Aaaaah. It's the Bee Gees. Being murdered.

Had band members Michael Kirkland and Ben Woollacott round to do some recording yesterday. We had a lot of fun putting down three part harmonies on a few tracks for the new album. I guess we thought we were being the Beatles on 'Because' or The Beach Boys on 'Pet Sounds' but listening back like we were being more like the Bee Gees really, only sans medallions and sexy outfits and being murdered.

You can watch the quite amusing results here. First you hear the ungodly sound of us singing alone at the start of the video, and then at the end you'll get to hear the track with all our ahem, bits put together.

Remembering the Roses

As the song goes, it was twenty years ago today, that Sgt Pepper taught the band - oh hang on, wrong album. Sorry. It was twenty years ago this month that The Stone Roses released their self-titled debut; and about thirteen years ago since I heard it for the first time. I was wandering fairly aimlessly around Clontarf in Dublin (worked up, if I recall correctly, about a girl who wasn't paying me sufficient attention) and I had a copy of the album, on cassette, in my cheapo walkman.

Despite the poor quality of my headphones (big fluorescent orange foam objects that I'd bought from a pound shop), as soon as I hit play, I knew the record was going to become the perfect soundtrack to that moment - and to that time in my life in general. Apologies for waxing lyrical here, but listening to it was like being let out of school early on a blisteringly hot summer's day; a first kiss; sagging off for a cheeky pint when you know you should be doing something officious. (See, I told you I was about to wax lyrical).

More simply put, it was a beautiful record. When it came out in 1989, its stunning melodies, jangly guitars, backwards tracks and close vocal harmonies must have represented an oasis (no pun intended) in the desert that was 1980s music. It was a return to decent record-making, and marked the advent of a 90s music scene - Britpop - which, whilst having a silly name, nonetheless brought with it better songs and hairdos than had been seen in a very long time.

And speaking of an oasis, The Stone Roses really set the tone for the 90s. The band that went on to dominate the decade, Oasis, were frequently likened to the Beatles - but any Stone Roses fan knew that in many respects, it was actually the Roses that were being ripped off - their look and Ian Brown's performance style in particular.

Oasis went on to outsell the Roses and become something of a national institution that the Roses never really were; but one thing Oasis never had, in my view, was the sense of mythology that surrounded the Roses. A lot of the great albums / bands are draped in this sense of mythology - to think of the classic Beatles, Pink Floyd or Velvet Underground albums is to immediately call to mind a tapestry of images, characters and stories that becomes interwoven and infused with the music itself and adds a sense of magic to it. It's a mythology that I think Oasis have strived for and tried to manufacture - watch that DVD about the making of their last album for a prime example of this - but have never been completely successful with. In contrast, The Stone Roses were a band that had this mystique / mythology in spades: Ian Brown's sullen stage act and almost whispered vocals; John Squire's Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork; lyrics that made dark and mysterious references to Christian myths.

"The Stone Roses" was the perfect name for the band and their first album; the juxtaposition of the hard and the soft in the title summed up the music perfectly. Their debut album was full of sunny music but also dark and enigmatic themes: when you pause to consider the lyrics of Made of Stone, for example, you realise that lurking underneath its gorgeous melody is a fantasy of killing off a lover.

20 years on, The Stone Roses is a record which still stands the test of time; it's regularly voted one of the top albums of all time in those polls that music magazines seem to feel the need to do every six months. It continues to inspire bands like Kasabian, Doves and Elbow. My own songwriting still references them a bit too (although not as much as when I was a teenager - you should have heard how ridiculous my efforts to copy Ian Brown's vocal style sounded).

It's a beautifully sunny day today, and I think I'm going to try to find the time to find a contraption, without big orange foam headphones, that will let me walk around the place listening to this album. Different city this time, but, for 40 minutes or so, probably the same feelings.

If you've got memories of the first time you heard The Stone Roses, I'd love to hear them - so do leave a comment. Cheers!


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The Beatles didn't break up

Post Beatles break-up, John Lennon said that those people clamouring for a Beatles reuninon could just put their own Beatles album together - one track from a Lennon solo album, another from one of Paul's, one from George's and so on...

In this age of iPods this is now an intriguing possibility, and putting together 1970s Beatles albums is surprisingly satisfying. To my ears, for example, the first 1970s Beatles album, possibly called 'Instant Karma', would have had the following tracks on it:

Side 1
1 Instant Karma
2 Every Night
3 Isolation
4 My Sweet Lord
5 Junk
6 Jealous Guy
7 Maybe I'm Amazed

Side 2
1 Too Many People
2 Love
3 Imagine
4 Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey
5 All Things Must Pass
6 The Back Seat of My Car
7 Oh My Love

And I think it would have made a good album too.

This little exercise got me thinking about why Lennon and McCartney's 70s solo albums ended up being inferior to their Beatles ones. Rock critics usually attribute this to the lack of the Lennon-McCartney dynamic and intra-band competition; I think this is partly true, but I also have a slightly different angle on it.

As a proper solo artist (i.e., not seven-writers-on-my-record James Blunt), you have to write 10-14 songs on your own to fill an album. But whilst in the Beatles, John and Paul only had to contribute 5 or 6 tracks to each album (and let George get a couple in). Obviously it's much easier to write 5 good songs a year than 14, and you can devote more time to producing them. When the Beatles broke up, the demands of putting out one solo record a year (or sometimes two) meant that John and Paul had to fill whole albums with material - something that is much more difficult to do and which they weren't used to. Which invariably led to fillers like Lennon's Oh Yoko (which has the same melody as Three Blind Mice), or McCartney songs with titles like Single Pigeon (classic).

But when you take 5 or 6 of their better efforts from their solo albums and put them in the same pot, as I did above, you do end up with a record that shapes up pretty well, and had George Martin been at the wheel, might have sounded damn good. Don't think Single Pigeon would have ended up on a 70s Beatles album somehow though.

Your very own White Album

I was reading a book recently by a chap called David Quantick called 'Revolution' which is about the making of The Beatles' White Album. It was entertaining, but ultimately not very enlightening, and certainly wasn't in the same league as Ian MacDonald's similarly-formatted 'Revolution in the Head'.

In any event it reminded me that this year is the 40th birthday of the record.

I first heard The White Album in Cologne, when I was 11 or 12. At that point I'd absorbed all the Beatles albums that happened to be in my parents' record collection or which they had copied onto tapes (tapes, remember those?) . They had all of them except The White Album and Abbey Road (more on the latter another time).

We were in Cologne because my parents were during a tour of Europe of sorts - my dad is an academic, and at the time we were driving round Europe in a blue and white VW camper van, stopping off at various university towns so that he could be suitably professorial (I'm sure he would put it differently, but you get the gist). We had stopped off at my uncle Ciaran's place, who at the time was in his mid-20s and living with a bunch of slightly eccentric Germans. One of them had the White Album on a couple of cassettes.

Well God, I didn't know what to make of the album (nor did the Germans when I woke them up with it every morning for a week). I loved 'Back in the USSR', misheard the lyrics of 'Sexy Sadie' as 'Sex is easy' (very exciting that for a 12 year old, I must say), and was utterly bemused by Revolution 9.

And I still don't know what to make of it. There are some fantastic songs on it, but as a whole it leaves me somewhat cold, or bemused. I think that I agree with George Martin's initial assessment, that the band should have opted for what would have been an incredible single album, rather than a double one. To my ears, the record sounds like a load of amazing songs interspersed with a load of bootlegs; indeed, much of the Anthology stuff that came out years later could have happily sat on the White Album - it certainly reminded me of it.

Many will swear by The White Album in its entirety. For those of us who are less gone on tracks like 'Wild Honey Pie' or 'Don't Pass Me By', it presents us with a fascinating (and fun) opportunity: to edit it down, and make our own 'single' album version of it. The idea being to reduce the 30 songs to, say, a more manageable 12-14. After some reflection, here is my perfect White Album.

My ultimate White Album:

1. Back in the USSR
2. Dear Prudence
3. Happiness is a Warm Gun
4. Martha My Dear
5. I'm So Tired
6. Why Don't We Do It in the Road?
7. I Will
8. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9. Sexy Sadie
11. Revolution 1
12. Cry Baby Cry

I know, it's sacrilege. But it would have been bloody good, eh?