Was the world holding its breath for the big Stone Roses reunion? Well if it was, feel free to exhale, as after literally days of speculation the band have today announced plans for at least two concerts next year and some newly recorded material as well, which given the 17 year gap since their last output makes the near legendary gestation period of their second album seem positively brisk.
It is news that has quite rightly got many people extremely excited. For music fans of a certain vintage, the Stone Roses were the quintessential band of their era, with their debut album in particular being hailed as one of the defining moments of the Madchester musical revolution of the early 1990s. As a chartwatcher their impact always fascinates me for whilst they never managed massive hit singles in a purely chart-topping sense, their individual tracks became acknowledged classics in their own right, and indeed as we shall see were floating their way onto the singles chart several years after they were first recorded. Most of the Stone Roses’ biggest hits were so long ago they predate even my own writing, but this seemed to take an appropriate moment to look back at just what Roses hits charted when – and most importantly why,
The chart fortunes of the Stone Roses were the very definition of a slow burn. It wasn’t until their fourth single release (and their second on Silvertone Records) that they caught the attention of chart chroniclers, the initial release of ‘Made Of Stone’ creeping its way to 1990 in March 1989. Still plying the cheerful jangling indie sound which characterised their early releases, they reached the Top 40 for the first time at the end of July 1989 (just in time for the annual “taking abroad on holiday” recording of the chart show as I recall) as the enthusiastic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ reached Number 36. At the time they were just another independent band, destined to place a handful of singles in the lower reaches of the chart like so many of their contemporaries at the time – or so we all thought.
The tale of the double a-side ‘What The World Is Waiting For/Fools Gold’ has now passed into legend. As the labelling of the single and its chart listing suggests, the now iconic ‘Fools Gold’ was originally intended as a quirky b-side to the more of the same vibe of ‘What The World…’ only for Silvertone’s Roddy McKenna to suggest that the track with its whispered vocals and James Brown sampled bassline was liable to make just as much an impact. The single was put out as a double a-side, but the label whispered to anyone who was prepared to listen that the flipside was the track to watch out for.
Featuring as it did a high profile track which did not appear on their self-titled debut album (which had been released to little fanfare back in May), the new single landed on the chart as a new entry at Number 13 in late November 1989, as chance would have it in the same week that the Happy Mondays entered at Number 30 with their similarly dance-inspired ‘Madchester Rave On’ EP. This led to the two groups appearing side by side on a near legendary edition of Top Of The Pops, seen by some as a watershed moment in musical history as an exciting and innovative new sound in popular music appeared front and centre on prime time television. ‘Fools Gold’ as anyone with a brain was calling the single, rose to Number 8 the following week to take the Roses into the Top 10 for the first time ever.
Then the band and their label realised they had a problem. They were now one of the hottest things in music but with a single that was almost entirely different in style and delivery to much of the music on their still viable debut album. More pressingly however, the need to cash in on this success was upon them, and to their horror the first evidence of this was a part of their past they would actually have preferred to forget.
In a manner which in a way echoed the sudden bursting into flower of The Beatles back in the 1960s, it was a former label which still owned the rights to a rather naff old recording which tried to cash in first. The band had recorded the happy go lucky but rather cheeky drugs anthem ‘Sally Cinnamon’ back in 1987 for tiny label FM Revolver records. Smelling a shot at making money, the label’s boss Paul Birch re-released the single albeit in what was clearly an inferior mix to the original and to help its promotion put out a rather cheaply made video. The Stone Roses famously expressed their displeasure at this by decorating Birch, his girlfriend, and their offices with paint, an action which landed them a conviction for criminal damage. They need not have worried, the re-released ‘Sally Cinnamon’ limped to Number 46 and was never spoken of again.
Meanwhile it was the turn of their current label to get in on the act. March 1990 was deemed Stone Roses month, with a rapid fire series of re-releases (one every fortnight) of older material designed to kick start sales of their album. Previously uncharted third single ‘Made Of Stone’ made Number 8, the moody ‘Elephant Stone’ followed at Number 20 and even an opportunistic re-issue of ‘She Bangs The Drums’ made Number 34, improving on its initial placing eight months earlier. Whilst the album ‘The Stone Roses’ didn’t exactly catch fire, it did make the Top 20 of the album chart for the first time ever and would be a constant seller until the end of the year.
Finally it was time for some brand new material in the shape of newly recorded single ‘One Love’ which to be perfectly honest had an air of trying a little too hard about it. A valiant attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle of ‘Fools Gold’, the track was essentially a re-tread of its predecessor with even Ian Brown admitting later it was a failed attempt at making an anthem. No matter, a brand new Roses track was the biggest deal going and upon release at the start of July 1990 it stormed into the Top 40 at Number 4 to give the band their biggest hit single to that point.
It was at this point that the band found themselves mired in a legal dispute with Silvertone, realising that their royalties clause was derisory and was certain to leave them short changed given the success that anything they did from this point on was destined to be massive. Their attempts to leave the label lead to a September 1990 injunction which led to them being prevented from recording for anyone else – a situation which would persist until the band won in court the following summer. They duly signed with Geffen records who handed them a fortune to go and record a brand new classic. Little did they know how long it would take.
In the meantime to recover from the trauma of losing the band, Silvertone records began to exploit the music they did own in as many ways as possible. First came a cheeky re-release of ‘Fools Gold’ in September 1990. The single had been withdrawn from sale earlier in the summer and with the track still unavailable on an album a decent sized demand had been built up for it. Citing “overwhelming public demand” the label re-released the single and were rewarded with its second Top 40 appearance inside a year, the single mounting the Number 22 position. It was followed in September 1991 by the album’s lead track ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, released you suspect as a neat “screw you” to the judge which had found in the band’s favour and freed them to jump ship to Geffen. Despite being lifted from a now two year old album, the single was still bought by enough completists to reach Number 20.
Encouraged by this, the label shoved out the melodic ‘Waterfall’, along with some Oakenfold and Osbourne remixes, leading to the single reaching Number 27 in January 1992. To further wring every last drop from the, ahem, Stone next came the compilation album ‘Turns Into Stone’ in July 1992 which collected together essentially every Silvertone-owned Stone Roses track to date which was not on the ‘Stone Roses’ album. Finally ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘One Love’ were available on an album. It also featured a brand new single mix of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ which deleted the drum track from the original to replace it with a breakbeat. That made Number 33, and by the time yet another re-release of ‘Fools Gold’ had only made Number 73 in May 1992 (surely by then everyone who wanted one owned a copy) things were starting to get silly. It was almost a relief when 1993 came and went without any Stone Roses material being repackaged, re-jigged or re-released.
In the meantime the non-appearance of their second album and the prospect of the band having burned away the millions that Geffen records had given them to record it was becoming the stuff of legend. It wasn’t until late 1994 that the material was finally deemed ready for public consumption, and as the law of diminishing musical returns so often proves, anything which has been worked upon for that length of time and with that level of perfectionism involved was only ever going to be rubbish.
The new album ‘The Second Coming’ was derided as being overblown and overthought, and with the band having for one reason or another failed to strike whilst the iron was hot and their star was shining at its brightest at the start of the decade, they entered 1994 as being decidedly passé. Naturally a great deal of attention was paid to its release but rarely has such an eagerly anticipated album and a follow-up to a classic been deemed such a disappointment.
The record charts of course generally follow their own path and have no truck with critical opinion. The first truly new Stone Roses single since ‘One Love’ was only ever going to be a smash and so it proved with the epic (and in truth rather magnificent in its own way) ‘Love Spreads’ charging into the singles chart at Number 2 in December 1994. This now concides with the Masterton era, so this is what I wrote on rec.music.misc at the time:
No one phrase or sentence can convey properly to an outsider the sense of anticipation that surrounded this track. The debut album by the Stone Roses was released in 1989. Now seen as one of the last great albums of the 1980s, it launched the whole ‘Madchester’ scene into the stratosphere and dragged bands such as the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets in its wake. Virtually every initial single from the band and from the album made the charts at least twice which included a reissue programme in February/March 1990 which saw them chart a new hit every 2 weeks. The last new material recorded by the band was ‘One Love’ which became their biggest hit to that date when it made No.4 in July 1990 following which the band first of all successfully sued their record company to be released from their contract and then vanished into the studio for over 2 years. Finally then, the band re-emerge with what has to be one of the most delayed albums in recent times. Comments on the music itself are in the main, irrelevant. For most this will have been one of the highlights of the year and the biggest hit ever for the band was just about guaranteed.
History records what happened next, a series of rather more poorly received singles taken from ‘The Second Coming’, an acrimonious break-up and yet more re-releases of Fools sodding Gold. For posterity then, let us extract from the archives the notes on each. First, ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ from March 1995, a Number 11 hit:
Their ‘Second Coming’ album has generally been panned as a bit of a disappointment but that doesn’t seem to have harmed its sales too much. Following on from ‘Love Spreads’ which gave them their biggest hit ever when it made No.2 last December, the lads from Manchester release what is generally regarded as the best track on the album. The result is quite simply another smash, the seventh Top 20 hit of their career.
I got better when I started getting paid for this stuff you know. Next on their discography, a certain classic reaching Number 25 in a new version in April 1995:
Incredible. Simply incredible. ‘Fools Gold’ is without a doubt the definitive Stone Roses track. It was first released at the end of 1989 in a year which had seen the band become the sensations of the year, released their by now classic debut album and set themselves up as a force to be reckoned with. The moody piece of shoe-gazing reached No.8 and prompted a flood of re-releases of their earlier singles a few months later. In September 1990 the track was back again, released due to ‘public demand’ and it duly staggered to No.22. Then Silvertone records lost a celebrated court case against the band and saw them defect to Geffen records. Keen to capitalise on the one asset they still held, the album was repackaged and re-promoted with a number of singles which included – yes! – ‘Fools Gold’ in a "remix" which fooled nobody and reached No.73 in May 1992. Three years later on, and in the wake of their chart success with singles from their new Geffen album, their definitive recording is back once again in another alleged remix although you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. More, there is little that can be said apart from commenting that they must be the only alternative indie band to have ever been sampled by Run DMC.
The Run DMC track incidentally was ‘What’s It All About’ which just missed the Top 40 in late 1990.
We’re back mining ‘The Second Coming’ next with ‘Begging You’ which made Number 15 in November 1995, a full year after the album was released.
Strange to think that it is now a year since the music world held its breath for the new Stone Roses album before realising that it had been a waste of effort and that it was nothing special after all. The pattern of singles released from the ‘Second Coming’ album has been a strange one. The first single was ‘Love Spreads’ which made Number 2 in December last year, followed by ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ which reached Number 11 back in March. Since then there has been no promotion from the band at all, save for yet another remix and re-release of the ubiquitous ‘Fools Gold’ which made Number 25 in April. Finally here comes the third single from the album, making a fairly impressive debut inside the Top 20 but one which is likely to see it slip away as fast as it came. It is strange to think that in 1990 the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were being mentioned in the same breath as the saviours of British music. Five years on the Happy Mondays have become the critically and commercially acclaimed Black Grape whereas the Stone Roses just drift on with nobody paying them much attention at all.
That would be that, aside from what was until now the last ever appearance on the singles chart of the famous Stone Roses, and if you cannot work out just what that track was, you really have not been paying attention thus far. It made Number 25 in March 1999.
Just to show you can never keep a good track down. Fool’s Gold was arguably the track that kickstarted the whole Madchester scene in the early 1990s and the record that transformed the Stone Roses from just another late 80s indie band into a major but short-lived phenomenon. A Top 10 hit when first released in November 1989, the track returned to the chart a year later as part of a series of re-releases of virtually everything the band had recorded up to that point. This latest reappearance of the song is thanks to a new set of remixes, part of a new project at Jive records to breathe new life into past releases. The single is headed by an uptempo drum and bass reworking by Grooverider but of course not being a dance aficionado I can’t help but feel that the original mix was perfect enough
as it stood and that this tampering adds nothing to the song.
Truly I don’t think you had to be a “dance aficionado” to work out just how pointless that was. As I write ‘Fools Gold’ is at Number 190 on the iTunes chart. If an X Factor contestant covers it at any point, run away very very fast.