With the exception of 40-something displaced Englishmen living in the United States and Anglophile music snobs, some Coachella goers reacted much like the Twittersphere did to the announcement The Stone Roses would be headlining the storied So-Cal music festival: “Who?”
“We are here to show the way,” Coachella promoter and legendary L.A. music scion Gary Tovar wrote to Rockerzine via Facebook. “If they don’t know who the Stone Roses are, find out! Goldenvoice has always tried to lead young music fans to the musical promised land, either by putting on acts way before the public knew of them–or bringing back acts that never quite made it big on this side of the pond.”
So, in the interest of showing you the way, we say pull up your beanbag chairs, hipsters, and gather round: Here’s your Stone Roses cheat sheet.
Manchester, England had always been something of a rock hub, and the hometown – or adopted hometown – of The Hollies, The Bee Gees The Buzzcocks, The Smiths and countless other bands over the years. The mid- to late- 1980s Manchester scene, dubbed “Madchester,” was a particularly fervent creative time, when the Factory label and Hacienda club gave rise to crazy-popular bands like The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, and Happy Mondays, who all played trippy, shuffling pop that had a decidedly hippy-retro bent, best consumed with copious amounts of ecstasy. The Charlatans (UK) might have been the most stable of the bunch, still cranking out music today (as do the Mondays! – Ed.).
Though Americans covered their ears and completely ignored the whole thing, in England, the Stone Roses phenomenon raged. A definite cut above the other mostly (in retrospect) throwaway Madchester artists, the band’s self-titled debut album was a masterpiece that stands up to repeated listenings a quarter-century later; especially cuts like “She Bangs the Drums,” “Sugar Spun Sister,” and “I Am the Resurrection,” an epic “Stairway to Heaven”-esque opus that closes out the eponymously titled disc.
On the cover of every music rag, the Roses played the media. Acting enigmatic and strange, and for the most part, saying nonsense in interviews, the band members forced critics and journalists to look to the songs for meaning, and they obliged by dissecting the lyrics every which way, writing endless pablum about them. The silliest article in my personal memory was an article talking about Scotland Yard’s interest in the band because of their song “Elizabeth My Dear,” pegging it as the rantings of a fictitious, murderous madman going after the Queen with his pistol and silencer. While their minute-long rewrite of “Scarborough Fair” seemed a weird aside on an otherwise flawless album; in hindsight, it was probably just another facet of the band’s calculated media mystique. Some critics went as far as comparing The Stone Roses to the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John Leckie, who produced The Stone Roses (and also happened to help the ex-Beatles record their solo work at Abbey Road Studios as well as about a million other awesome records from the likes of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Public Image Ltd) laughed out loud at that notion in a 2009 interview done for the band’s first album’s twentieth-anniversary reissue.
“It’s one of the few records that I have done that I do play when I’m doing the washing up or when I’m driving…you know, I play it for my own pleasure kind of thing,” Leckie said. “I think it does have this kind of lasting quality, it seems. I mean, it doesn’t sound particularly dated. There are loads of details in it, like Sgt. Pepper, which always catch your ear. Like, every time you play a track, you hear something different.”
A few U.S. music dorks, like me, spurred on by their dorky Anglophile friends, picked up on The Stone Roses in 1989, but even those enamored of the band couldn’t hold on to that one record forever. At war with their label, Silvertone Records, the Roses took six blessed years to follow up their debut, and in the time between, popular music had moved on without them: Nirvana and grunge came and went, L7 pretended they were dead and then actually died on the charts, and En Vogue, TLC and Boyz II Men’s mission to completely destroy Memphis and Motown and Philly soul was almost complete. Worse, follow-up, Second Coming, was simply devoid of the sparkling energy of the first record. As such, it proved that, when a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, it indeed does not make a sound.
Meanwhile, Americans decided to invest in a far lesser light from Manchester, Oasis, which went on to bear the banner of Manchester music to the world. The natural U.S. parallel to the story took place in Detroit in the late 1960s: The MC5 was the most amazing Detroit rock band of all time but since they couldn’t get out of their own way, the far inferior troika of Grand Funk, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent got all the fame and glory. As the Beastie Boys once put it: Homey, that’s how it goes..
So in sum, ye 2013 hipsters who need to distill “who the hell are the Stone Roses?” into a few pithy sentences over a couple pre-Coachella P.B.R.’s, remember this: They came, took over the world for a hot, bloody Manchester minute, created a throne, couldn’t get their act together for a second record until it was much too late, and when they did it sucked anyway, and then basically abdicated their throne to The Oasis. But, kinda like the dudes in Waiting for Godot, some music fans still pine for the Stone Roses to get their act together and deliver a transcendent, Beatlesque-rock-rush worthy of the 1989 hype. How lucky that this year The Coachella people are happy to give them the chance to see if the band can make good on their claim that, this time, they are indeed the resurrection.