A brief tangent into Madchester territory for you here as myself and some esteemed friends just got back from the Stone Roses' reunion tour in Lyon, where, amongst other thrills and spills, they played their first album in its entirety for the FIRST TIME EVER. Wooo! Well worth the trip down South, plus we got to enjoy some quality offal in France's gastronomic capital and even found a decent club (Le Citron in Vieux Lyon, smoky but plays some great music).
Anyway, one of the various topics of discussion that came up whilst we were ensconced in the city's bars preparing for the gig was what our favourite tunes were from the original Madchester era, or the 'Baggy' period for those of you who don't want to be too regionally specific. Many different suggestions were made so I've decided to compile a list of my own below, complete with some funky video links. If you're preparing for Heaton Park this weekend or just in the mood for a bit of a shoulder shuffle then give this lot a whirl and it should set you on your way.
The Stone Roses - Elephant Stone (October 1988)
As good a starting point as any, this was the Roses' third single released way back in late '88 when very few knew who they were - that would all change a few months later when the tracks from their début album began to surface, prompting a wave of national adoration that has yet to fully subside. 'Elephant Stone' eventually followed 'Fools Gold' into the UK top ten in 1990 when it was re-released alongside 'Made of Stone' and 'She bangs the drums' during the band's commercial peak - from the very first note it's one big euphoric rush of manic percussion, wah-wah pedals and Ian Brown's divine exaltations as they 'burst into heaven' to devastating effect. This is the Roses at their most forthright, equalled only be 'Begging You' several years later - the trippier likes of 'I am the Resurrection' and 'Waterfall' tend to bag more plaudits but for me this is the one (no pun intended) that made you sit up and take notice that something truly magical was about to happen.
A Guy called Gerald - Voodoo Ray (April 1989)
Inspiral Carpets - Joe (May 1989)
A trip to Oldham this time for the breakthrough hit from the Inspiral Carpets, a band generally lumped in with the Roses and the Mondays but one with less of a recognised link with electronic music - these guys were more of a straight-up retro 60s proposal but one with a stellar rhythm section and a genuine virtuoso in the shape of organist Clint Boon, leaving them the option of playing fast as fuck when they felt like it. 'Joe' is the best example of them at full tilt, a manic dancefloor anthem in homage to a tramp they knew back home (who may also appear in the video, I'm not sure). Their lyrical themes were always quite kitchen sink back in the day which was kinda touching, they always seemed to be a little more grounded in reality than their peers without every getting weighty about it. They were also one of the only bands that emerged from the Madchester period who managed to crank out more than one or two decent albums, releasing four absolute corkers between 1990 and 1994 before finally calling it a day. Of all the bands on this list that I've not yet seen live, the Inspirals are the ones I'd do anything to see on stage - I have a playlist consisting of nothing but dream setlists of their material on my I-Phone which is perhaps a little nerdy but if nothing else it's testament to the potency of their material all these years later.
Happy Mondays - Wrote for Luck (September 1989)
Candy Flip - Strawberry Fields Forever (March 1990)
The Farm - Stepping Stone (May 1990)
The Charlatans - The only one I know (June 1990)
Paris Angels - Perfume (July 1990)
Primal Scream - Higher than the Sun (May 1991)
Flowered Up - Weekender (May 1992)
And as our final tune of the night, it could only be Baggy's own 'Stairway to Heaven', the death knell to the era that was Flowered Up's 12-minute epic 'Weekender' which called time not only on their career but on Baggy itself in the Spring of 1992. By that time the Mondays had crashlanded spectacularly with their crappy 'Yes Please!' album, the Roses were embroiled in a bitter dispute with Silvertone that would see them disappear to Wales for several years and every other band in the genre was either laying low or splitting up. Flowered Up were Southern scallies who'd missed out on Baggy's biggest spoils despite a run of great singles (like this for starters) but surprised everyone by saving their best for last - backed by a full-on feature film as a promo vid, 'Weekender' successfully summed up the joy of Baggy's heyday but also allowed the troubling notion to slip in that the fun was almost over. Like the last song of the night before they turn the lights on and you have to go back to normal life after a wild all-nighter, the track encapsulates peaks of euphoric build-up and lysergic comedown interspersed with flashes of sadness and frustration, perfectly translated into the image of a party animal living for the weekend but aware that the grim reality he's fleeing will catch up with him at some point. Like the painful Monday morning after a large weekend, the end of the line for Baggy was upon us in 1992 as the era drew to a close amidst break-ups, bankruptcy and drug addiction that would leave the British music scene barren until Suede emerged later in the year to sow the seeds of the Britpop explosion that would dominate the mid-90s. Flowered Up didn't survive the culture shift, though on the basis of this single they didn't expect to - their keyboardist ended up playing in chart rave outfit Republica whilst singer Liam Maher passed away a couple of years ago....I'll leave you to decide which one's the more tragic end. All good things come to an end and this was the soundtrack to a genre calling time and leaving the dancefloor to someone new. Tinted with tragedy, 'Weekender' nevertheless provided one last blow out before the journey's end.