Monday, 2 July 2012

What have the Stone Roses ever done for us?

In amongst the Saturday chores last weekend, I became increasingly aware of a chorus of Tweets from gentlemen of a certain age. The Heaton Park 'massive'. Mincing about down South it really felt like I was the only man of my generation who hadn't dug out a pair of voluminous Joe Bloggs trousers and headed for Euston. Yes, The Stones Roses reformation shows. Word on the Tweet seems to be that the shows were amazing with the caveat that Ian Brown had trouble keeping in tune. So no change there then.

The great thing about the Stone Roses was always that they inspired extreme opinion. That's a rare thing in pop culture today; there seems little to genuinely provoke and perhaps fewer people who care  - witness this week's demise of The Word. I'm the demographic for The Word and a subscriber - I even wrote for  it for a coupe of issues. The Stone Rose graced the June cover of The Word and in that feature Andrew Collins described his involvement in their story and what great times he had. In the Guardian the weekend before last, John Harris did the same thing from the negative perspective. See what I mean about polarising opinion?

The Stone Roses came at a point in pop when a lot of key writers and broadcasters were just starting out and this was their first taste of the glamour of the entertainment business. Like punk 13 years before, Baggy, Madchester, Indie dance - basically the movement inspired by Fools Gold - was a decisive break from the past. Up until The Stone Roses - credible music had been either Indie C86 underachievement or polished, gleaming and professional like Prefab Sprout, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths or Heaven 17. Here was a band who had a front man akin to Johnny Rotten: his appeal was not in his vocal chords but in his attitude. And this of course opened it all up again for the like of Happy Mondays, Charlatans, and later the whole Britpop movement.

In the official programme to the Heaton Park show, Damien Hirst claims The Stone Roses are more important than Picasso. Again, with the extremities; although, of course we should expect this from Hirst. I really like the Stone Roses album but the gigs I saw at the time made little impression on me - I just remember the terrible singing and the horrible football terrace crowds. Everyone I know who remembers them, gets dewy eyed about the wonderful male bonding and camaraderie. I think I was just there for the music and I missed the point.  But all that aside, here are five things I'd like to thank them for:

1) The first album.

I won't bang on about it because everyone is sick to death of hearing what an absolute classic it is. Suffice to say it still hangs together is eminently hummable and like all classics manages to be of its time as well as transcend it.

2) The singer

They brought a return of the handsome lead singer concept. Since the mid 80s, Indie had been whacked about the head by the ugly stick. By 1988 the best we could hope for was Miles from the Wonderstuff or David Gedge, but more often than not we got Black Francis or the blokes from Pop Will Eat Itself. Now, for the first time since the Smiths, the singer in a credible indie band could be a pin-up without NME readers becoming suspicious. The way was paved for Blur and Oasis.

3) John Leckie

A seasoned pro - as well as an absolutely lovely bloke - Leckie had done some engineering for Pink Floyd, Lennon and then made some classic punk albums including debuts from Magazine and XTC. But by 1989 he was no longer a go-to name. The Stone Roses changed all that and he subsequently never looked, back going on to produce Radiohead's The Bends and Muse.

4) Goodbye Rattle & Hum

Anyone who can remember 1988 must have been there. It was full of terrible post Joshua Tree raggle taggle faux Celtic rock bollocks. Bands like Deacon Blue, singers like Tanita Tikarum; it was The Waterboys wishing they were fishermen and everyone throwing in a bit of world music to show how in touch with their roots they were. The Stone Roses had no truck with being right on. Right on!

5) It's OK to Disco!

It's been said before and much better but Fools Gold - (don't be mistaken into thinking that the debut had anything to do with it) opened the door for music fans who were either shy of saying they liked a bit of a dance, rock fans with no previous inclination or hip hop fans who hated wimpy indie kids. It brought them all together in a great big melting pot and offered them fags, drugs and a good time.

So fingers crossed for the new Stone Roses material. Or maybe once again, I'm missing the point. Perhaps the best thing about them for most people just happened: in a field with your mates, all singing Waterfall better than Ian Brown can.


  1. Spot on, ben !

  2. Very, very true. I'd forgotten about that awful Deacon Blue/ Tikaram phase...

    Whisper it quietly, too, but I quite like The Second Coming. Ten Storey Love Song is a lovely tune.

    Nice piece, as always, Ben :)

  3. Agree with it all, but think that point 5 especially has been forgotten by people—or not picked up by those too young to know—that the standard indie/NME music journo view on 'their' kind of music was that disco sucked, that rave and dance were not 'proper' music and that rap was for dance mags. The Roses helped enormously in breaking down prejudices held by mostly white, middle-class journalists who hadn't ever had a soul boy phase and so didn't know how to dance, nor why they should. As I recall, around this time music mags started listing (always with the lists) Marvin Gaye's What's Going On as the greatest album ever made, with at least two Stevie Wonder albums in the top 20, too. A couple of years later and the same lists had lost the soul music of course, and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was the greatest album ever made. Plus ca change…

    1. Good points, Johnny. Although I think the NME had an enforced soul boy period inthe mid 80s as I was one of the new wave students who discovered What's Going On when it made No 1 in their Greatest Albums of All Time in 1986 or 87. You're right though, inthe post Britpop world all the dance fusion spearheaded by Madchester was sucked into a vortex of 60s nostalgia.