bye Bye Badman (4.04)
- Elizabeth My Dear (0.59)
- (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister (3.25)
- Made Of Stone(4.16)
- Shoot You Down(4.13)
- This Is the One(4.59)
- I Am the Resurrection(8.14)
Note that in non-English versions of this album, two other tracks were added – Elephant Stone and Fool’s Gold. The latter is one of the Roses’ finest tracks, and I can recommend getting it either on single, or on a compilation album.
I’m going to briefly summarise all the tracks on here. I’m unashamedly a big fan of the Roses, so ignore me if I seem a bit gushing. Even if you don’t like some stuff they’ve done, then you’ll find something in their repertoire that’ll tickle your fancy – they’re such talented and varied musicians that they’ve dipped their toes into most waters.
The album enjoys a great start with I Wanna Be Adored written and first performed live in 1985, but not released on single till ’89, making it one of the Roses’ first major numbers. With a very slow, atmospheric build-up into the song proper, this track is a great introduction for the album, and was generally the first song played in gigs. Though the lyrics and title may seem narcissistic, Ian Brown has said that it was apparently satirising those who sought idolisation, who weren’t exactly in short supply during the 80s.
She Bangs The Drums is a good track, written in ‘87 and released as a single in ’88. It’s probably the most famous Roses number, and it’s also one of the more upbeat songs by the band. Suffice to say that if you’re new to the Roses, this is a nicely accessible track, and I note that it’s the most popular Roses number at Audiogalaxy. The lyrics are either more or less self-explanatory, or incredibly deep and complex, depending on your point of view, so I won’t go into decoding them here.
Waterfall is a nice song, that’s the Roses at their most subtle. It was written in ’87 and was released in its full form in ’89. It’s relatively light and airy compared to something like Made Of Stone, with soft vocals from Ian Brown, and undeniable synergy between the four musicians. It’s pleasantly inspiring and heartening, with some of the most beautiful lyrics in all of the stuff the Roses have done. As to what they mean, Ian Brown said it was “a song about a girl who sees all the bullshit, drops a trip and goes to Dover. She's tripping, she's about to get on this boat and she feels free. Waterfall was the first time we went, wow, this is it.”
Don’t Stop is a strange song; the lyrics defy interpretation, and the song as a whole has received some flak from fans. It was written in ’88, and never released as a single, though the Roses played it a lot at gigs. The song immediately follows “Waterfall”, and is in fact that song played backwards, with forward drums and fresh vocals added. It’s a marvellous song – somehow, it just works. Ian Brown says that of all the songs the Roses did, it’s one of his favourites, and it’s received a lot of acclaim from other performers. StoneRoses.net says that The Chemical Brothers put it in their top ten songs of all time.
Bye Bye Badman is a song that’s often ignored, but in terms of understanding the Stone Roses, it’s critical. It was written in ’89, but for some reason was never released as a single. The song is mellow and relaxed in its tone, almost a little folksy – especially on the chorus, and sounds like a love song. Listen to the words, though, and it becomes obvious that it’s far more complicated. The song is in fact about the Paris Student Riots of 1968, and Ian Brown said of it: "Imagine a protester singing it in a policeman's face during the Paris riots. Then you'll get some idea what it's about." The words are aggressive (“Gonna make you bleed”), and contrast beautifully with the actual music. There’s also the lyric “Choke me, smoke the air/In this citrus-sucking sunshine I don't care”. This refers to the technique supposedly used by the students of blocking out the CS gas (used against the demonstrators by police) with lemons. In fact, stoneroses.net reports that in Blackpool 1989, Ian Brown threw lemons into the crowd, and said, “Suck 'em - you don't get your eyes watered with CS gas, it's true!”. The cover of this album is also called “Bye Bye Badman” – hence the lemon slices...
The Roses were famously anti-royalist, and more or less summed up their views in the very short song “Elizabeth My Dear”, stating “I’ll Not Rest Till She’s Lost Her Throne”. Musically, it’s fun, but wasn’t really intended as a blockbusting number, and was mainly an outlet for Brown’s political views. Which is fair enough, I suppose. It’s got the same tune (roughly) as that lovely traditional folk song, “Scarborough Fair”.
Sugar Spun Sister is an early Roses number, written in ’86, and released as a demo that same year. The lyrics seem a little political, and as to what they’re about, they’re a little enigmatic. Some parts seem to suggest it’s an LSD song: “Until the sky turns green/And the grass is several shades of blue/Every member of parliament trips on glue”, but others seem to suggest that the eponymous “Sister” is a prostitute. Nice little song, anyway.
Made of Stone is my favourite track on the album. It was written in ’87 and released in ’88. It’s spectacularly dark, and one of the most atmospheric songs I’ve ever heard. It evokes the grim winter streets of Manchester excellently, and the chorus is wonderfully haunting. The lyrics are gritty and grim, and the song really can “Fill your eyes” if you’re in the right mood. As to what the song is about... Ian Brown states,
“Sometimes I fantasise when the streets are cold and lonely. Self-explanatory innit?”
Another point is that there have been claims that the Roses stole the main verse from an early track by Primal Scream
called Velocity Girl
. But listen to Velocity Girl if you can find it, and I reckon that the Roses’ version is much better. Even Bobby Gillespie
prefers the Stone Roses’ take. Great song, anyway. Get it!
Shoot You Down was written and released in ’87. Strange song. Very relaxed, even for the Roses, who are generally fairly laid back. As usual, dark and even macabre lyrics are contained in a friendly, melodic tune. To be honest, I can’t find any deeper message in the song, so I’m inclined to agree with novalis when he suggests it’s about killing a girlfriend. When Ian Brown says after a pause, “I’d Love To Do It And You Know You’ve Always Had It Coming”, the soft determination of his voice sounds more than a little intimidating.
This Is The One was written and performed in ’85, but wasn’t released on single till ’89. It’s a classic Roses number, and one of their faster, more traditionally rocky songs. A quiet, dulcet initial verse is broken by flashes of loud guitar and drums, and as the song goes on these intrude more and more frequently, until the fast paced drumming kicks in properly. There were two versions of this song, the earlier being quicker-paced (the “Garage Flowers” version). As to its meaning... well, once again the reference to “she” and “a girl” make it sound initially like a love-song, but given that the next song is “I Am The Resurrection”, some have suggested religious undertones. Here’s what stoneroses.net has to say:
“The way it fades out, with a chant in the background of "This Is The One" gradually fading into I Am The Resurrection all adds to the song's greatness. The song may be about religion, with "The One" being the resurrection”
Finally, one of the Roses’ most breathtaking songs: I Am The Resurrection. Written in 1988 and released on single in 1989, this is an amazing track. I can’t emphasise that enough. Though I’ve said I prefer “Made Of Stone” as a song, as a pure rock number, this is the dog’s bollocks. The lyrics are great – all about strength, they’re a declaration of the singer’s power, and his independence from the addressee (presumably a girl, knowing the Roses). It’s perfect break-up music – “I couldn't ever bring myself/To hate you as I'd like”. It empowers the listener. But it’s not only good for getting over lost love – in terms of the actual music, it’s a great rocking number, with an instantly recognisable bass line and a fantastic chorus. Once the lyrics have finished, and the song pauses momentarily, the band suddenly pick it up again, and jam in an intense orgy of brilliant instrumentals, which stops briefly once more (making you think the song’s over) but then picks up for some more brilliant guitarage. Some have said this is the best song of all time, and whilst I wouldn’t go that far, it’s certainly one the main reasons people thought the Stone Roses were the next Beatles. Sniff.
Thought I'd add a little postscript to this node. At the time of writing, I'd known this album for a few months. Since then, I've listened to it further, and it's probably my favorite album of all time. But it's interesting to note how the songs have changed (for me)over time . In particular, I think at the time of this write up I horrifically underrated Sugar Spun Sister - I've found it's now one of my favorite songs on the album, its musical and (especially) lyrical complexity rewarding repeated listens. She Bangs The Drums, on the other hand, though still an absolutely amazing song, I've listened to much less. I Am The Resurrection is another song that just gets better the more you listen to it, and is the Roses' best shot at immortality and a place in the Best Songs Of All Time list come judgement day...