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Forget Me Nots: Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy

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Jon O’Brien remembers Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy from 1991

Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy
Having topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with 1989’s Eternal Flame, The Bangles looked set to enter the new decade as the biggest girlband on planet pop. But by the time Clive James was helping to usher in the 90s, the most overground outfit from the Paisley Underground had imploded. 

Jealousy over Susanna Hoffs, the voice behind that epic four-week No.1, getting all the limelight was reportedly the catalyst.

The quartet had always operated democratically, sharing both vocal and songwriting duties pretty much equally on all three of their studio efforts. Even so, with her striking stage presence and a voice that could naturally flit between gravelly rocker and delicate balladeer, Hoffs inevitably became the de facto frontwoman.

The Californian was therefore expected to make the transition to fully-fledged solo artist look effortless. However, things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy, from 1991, could only scrape in at No.56 in the UK. And it fared even worse in her homeland, peaking at a lowly No.83. We can only speculate whether her three ex-bandmates watched on with a sense of schadenfreude.

Looking back at Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy

Columbia Records certainly wouldn’t have been as satisfied with such a muted response, particularly when they took the album’s costly guest list into account. The Who’s bassist John Entwistle, future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, flower power icon Donovan and founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Benmont Tench, all lent their considerable musical talents.

Songwriting assistance, meanwhile, came from indie icon Juliana Hatfield and Academy Award winner Diane Warren, the latter taking a rare break from her default blockbuster power ballad mode on the perky up-tempo Only Love

Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy, however, rarely reflects its eclectic behind-the-scenes pedigree. In fact, the majority of its 12 tracks aim for the same American new wave-meets-British Invasion pop sound of Hoffs’ former day job.

That’s little surprise when you learn that David Kahne – the man behind two of The Bangles’ biggest hits (Walk Like An Egyptian, If She Knew What She Wants) – served as sole producer.

His involvement no doubt raised a few eyebrows at the time. Kahne’s divide and conquer approach on Different Light reportedly caused major disharmony within the group. And Hoffs would later acknowledge that she lacked both the confidence and the clarity to challenge his ideas as a solo artist, too. 

There’s nothing quite as enjoyably ridiculous as Walk Like An Egyptian or as majestic as Manic Monday here. But co-written with two other regular collaborators, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (Eternal Flame, In Your Room), the dreamy lead single My Side Of The Bed would sit comfortably on a Bangles Best Of.

Likewise the driving power pop of This Time and the bittersweet mid-tempo No Kind Of Love, whose gorgeous sun-drenched harmonies suggest the Peterson sisters and Michael Steele wandered into the studio for a brief reunion. 

Even when she breaks away from her tried-and-tested formula, Hoffs still keeps at least one foot in the mid- to late-80s. The strutting synth-pop of So Much For Love gets into the groove of Madonna’s first imperial phase, while That’s Why Girls Cry is the kind of buoyant bubblegum number you could imagine Tiffany belting out at a shopping mall.

A relatively faithful, but ultimately pointless, cover version of Cyndi Lauper ballad Unconditional Love even neatly brings things full circle: many Americans were first introduced to The Bangles as a support act on the colourful singer’s 1984 Fun tour.  

Had Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy hit the shelves just a few years earlier, then audiences may well have been more receptive. In 1991, though, it sounded like an artist slightly afraid to move on.

Compare and contrast to Live Your Life Be Free, an album released by another raspy-voiced, power-pop girl group graduate later that same year.

With its world music flourishes and ventures into funk, dance-pop and doo-wop, Belinda Carlisle’s fourth LP was markedly different from the brash punk-pop of The Go-Go’s. Hoffs waits until the closing number to do something outside of the box. 

David Bowie purists, however, may well wish she hadn’t. Yes, When You’re A Boy concludes with a curious rendition of Boys Keep Swinging, the gender-challenging glam rock anthem which gave the Thin White Duke his final UK Top 10 hit of the 1970s: its lyrics also inspired the album’s title. 

Hoffs had form when it came to the nostalgic cover, of course, with The Bangles putting their spin on Big Star’s September Gurls, The Merry-Go-Round’s Live and, most famously, Simon And Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade Of Winter.

Sadly, her treatment of the first single from Bowie’s Berlin trilogy closer Lodger is hampered – like much of the record – by Kahne’s muddy production and a bizarre detour into bleepy electronica. 

Yet it’s the only real misfire on a long-player which, although short on invention, isn’t lacking in winning melodies and infectious riffs.

Hoffs is also in fine vocal form, particularly on Wishing On Telstar – a wistful ode to the communications satellite, not The Tornados’ classic instrumental – and It’s Lonely Out Here, a stomping mix of Hammond organ and bluesy guitar licks which allows her to truly cut loose. 

Hoffs would go on to have more input on the belated 1996 sophomore eponymous album which spawned her only solo UK Top 40 hit, a bittersweet take on The Lightning Seeds’ All I Want. But as with its predecessor, Susanna Hoffs was also entirely overlooked.

It would take another decade for her to find a niche outside The Bangles – the Under The Covers trilogy recorded with power pop revivalist Matthew Sweet earned some of the best reviews of her career.   

Yet you could argue that Hoffs still never really fulfilled the potential promised by her centre stage moments in one of the 80s’ defining girlbands. Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy should have been the launchpad for a glittering solo career.

By playing it just a little too safe first time around, though, the most visible Bangle instead ended up sadly fading from view. 

Read our Top 10 girlband singles of the 80s feature 

Visit The Bangles’ website here

 

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Toyah – Posh Pop review

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Toyah Posh Pop cover
Toyah Posh Pop cover

After years of copyright wrangling, the belated reissues of her early albums has finally allowed Toyah to be reassessed. So far, Sheep Farming In Barnet and The Blue Meaning have shown just how adventurous she was among punk peers. Next up will be 1981’s Anthem, the album which sent Toyah mainstream via its hits It’s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. 

It’s Anthem which Toyah’s 13th full album most closely resembles. It appears having her early work back out has enabled Toyah to be as at peace with her music as such an untameable spirit will ever be. 

She’s made excellent questing albums since Anthem, but none have so completely reconciled her fearlessness with a simultaneous love of bloody great big pop songs. Posh Pop’s title alludes to Toyah’s husband Robert Fripp guesting on guitar, under the alias Bobby Willcox. Such knowingness aside, it’s not a bad description for such elegant material.

Resolutely not mucking about in getting to the heart of each song, Toyah and her regular producer/co-writer Simon Darlow’s music is lean, even when the sound is as belligerent as the Belinda Carlisle-meets-B-52’s Rhythm In My House or Levitate’s pulsating groove. Space Dance is gloriously daft, as catchy as R.E.M.’s Shiny Happy People. If the overall mood is celebratory, many songs have a savage bite lurking, Toyah’s punk roots showing in Kill The Rage and the sci-fi epic Take Me Home, with its message that we’re all refugees.

And then Toyah simply devastates the listener, as Barefoot On Mars is the most beautiful song she’s ever written, describing how she reconciled with her troubled mother. 

Having become one of lockdown’s breakout stars with her and Fripp’s gloriously daft Sunday Lunch videos, Toyah has embraced their ethos by making films for each song. Included on the CD+DVD format, they range from the unlikely Devo spirit of Toyah, Fripp and Darlow’s deadpan dancing in Space Dance to a moving, meditative monkey reflecting on mankind’s inequities in Monkeys. It makes Posh Pop a worthwhile video album.

The Sunday Lunch ethos infuses Toyah’s music, too: ridicule is nothing to be scared of, as Toyah’s Jubilee co-star Adam Ant once sang. Pop music is nothing to be scared of, either. As Anthem showed 40 years ago, pop doesn’t have to be disposable. Toyah has embraced that again, and brought her hard-fought wisdom into the lyrics. Magnificent. 

★★★★

Visit Toyah’s website here

Read more: Toyah interview

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Making Madonna – Like A Virgin

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The Like A Virgin album turned Madonna from a New York club queen to the most famous female artist in the world…

Like A Virgin

As New York’s achingly hip art set gathered at legendary nightclub the Paradise Garage on 16 May 1984 to celebrate artist Keith Haring’s first Party Of Life, the girl who had once dominated the dancefloor with her exuberant moves to Larry Levan’s iconic DJ sets, took to the stage for a special guest appearance in front of the vibrant crowd of which she had once been a part.

Having spent three months holed up in the city’s Power Station studios, Madonna saw the Party Of Life as the perfect platform to premiere two brand new tracks from her recently wrapped second album.

Although she was excited to air her new material for the very first time, the hipster audience remained largely indifferent as she performed Like A Virgin from a bed adorned with white lace before changing into a customised Haring jacket and skirt for Dress You Up

Only pop culture prophet Andy Warhol had the foresight to recognise the earth-shattering potential of these new songs. “The crowd didn’t really take to Madonna,” recalls artist Kenny Scharf. “But Andy loved her – he told everyone that she was going to be the biggest thing ever.”

Madonna had been working on her second album since the beginning of 1984, penning songs with long-time friend and writing partner Stephen Bray. Her self-titled debut album had been a disappointing experience for her creatively, leaving her frustrated at how little her input and ideas had been welcomed by producer Reggie Lucas.

Despite the moderate success of that LP and Holiday becoming a Top 20 hit, Madonna was keen to move on and start work on her next project – and to do so on her own terms. 

Determined not to repeat the mistakes of her debut and to ensure that the album would be exactly as she envisioned it, Madonna informed her label that she wanted to produce the record herself, a request that was immediately vetoed, much to her fury.

Aside from her previous LP not sounding the way she had wanted (with the exception of the tracks she and John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez had remixed before release), Madonna felt that she wasn’t taken seriously, and her talent was being undermined. 

She saw the second album as her chance to prove herself. Livid that Warner Brothers didn’t believe in her enough to grant her full creative control, she publicly vented during interviews, detailing her battles against label bosses to who she referred to as “a hierarchy of old men”. 

“It’s a chauvinistic environment to be working in because I’m treated like this sexy little girl,” she fumed to Rolling Stone. “I always have to prove them wrong. This is what happens when you’re a girl – it wouldn’t happen to Prince or Michael Jackson. I had to do everything on my own and convince people that I was worth a record deal. After that, I had the same problem trying to convince them I had more to offer than a one-off girl singer. I have to win this fight.”

Read more: Madonna – Ray Of Light

Read more: Making Madonna’s Like A Prayer

Refusing to back down, the record label offered Madonna a compromise – the choice of any producer she wanted. Mollified, she appealed to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein for help in a letter in which her frustrations over “the producer predicament” were evident.

“Here I am forced to choose a man once again – help me!” she wrote, listing possibilities such as Trevor Horn, Jellybean, Laurie Latham, Narada Michael Walden and Nile Rodgers before signing off, “Furious love, Madonna”.

Although she had presented a shortlist of ideal collaborators, Madonna had made it clear that Rodgers was her first choice, declaring him a “genius”, citing his production work with Diana Ross, Sister Sledge and David Bowie as examples, as well as his own Chic records which she adored.

A meeting with Nile was arranged during which she played him the demos she’d written with Stephen Bray and told him: “If you don’t love these songs we can’t work together”. Affronted by her bluntness, Rodgers later revealed that he told her: “I don’t love them now, but I will when I’ve finished working on them!” 

Satisfied, Madonna accepted her label’s offer to have Nile produce the entire album. Writing in his autobiography, Le Freak, Nile revealed that the fee he earned for producing the album was more than most artists earn from their own records, adding: “I’m pretty sure she hasn’t paid a producer as much since then either!”

The subject of money remained prevalent once recording had begun, with Madonna’s tyrannical manner of communicating with musicians proving problematic. She was in every recording session for the entire duration – whether she was required to be or not and expected similar dedication from the personnel.

If a musician arrived late or didn’t seem to be giving 110%, Madonna barked at them, “Time is money, and the money is mine!”, something which did not go down well with the experienced professionals.

Nile had brought along the Chic Organisation band with him to play on the record, including bassist Bernard Edwards and drummer Tony Thompson, as well as sound engineer Jason Corsaro whose idea it was to record digitally, at the time a new way of recording.

Read more: Madonna On Film

Read more: The Lowdown – Madonna

The combination of synths and programmed drums with live instrumentation gave the album its bombastic, dynamic sound, elevating it from the dance-pop feel of Madonna’s earlier tracks which she felt were “weak”. 

Despite the band having a wealth of experience between them, working across genres and with a myriad of artists, Madonna had no qualms about telling them if she didn’t like the way they were playing something or suggesting alternatives.

Whether it was because she’d been burned by the experience on her debut album and felt the need to overcompensate to make her ideas heard or was just plain rude, the band did not appreciate someone they saw essentially as a rookie being so abrasive and disrespectful towards them.

On one occasion, after she furiously berated a musician for taking a toilet break, Nile walked out of the studio and told her he was leaving the project, forcing Madonna to apologise and rethink the way she communicated from that point onwards. Though it wouldn’t be the last time they would have disagreements, they were resolved cordially.

When Warner’s A&R Michael Ostin played the pair Like A Virgin and Material Girl, songs he felt would work alongside Madonna’s own compositions, she instantly loved the former, immediately taken with the provocative title as well as the song itself.

Rodgers wasn’t initially sold on the track and felt Material Girl was the better song, but Madonna was adamant that Like A Virgin was going to be the first single and would also be the title of her second album. Nile reminded himself that it was ultimately her decision as it was her name on the LP cover.

With work on the record complete by May 1984, Madonna was readying it for a summer release, but once again faced pushback from the label who decided to delay it due to the sudden success of her debut album.

Thanks largely to heavy rotation on MTV, Borderline had just become her first Top 10 single in the United States and the album was climbing the charts on the back of that, approaching one million sales. Though she was desperate to release her new material, Madonna relented and agreed to postpone its release to November. 

The restless singer utilised the time that she had originally planned to be promoting her album by flying to Venice to shoot the video for Like A Virgin and signed on to star in her debut film, Desperately Seeking Susan. She also worked with stylist Maripol and photographer Steven Meisel on a series of photoshoots which would become the cover of the album and singles.

Playing with the virgin/whore dichotomy, her name and the album title were completely at odds with the overtly sexual image she presented, dressed in bridal regalia, lingerie, crucifixes and a ‘Boy Toy’ belt buckle. 

The wanton bride persona became emblematic of the Like A Virgin era, and never was it more impactful than Madonna’s iconic performance at the first MTV Awards in September 1984. Her first major performance of the track, she began it atop a giant wedding cake and ended it lying on the floor with her underwear on full display.

While some of her peers slammed the brazen sexuality of her performance as trashy and cheap – her manager Freddy DeMann was backstage furious thinking her outrageous set was career ending – the appearance could not have garnered better publicity for Madonna, whose rebellious spirit endeared her to legions of teenage girls across the US. With her name on everyone’s lips, the timing was perfect for the unveiling of the single and album in November 1984. 

Read more: Madame X review

“It’s a lot more grown up than my first album,” the proud star told MTV. “It’s more well-rounded, style-wise. My first one was termed a dance record and was all up-tempo dance music, but this one has a lot of different sounds. There’s stuff that sounds like old Motown, there’s stuff that’s very high-energy, some songs are very English-sounding, very techno, there’s lots of synths, and two ballads. Ultimately, it shows my growth as a singer and as a songwriter.”

The album received mixed reviews from critics but was a commercial smash, transforming Madonna from pop star to pop icon, sparking ‘Madonnamania’. 

It reached No.1 around the world and dominated the charts for most of 1985 thanks to its four hits (its singles run was punctuated by Crazy For You and Gambler from the Vision Quest soundtrack as well as chart re-entries of her older singles), the Virgin Tour of the US and a show-stopping performance at Live Aid. 

In the UK, the album was re-released to include Into The Groove (taken from the soundtrack to Desperately Seeking Susan), extending its success even further, leading to eventual sales of over 21 million copies worldwide.

In January 1984, Madonna had shocked the world when she announced to Dick Clark on American Bandstand that she wanted to rule the world. Just 18 months later, thanks to the astounding success of Like A Virgin, she was well on her way to achieving it. 

Material Girl

Despite becoming one of her signature songs and its title being a moniker which is still linked to the star 35 years later, Material Girl wasn’t actually written by Madonna. It was penned by Peter Brown and Robert Rans and submitted to Warner Brothers for consideration for one of their artists. A&R Michael Ostin heard the song and immediately knew that it would be a perfect fit for Madonna. A tongue-in-cheek satire on 80s materialism, both Madonna and Nile Rodgers loved the track when it was presented to them and the singer duly changed her mind about only including her own compositions on the record, which had been her original plan. Released as the second single from the album in 1985, Material Girl peaked at No.2 in the US and No.3 in the UK.

Angel

One of the demos written by Madonna and Stephen Bray in late 1983, Angel is a straightforward fluffy ode to being in the throes of a new love affair. A charming dance pop track with unmistakable Chic flourishes, the song remains a fan favourite but has been largely disregarded by Madonna who hasn’t performed it live since the Virgin Tour in 1985 and the track was edited out of the VHS release. During the performance, balloons were released onto the audience emblazoned with “Dreams Come True”, a line from the song. An incredible extended dance remix was created of the song, which featured elements of audience noise to give the impression of a live recording. The single reached No.5 in the US and the UK and was also a hit around the world, particularly Australia and Japan. In the United States, the 12″ single sold over a million copies due to the inclusion of Into The Groove on the B-side, which wasn’t released there as a single in its own right.

Like A Virgin

Like A Virgin was written by hitmakers Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly about the former’s recent divorce and subsequent new relationship. Madonna replicated the guide vocal of the demo note for note, even though it was in a much higher register than was normal for her to sing in, prompting inaccurate stories at the time claiming her voice had been sped up to sound like Cyndi Lauper. Melodically, critics pointed out that its bassline was reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and the Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) and when Madonna performed the song live on her first two tours, she interpolated each into Like A Virgin as a cheeky wink to her critics. The song gave Madonna her first No.1 around the world, topping the charts in the US, Australia, Canada and Japan. In the UK, it peaked at No.3, held off the top spot by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? and Wham!’s Last Christmas.

Over and Over

A new wave-inspired track reminiscent of some of the material that we have subsequently heard of Madonna’s pre-fame recordings while she was in various New York bands, Over And Over’s lyric captures the essence of the singer, speaking as it does about strength, resilience and picking yourself up no matter how many times you’re knocked down and forging your own path in the world – a theme that Madonna has explored frequently. Although she hasn’t acknowledged the song since 1985, Madonna was obviously proud of it – choosing it as the only non-single performed on the Virgin Tour and including it on her 1987 remix album You Can Dance.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Warner Brothers’ Michael Ostin felt that the Like A Virgin album needed a ballad as  respite from the up-tempo dance tracks and suggested a cover of Rose Royce’s Love Don’t Live Here Anymore for diversity (strangely, the song was a hit in the United Kingdom the following year for Madonna’s future Evita co-star Jimmy Nail). Its recording prompted a rare moment of self-doubt and vulnerability from Madonna who was daunted at the prospect of recording her first ballad and working with a live orchestra. Overcome, she dissolved into tears at the end of recording, her emotion left on the released song. A remixed version of the track was released in a few countries in 1996 to promote the ballads retrospective Something To Remember. Unexpectedly, Madonna also performed the song as part of her Rebel Heart Tour in 2015.

Dress You Up

An underrated Madonna classic, Dress You Up was the final track recorded for the album as it was submitted by writers Andrea LaRusso and Peggy Stanziale just as Madonna was completing the LP. It was only when the album’s release was delayed that Madonna was able to add it to the tracklisting. Peaking at No.5 in both the US and the UK, Dress You Up’s lyric, which juxtaposed fashion and sexuality, earned it a place on Tipper Gore’s ‘Filthy Fifteen’, a list of songs deemed sexually explicit and which required parental advisory before children could listen to them.

Shoo-Bee-Doo

A solo Madonna composition, the slightly saccharine Shoo-Bee-Doo was intended as a homage to Motown and the girl groups that Madonna had adored growing up in Detroit. An unremarkable mid-tempo track, it doesn’t hold up as well as others on the album and is dated by a solo from famed saxophonist Lenny Pickett. In the UK, it was featured on the B-side to Into The Groove.

Pretender

While the combination of live drums and guitar had added another dimension to Like A Virgin’s big moments, Pretender, a sparse synth-driven track with sequenced drums and a great melody is sonically more akin to the material on Madonna’s debut album. It was included as the B-side to Material Girl in the UK. 

Stay

The earliest composition on the album, Stay is a combination of two tracks that Madonna wrote with Stephen Bray back in 1981, Stay and Don’t You Know. Despite the title, this version owes more to the latter, only the “Stay, stay darling” refrain comes from the 1981 version, the verses and lyrics are reworked from Don’t You KnowThe track also included a sexy spoken interlude from Madonna, a trait she had begun on Physical Attraction from her first album and something she would explore more deeply on songs such as Justify My Love, Rescue Me and Erotica.

Check Out Madonna’s website here

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Classic Album: The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

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Still adored nearly 30 years on, The Stone Roses rescued indie rock from shambling student bands and fired Manchester into a bright new musical future. Michael Leonard charts the making of a one-off album that, according to Noel Gallagher, “opened the door for British guitar music in the 90s”…

The Stone Roses

No. 1 in the NME’s vote on Best Albums Of The 80s. Top of their 2003 Greatest British Albums Ever poll. It wasn’t just the NME. It also won The Observer’s Greatest British Albums vote the following year. Runner-up in Channel 4’s Music Of The Millennium poll of greatest albums – that was a public vote.

The thing about The Stone Roses is, it’s an album that spans those sometimes overly worthy critics’ polls as well as being in tune with what real people think. Or, at least, people of a certain age…

There’s a heart-warming scene in Shane Meadows’ fan-centric documentary, Made Of Stone, released in 2013. In it, the four Stone Roses – John Squire, Ian Brown, Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield and Alan ‘Reni’ Wren – have announced their reunion and decide to stage a free warm-up show at Warrington’s Parr Hall, capacity 1,100, and all you have to do to get a first-come first-served ticket is turn up at 4pm with a Roses record sleeve, T-shirt or a ticket to their later shows at Manchester’s Heaton Park.

Here they come, in low-key and orderly fashion; teens not even born in ’89, old men, mothers (with bemused toddlers in ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ T-shirts), time-cocooned bowlhead ‘ravers’, office workers, a bloke who’s lied to his boss that his father-in-law’s had a heart attack so he can leave work early…

The best one is a too-late, unsuccessful deputy headteacher: “I’ve just seen about three people I know going in… and they know nothing about music. I’m devastated.” Mr Teacher is still smiling, just about. “At least I’m here, I can say I was close to it,” he muses, standing outside.

That says more about The Stones Roses than any critics’ poll. It still causes respected middle-aged professionals to ‘lose their shit’. But why? “You know and I know, but you can’t write it down, can you?” another man says to camera in Made Of Stone. “This lot [gesturing to the queue behind] know. There’s a reason I’ve still got me hair like this 20 years later. There’s a reason I’ve never worn a tie. There’s a reason why I still listen to that album at least once a week…”

Let’s not over-analyse, then. You either understand, or you don’t. Here’s how Manchester’s Stone Roses made an album. Or to others: here’s how The Stone Roses made the greatest British album ever.


1 I Wanna Be Adored
A perfect, slow-building opener, Mani’s brooding bassline is slowly joined by the rest of the band to build the archetypal Stone Roses sound, falling somewhere between typical Madchester and shoegaze. Lyrically, …Adored is little more than a repeated mantra of rock-star mythology: “I don’t need to sell my soul/ He’s already in me.” In 2009, Brown told Clash Magazine: “I didn’t actually want people to adore me. I was trying to say then, if you want to be adored, it’s like a sin, like lust or gluttony or something like that.”

2 She Bangs The Drums
As a lyric of intent, “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine/ The past was yours but the future’s mine/ You’re all out of time” is some flag in the sand. Brown wrote these verses, while Squire wrote the chorus words that are ‘just’ a love song: be it to a partner, the music, the ecstasy of clubbing or whatever you want. What elevates it is the crystalline sonics. The rumbling undercarriage of Mani’s bass, Squire’s flabless guitars and Reni’s whip-cracking drums all rush with a faultless euphoria. The Roses hated being called ‘60s’, but this is very 60s, and a 101 on how to write a guitar-pop single. Released in July ’89, it was the band’s first Top 40 hit.

3 Waterfall
A fan favourite, swirling around a cascading Squire guitar arpeggio and with Reni providing notable shuffling drums and backing vox. Its melody is very folk-esque, and Brown has previously grumbled that John Leckie wanted to turn it into a “Byrds/Simon & Garfunkel thing”, which makes some sense: Squire listened often to The Byrds; Brown didn’t even own a Byrds record. Brown has said that it’s “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”… Squire also wrote parts of Waterfall’s lyrics.

The guitarist has never (as far as we know) fully explained, but ‘Madchester’-championing DJ/broadcaster DJ Pete Mitchell reckoned the words were at least partially about Squire’s loathing of the Americanisation of Britain (see “This American satellite’s won”). Proof? Squire’s own oil on canvas Waterfall (1988) meshes the Union Jack and Stars And Stripes flags. So maybe the lyric is about both. Whatever its origins, Brown has said that writing Waterfall in ’88 “was the first time we went ‘Wow, this is it!’”. Bonus points are also awarded for the excellent use of “brigantine sails” (a two-masted ship).

4 Don’t Stop
The music is, of course, the whole of Waterfall flipped backwards, on the basic Fostex 16-track recorder on which Squire/Brown recorded demos, with overdubs and vocals added later, and credited on the album as ‘Another Schroeder/Garage Flower Production’. The Roses had done this before, with Made Of Stone and its reversing for 12″ B-side Guernica. More nautical-themed lyrics abound, and the way Brown intones “Isn’t it funny how you shiiiiiine?” manages to invent Liam Gallagher at the drop of an anchor. Don’t Stop was also played live (with ‘forward’ instruments) and is still very strong in its own right, with Reni again outstanding on drums and backing vocals.

5 Bye Bye Badman
Positively bouncy compared to the shuffling swagger of much of the album, the band only began work on …Badman because they couldn’t complete a satisfactory recording of (future B-side) Where Angels Play, but finished this in just a few hours. Squire overdubbed his counter-lead guitar lines that run an alternative melody throughout in 30 minutes. It’s openly inspired by the riots in France of May 1968, as Ian Brown had met a Frenchman who’d been in the riots while the singer was hitching around Europe, and both Brown and Squire also admitted being “inspired” by a Channel 4 documentary on the 20th anniversary of the era, broadcast in spring 1988, called Revolution Revisited. For its lyrics, Bye Bye Badman could perhaps have been called I Am The Insurrection… if it didn’t sound so damn blissful.

6 Elizabeth My Dear
Side 2 begins with another nod to Simon & Garfunkel, in that the music is Scarborough Fair, a traditional English folk melody dating back to the 14th century, made most famous in pop by S&G’s soundtrack to The Graduate in 1968. The song is just 54 seconds, but gave Brown a springboard from which to vent. In various early interviews, he said: “I’d like to shoot Prince Charles” and added there would never be a revolution unless someone “put a bag over the Queen Mother’s head”. They won’t be getting OBEs, then.

7 (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
If there is a dip in The Stone Roses, it’s arguably here. There’s plenty of rock classicism in its chords and straightforward arrangement, sumptuous though it is, at various times recalling The Byrds, The Smiths, REM or Lennon and McCartney (basically, choose your own angle-pop reference point).

8 Made Of Stone
There are some distinct echoes of Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl (1986) here, and it was released in March ’89 to preview the LP – although it stalled at No.90 in the national charts, its indie acclaim set up the Roses’ ascent from local heroes to national phenomena. By September ’89, the Roses had sold out London’s 8,000-capacity Alexandra Palace and it was Made Of Stone they briefly played that week on the BBC’s national Late Show, only for a power cut to halt them. (Cue Brown, “You’re wastin’ our time, man. Amateurs! Amateurs!”). In 1989, when asked what Made Of Stone was about, Squire replied: “Making a wish and watching it happen, like scoring the winning goal in a cup final on a Harley Electra Glide dressed as Spider-Man”… 

9 Shoot You Down
A change in pace, with its low-slung swagger again highlighting Reni’s drumming prowess and more Hendrix-ian guitar from Squire. With its lyrics partly serving notice on all challengers, this is just the Roses coolly showing off.

10 This Is The One
The last song to be recorded for The Stone Roses, but one of the first written. This Is The One began life in 1985 when the band were locked in a room by producer Martin Hannett and told they weren’t allowed out until they wrote a song. They came up with this, lyrics by Brown, albeit in an uncultured and punkier form. It’s famously played at Old Trafford as Manchester Utd walk out from the tunnel.

11 I Am The Resurrection
The music supposedly began as “a pisstake” of Paul McCartney’s bass on The Beatles’ Taxman, according to Reni. “Mani would play the riff backwards during soundchecks and we played along over the top for a laugh. Finally, we said, ‘Let’s do this joke song properly and see what happens’.” Its drum intro, chords and ‘vibe’ also bear resemblance to The Light Pours Out Of Me by fellow Mancunians Magazine (1978). Its blissed-out Brown-on-bongos coda was the perfect E’d-up end to a Roses live rave; in the studio, it took three days’ rehearsals to piece it together for mostly live recording: the circular acoustic-guitar arpeggio before the strafing coda was fed via a ‘ghetto blaster’ as a backing loop for the band to improvise around.


The Stone Roses is an odd record, in many ways. It was the culmination of five years of relatively low-key work, even if the band were all-that-time circling the big shots of Manchester music. On its release, drummer Reni was the youngest at 25: the others were already 26. In comparison, Johnny Marr had split The Smiths at 23. And it was also the mother of false starts: the Roses hit the buffers not long after.

There’s an over-romanticised story about Ian Brown and John Squire’s joint ‘destiny’, having first met as toddlers in a sandpit. The crux is true, though the two weren’t friends until their teens, when music brought them together. Squire had begun playing guitar with some seriousness from around 15, liking The Byrds and The Beatles.

Via Brown, who also played rudimentary bass, he got into Clash and Sex Pistols records, and soon learned to play those, too. Brown liked his punk, but also reggae and Northern Soul.

Squire and Brown played briefly together in The Patrol, but by the time the Roses were taking shape, Alan ‘Reni’ Wren was different again – a wunderkind drummer who could also sing and play guitar, and whose favourite bands in his teens were Van Halen and Led Zeppelin.

It took a while, but the Roses’ first attempt at recording was in 1985, when they got help from local producer hero Martin Hannett. Back then, the Roses had a second guitarist, Andy Couzens, and Pete Garner on bass, and were still in search of an identity.

The harsh sessions with Hannett only amounted to six nights and were hardly a success. So Young duly came out. It was alright, in a flailing post-punk/Theatre Of Hate sorta way, but ripples extended only through Manchester. By the Roses’ next recording, Manchester was changing: the city’s bards of boredom, The Smiths, had split. Hip-hop and early house were beginning to take over and The Haçienda was gathering a crowd.

“The summer of 1987 is when everything changed,” Shaun Ryder later remembered. “When life suddenly went from black and white to Technicolor. When we first got the E.” The nascent ‘Madchester’ scene was gelling by the time the Roses cut their second single, Sally Cinnamon. They produced it themselves, with soundman Simon Machan, and while it still sounded rather wiry, it did show a growing savvy for hooks and tight rhythms.

The band quickly sold out 1,000 singles in their hometown, and those local ripples were building to a new wave. For his part, Noel Gallagher remembers his 20-year-old self thinking: “When I heard Sally Cinnamon for the first time, I knew what my destiny was.” 

Couzens and Garner were jettisoned in ’86 and ’87 respectively – Mounfield, who the band had known for years and who’d regularly watch them as a fan – came in on bass. They pushed on, building a loyal fanbase and by their third single, 1988’s Elephant Stone, The Stone Roses had arrived proper.

It had the kudos of New Order’s Peter Hook as producer (“I would have done it for free”); Mani and Brown started bombing Manchester with Stone Roses graffiti; Elephant Stone featured Squire’s Pollock-styled art for the first time; they continued their strategy, rave style, of playing warehouses over established venues.

Read more: Top 40 Debut Albums

Read more: Shaun Ryder interview

They’d turn up in their newly adopted garms, too. Leo Stanley, owner of Manchester clothes shop Identity, who was then kitting out a lot of the Manchester bands, told The Guardian: “In 1988, Ian Brown asked if we could get any Wrangler flares as they were really hard to get hold of. As soon as Ian walked on stage wearing flares, everyone wanted them.”

That was part of their appeal. As über-fan Noel Gallagher recalled: “The Roses sang in Manchester accents, they wore the same clothes, they went to the same clubs, you could see them down the same shops where you were buying your desert boots and your flared jeans.”

It would be wrong, though, to hail the Roses as forward-thinking messiahs. That early struggle for identity was there and the Roses had their own dancer/‘vibemaster’, Cressa, duplicating the role of Bez in a straight steal from Happy Mondays. He’s on the back cover of The Stone Roses.

With its breakbeat-like drums from Reni and leaping, Beatle-esque melodies, Elephant Stone nailed their sound. Yet love didn’t spread all around. Gob-around-town and svengali Tony Wilson reportedly quipped that if you gave 1,000 monkeys guitars and Jimi Hendrix songbooks, they’d eventually emerge sounding like The Stone Roses. Touché. Though, of course, Wilson was likely just riled that Factory’s Happy Mondays boasted little of the Roses’ purer pop charms.

By 1988, they had enough for a solid demo that they were happy with. It went first to Rough Trade, where label boss Geoff Travis (who’d previously helped steer The Smiths’ career) judged: “They were just brilliant, fully formed, great songs… the thing that was really wonderful was that the rhythm section was such an elastic dancing creature, which very few great rock ’n’ roll bands seem able to achieve.”

With their soon-to-be-infamous manager, Gareth Evans, the Roses were still blagging somewhat: they didn’t sign long-term with Rough Trade, but instead went to Zomba offshoot Silvertone.

“We wrote most of the first album in a few weeks, because we’d blagged the record company,” Brown told NME in 2009. “We told Silvertone that we had about 30 or 40 songs, but we only had about eight.” But, again, those eight songs were enough. When producer John Leckie was passed their demo by Silvertone, it featured solid run-throughs of Waterfall, She Bangs The Drums, This Is The One and I Am The Resurrection. All that had to be done, really, was deliver it all as well as possible.

The Stone Roses is not a ‘dance’ album, but there is some dance sensibility to it. Battery Studio’s in-house engineer, Paul Schroeder, was perhaps a crucial figure – because he was steeped in mixing dance records, he brought his EQ-ing and tech setup to that process intentionally. He worked closely with Reni and Mani to ensure both had sufficient punch and clarity in the rhythm-section mix.

John Leckie’s job was guiding the whole thing. He made sure the songs all had focused openings and, mostly, definite endings. The Roses liked Leckie. His work with George Harrison and XTC offshoot the Dukes Of Stratosphear were big ticks, as was him citing his favourite record to be Love’s Forever Changes (Leckie later admitted he said it off the top of his head). 

By turn, Leckie later said (fondly) of the band that: “Even though there is a punk heritage, they’re hippies. Ian especially. It sounds corny, but there’s a lot of love there, and you don’t really get that with other Manchester bands.”

‘The rhythm section was such an elastic dancing creature, which very few great rock ’n’ roll bands seem able to achieve’

Brown has said Leckie’s brief was to “get the ultimate live version, but with a twist” and the producer himself recalled a relatively straightforward process. “There wasn’t any pressure to prove themselves, they knew they were good,” he told The Quietus.

As for the perceived weakness of Brown’s voice, Leckie had no problems. “To me, he was no different to any other vocalist,” the producer told Sound On Sound. “He’d perform, say, four takes, and I’d comp them and bounce them down. It certainly wasn’t a nightmare. He’d always get what we wanted within a couple of hours… and back then, you have to remember, there was no Auto-Tune.”

But Leckie continued: “They weren’t technically aware. They never touched the equipment, or sat at the desk and twiddled the knobs, or said: ‘Why don’t you try this?’. If they didn’t like something, they’d say.”

Sally CinnamonDespite all songs being credited to Squire/Brown, the Roses were clearly nothing without Reni and Mani. Ex-manager Gareth Evans cited the drummer as the “most important” group member, and the perma-smiling Mani brought a lot more than just infectious basslines.

As the bassist said in 2007, before their reunion: “I’m the only person who could bring it back together again… I don’t know if any of us are powerful without each other. The magic was the power of four.”

And what power. With those formative years spent gigging, writing, rejecting, honing, The Stone Roses were ready. All in, although split between four different studios from October 1988 to March 1989, The Stone Roses took just 55 working days to complete. 

Hunter S Thompson once wrote about mid-60s San Francisco that: “You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…” The same sentiment definitely applied to Manchester in the late 80s. Happy Mondays were, of course, very different, musically, but northern neighbours The Charlatans drew heavily from their well. Noel Gallagher reckons Oasis wouldn’t even exist without the Roses.

But The Stone Roses had something mighty that set it apart from all the rest. As Shane Meadows’ man says: “You know and I know, but you can’t write it down, can you?”

The Roses bloomed all too briefly, of course. Recording injunctions, writer’s block, a usurping by young Princes Noel and Liam, and a wayward mountain bike (leaving Squire with a broken collarbone and a cancelled Glastonbury headline slot) saw them split by 1996. John Squire later said 1994’s Second Coming is “more like we wanted to sound”; Ian Brown demurs, arguing: “We lost the light”.

More than three decades on, The Stone Roses still haven’t matched it – and it seems likely they never will. Their short-lived comeback ended without that promised third album. But it doesn’t matter. This is the one.

Read more: Making The La’s

Read more: Pete Burns – The Final Interview

 

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