It is not often when a band is both the most talented and most popular group in the country. Prior to the rise of the Stone Roses, the only such band I can think of is the Beatles, although I have little idea of exactly how popular The Smiths were. But I digress. Bands that are both popular and talented can walk the line between pop and the "artier" genres. Such were the Stone Roses.

Briefly Britain was seized by Madchester mania and many wondered if the Stone Roses would actually be the next Beatles. Their eponymous album was nothing sort of stunning. Sadly, this was not the case; the Stone Roses did nothing for a few years but engage in legal wrangling and watch football. When they finally got around to releasing their sophomoric album, Second Coming, interest had waned and the album wasn't quite the masterpiece many were expecting. The Stone Roses broke up soon after John Squire left to form a more active band, the Seahorses.

The other major Madchester group, the Happy Mondays, was torn asunder by drug abuse.
The Stone Roses were Ian Brown, on lead vocals; John Squire on guitar; 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:

  1. I Wanna Be Adored (4.51)
  2. She Bangs the Drums (3.44)
  3. Waterfall (4.37)
  4. Don’t Stop (5.17)
  5. Bye Bye Badman (4.04)
  6. Elizabeth My Dear (0.59)
  7. (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister (3.25)
  8. Made Of Stone(4.16)
  9. Shoot You Down(4.13)
  10. This Is the One(4.59)
  11. 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.

Useful Sources

www.stoneroses.net

www.sallycinnamon.co.uk

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...

There are three reasons I love these guys –

They were arrogant, supremely arrogant, but they were good and in the self-depreciating days of the late eighties/early nineties their attitude was refreshing.

They smacked of genius. Their music is staggering in its originality and, oddly, in many ways its conformity. Yet they still achieved a perfect style for those days. A mix of pop, rock and dance that has never been matched. Their music influenced such act as The Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans. They gave birth to the whole Madchester scene which spawned so much great music.

Why write a review of a band that is no more?

Their recordings still sound as fresh as ever. There is a whole new up and coming generation that don’t know the work of these guys. It would be a criminal act not to point them in their direction.

I’m sitting comfortably, tell me about them

The Stone Roses career was short (1987 –1996). You won’t find tales of a self destructive drink and booze fuelled lifestyle in their history, nor will you find immense in-band fighting, although you will find the odd squabble. Their history is a good old fashioned tale of being fucked over by the recording industry and genuine bad luck.

The band signed with Thinline Records in 1987 and release their 12” single Tell Me. A catchy enough tune, although it their sound was still very amateur, the singer had yet to find his “voice” and although he made a commendable effort, he still sounded young and very inexperienced, the music, filled with catchy guitar riffs sounded a lil’ slapdash and had a quickly-put-together feel. For reasons not recorded, although I suspect it had a lot to do with free beer and a gentle massaging of the band's egos, they switched to FM Revolver where they released their second single, Sally Cinnamon. This was a turning point, the song still sounds remarkable today, the singer had found his voice and guitar work was clean, sharp and sprightly. It also showed an underlying songwriting talent the band would thrive on. Sally Cinnamon sounds for all the world like a stock pop song, and musically it is, bright, lively without being over complicated and containing a huge “feelgood” factor. Only when the singer delivers the final verse do we realise that the song has a somewhat remorsefull edge. This was something new, pop conformity that threw in a twist. People began to listen.

The band quickly grew frustrated with small label FM Records, who seemed to favour caution releasing their work on a national scale and after a bitter argument they parted company and signed to Silvertone in 1989. Their debut single with the label, Elephant Stone, shifted away from their pop roots and mixed psychedelic rock guitar work, the popular acid house drum and bass work and melodious vocals to create a new sound. On paper this eclectic mix of old guitar, ultra modern rhythm sections and tunefull singing looked impossible to pull off. But, the lads made it work, and it worked well.

The music press soon took notice and their sound was touted as “the next big thing”. Their self titled debut album proved it was (see node above for an excellent review imo). Musically it combined many standards of pop. Easily accessable tunes, funk or rock tracks that simply delivered. Some tracks containing that dark lyrical twist that they excel at, others, simply good simple tunes. The album also threw in a couple of surprises. Don’t Stop is simply the song Waterfall with the drum and bass played forward but the guitars played backwards and new lyrics simply imposed over the track, sounds daft? Yup, but it works. Elizabeth My Dear is an anti-royalist song, sang over an only slightly altered rendition of Scarborough Fair. The whole album looked, felt and sounded “new” something different but not alien. And my gods, we loved it.

Then, the arguments started. The band fought with Silvertone over royalty payments. The fight would continue for the next five years, despite a second (and excellent) album (Turns into Stone) being released in the meantime this fighting crippled a great deal of the bands creativity. After long, lengthy and expensive fighting with Silvertone the band finally split from the label in 1995 and signed with Geffen Records. Their only release on the label, the album Second Coming, was mostly ignored. Grunge had arrived from America and the brit teens were thrilling to boy bands like Take That and Boyzone. The album, in my opinion, contains some classic tracks but also some desperate ones. Looking to a more rock feel the band had turned it’s back on it’s pop roots and the 11 min long Jimmy Page like track Break Right into Heaven was so far out of the Stone Roses character that you could almost feel it was their swansong. Listening to the album you could almost feel, musically at least, that the band were heading in very different directions as individuals.

Then the bad luck arrived. The drummer quit the band (replaced by ex-Rebel MC drummer Robbie Maddix). A successful tour of the US ended with the guitarist breaking his collarbone thus forcing the band to cancel a headlining spot at Glastonbury Festival in the UK. This performance was to be hailed as their big comeback. Maybe the misfortune was the straw that broke the camels back, maybe their ego’s had just become to large to share stage space. No one knows. What is known is that by 1996 it was all over. After just three brilliant albums the Stone Roses called it a day.

So who were they?

John Squire – Guitars Ian Brown – Vocals Gary “Mani” Mountfield– Bass Alan “Reni” Wren – Drums

What did they play?

An eclectic mix that worked. Pure pop songs, great funk, psychedelic rock, and a few tracks that owe a lot to good ol’ fashioned rock and roll. Pleasant, rarely aggressive vocals mix with bright guitarwork but the powerhouse of the group is the genius of Reni and Mani on bass and drums respectively. Creative and new rhythm’s played by two real artists.

Lyrically the songs were magnificent. Pop anthems that only revealed a dark side when listened to with care. Political protest songs, often done in a pop or funk style ranging from recounts of rioting French students to the struggle against segregation in the US. Simple lovesongs and songs about revenge on a betraying lover abound. There is a lot of variety in their writing skills.

Their overall sound was simplistic, going back to the grassroots of a band. Drummer, bass, guitars and vocals. At the end of the eighties a lot of us were thoroughly tired of the mechanical twaddle spewed out by endless new romantic bands and the Stone Roses were fiercely anti-technology (in a famous incident Jon Squire was given a synth-drum machine to experiment with by his producer. He twiddled with it for a few hours, proclaimed that it wasn't music, it was computer programming. He then smashed the machine to tiny pieces, scraped up the bits, took them home, turned them into a piece of artwork and presented the sculpture to the producer the next day).

This is good honest simple music. The album you play when sitting with a group of friends and need something to relax the atmosphere or when you find yourself alone on a Sunday afternoon, had a night of great sex or are waiting for the ecstasy tab to slowly wear off. It’s music that puts you in a relaxed frame of mind, but keeps you thinking and being surprised enough to realise that planet earth is a pretty cool place afterall.

Hmm, will I like them?

It's all a matter of taste, as with all music. If your Metallica Black album is framed on your wall or if you jump around to the lively bollocks that is Limp Bizkitt (or wotever the fuck they are called) then you are going to hate the Stone Roses. If you have thrilled at George Harrisons guitar, sat fascinated at The Verve’s lyrics or enjoyed Mick Jagger on record, then you might enjoy them.

Were they any good live?

No. They weren’t. Despite drawing a 30,000 crowd at their now infamous Spike Island (a former dumping ground for chemical waste) gig. They were continually dogged by bad luck when playing live. Dodgy sound equipment, irate fans (Brown, inspired by reading of the French student riots in the 60’s used to tell his audience that sucking a lemon was proof against teargas, several times fans tested his theory by setting off tear gas grenades at concerts), and, to be brutally honest, Brown could rarely hold it together singing live, often slipping out of tune. A few of their better gigs survive, and are available on dvd (but I ain’t bothered with them, so have no new info)

What should I buy? Only three albums but which one?

Seven albums actually. Three studio albums, two compilations and a collection of remixes (which is excellent)

I’d suggest two purchases Their self titled debut album and the compilation The Complete Stone Roses. In fact, if you don’t already own these discs then I strongly suspect that your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries

.

So they came, they shone like a star……but where are they now?

John Squire went on to form the Seahorses (Don’t take a genius to figure out that is an anagram of She’s a Rose). They made one brilliant album then self destructed, the former vocalist proclaiming the Squire “is the devil himself”. Squire is currently working solo with one solo album and a couple of tours under his belt. Ian Brown is currently enjoying successful solo career and collaborating with other bands as the whim takes him. Mani went on to join Primal Scream. And looks as tho’ he is having the time of his life. Reni, played drums for Ian Brown on his first solo album (thanks to CloudStrife for the info)but appears to have been quiet on the popular music scene since.

Any last words?

Yup. Go listen to them, you might enjoy them and I defy anyone to listen to their back catalogue without thinking “that’s great…..but there was something else, they were on the edge of something fantastic….I wish they hadn’t split”

Disclaimer: Facts and figures may not be accurate

The Stone Roses burst onto the music scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s like a supernova and faded just as fast. What they left behind is an debut album which is widely regarded as one of the best of all time.

The original line up of Ian Brown (vocals), John Squire (lead guitar), Mani (bass) and Reni (drums) formed in 1983, and recorded their debut album in 1989. Eponymously titled, it undeservedly reached number 32 in the charts. However, since the Roses influence on bands that succeeded them and their split in 1996, it has been rightly held up as legendary. The band were totally self assured, declaring themselves "the best band in the world", and listening to their music, it's hard not to agree.

The British music scene was in a state of transition when The Stone Roses was released - club and rave culture was on the rise, fueled by the drugs of choice, ecstasy and acid. Centered in Manchester, the movement of young bands fusing dance music with traditional indie rock was quickly christened "Madchester" or more widely "baggy" due to the size of the trousers many of the bands prefered!

But back to the Roses. The album itself is as near to perfect as an album can be. The opening track I Wanna Be Adored is otherwordly, blooming from the sinister sounding bassline to an intimidating wall of sound that makes you yield to Brown's pleas to adore him. The pace soon changes with the thrilling She Bangs The Drums, which, suitably enough, is driven by a pounding drum beat. On Waterfall, the music trickles along mimicking the flow of water - relaxing yet stirring.

It's no exaggeration to say every single song on this album is worth its weight in gold (or drugs maybe). Throughout the rest of the album, the mood see-saws between menacing anti-Royalist interludes (Elizabeth My Dear) and a hypnotic journey through Manchester (Made Of Stone). By the time Brown swings into closing track I Am The Resurrection, asserting his superiority over every single one of us, you really believe it.

What stands out is not just the perfect instrumental parts (every musician in the band is one of the best of their kinds in my opinion), but the lyrics. The imagery deals purely in psychedelic fairytale -of 'cotton clouds' 'candyfloss' 'sugar' and the memorable image of the "sky turns green, the grass is several shades of blue" (Song For My Sugar Spun Sister). Yet it never sounds flowery or vague - it's always grounded in a sense of urban life, especially given the context of acid culture. More blissful ignorance than grim reality.

The release of the album kickstarted the Madchester movement, which consequently gave rise to fantastic bands such as the Happy Mondays and Primal Scream (whose seminal album Screamadelica is another acid house classic of the early 90s). The Roses huge open air gig at Spike Island in 1990 where they played to 27,000 people was the zenith of their popularity and is widely regarded as the high watermark of the whole baggy movement they started. It seemed like they couldn't get any higher.

And it was true. By the early 90s, the band were tied to their record company, not allowed to record or play gigs at all. The music press were up in arms - after the momentum with which the Roses had appeared, suddenly they disappeared for years. They returned with distinctly average second album Second Coming in 1995, but the spark was gone. In the time they had been away, the Britpop movement had exploded and they were symbolically killed off when Pulp replaced them in their cancelled headline slot at Glastonbury 1995. The group fractured, and were dissolved by Brown the following year.

The Stone Roses are now the byword for bands that promise so much yet deliver so little. There's no doubt their debut will continue to linger near the top of countless Best Albums lists, and no one will ever know if they could have strung out the kind of magic within that album. Sometimes it's best to keep things short and sweet.

NB: As well as the aforementioned albums, I would also recommend bside compilation Made Of Stone. The Roses are one of the rare bands whose bsides stand up just as well as their album material, especially Fools Gold and What The World Is Waiting For.

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