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On This Day In Music… May 2, 1989: The Stone Roses Release Their Debut Album and the World Becomes a Better Place

'The Stone Roses' was a blast of sunshine – and the start of a revolution.

the stone roses album
Source: Silvertone/RCA / YouTube

'The Stone Roses' would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest albums ever made.

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In the spring of 1989 few people outside Manchester were really aware of The Stone Roses. In the city itself, they were already the buzziest of bands in an emerging scene that included Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets, the Hacienda nightclub and what would later be dubbed “Madchester”. And although their self-titled debut album, released on May 2, 1989, was the must-have record of the summer among young Mancunians, it failed to catch fire pretty much anywhere south of Stockport for another seven months.

The Stone Roses charted at No. 32 in its first week – almost entirely due to sales in Manchester itself – but then wouldn’t reappear in the Top 40 until January 1990. Thirty-five years later it is regarded as one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and among the most influential LPs ever recorded.

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From the brooding, rumbling opening of “I Wanna Be Adored” to the frenzied wig-out of the outro to “I Am The Resurrection”, The Stone Roses was a statement of pure intent, astonishingly executed. Its blending of Byrdsian jangle-pop, swirling psychedelia, the emerging acid house beats coming out of the Hacienda, the indie lineage of The Smiths and flat out Hendrix/Led Zep guitar rock, was both revolutionary and irresistibly glorious. Listening to it was like watching the sun come out.

The swaggering authority of the music was complemented by Ian Brown’s sure-shot lyricism. From undiluted arrogance (“Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past was yours but the future’s mine”) to pot-shots at the monarchy and the government (“Every member of Parliament trips on glue”, “It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear”), the prevailing vibe was of supreme confidence, an optimism born of nothing but belief in one’s own brilliance.

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the stone roses ian brown
Source: WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Ian Brown's lyrics were shot through with youthful self-belief.

Even the album’s cover art spoke of youthful transformation. Painted by guitarist John Squire, the Jackson Pollock-inspired creation was his take on the Paris student riots of May 1968, with the colors of the French flag prominent – as well as the lemons that would become The Stone Roses’ emblem. Speaking to Q in 2011, Squire explained: “Ian [Brown] had met this French man when he was hitching around Europe, this bloke had been in the riots, and he told Ian how lemons had been used as an antidote to tear gas. I really liked his attitude.”

The inference was clear. The revolution was happening; be prepared.

The Stone Roses not only set the tone for the Madchester scene, but almost single-handedly began what would eventually be labelled Britpop. Blur’s debut album Leisure (released in 1991) owed much to The Stone Roses, and, as both Gallagher brothers have acknowledged, there would have been “no Oasis without the Stone Roses”.

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“I remember our kid having ‘Sally Cinnamon’, but it was ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ that first got me,” Liam told NME Gold, as reported in 2017. “I remember going to school, and my mate Damian, he had an elder brother who was well into them as well, and he was going ‘have you heard that band The Stone Roses?’

“I must have been about 15 or 16, and then when I finally heard the record properly, it had a real f---ing summery feel to it, a real lightness to it. It was like having a B12 shot or something.

“I remember around that time, in 1989 or whatever, just sitting in the park, long hot summers, and even though it was s--t at home, that music was like another dimension. I remember seeing them at Blackpool, Spike Island, and it was just… it’s youth, innit – you look back and nothing will ever compare to it.”

His brother was equally transformed. “We were into The Jam and The Smiths before that,” Noel Gallagher recalled. “We thought you had to go to college or be an art student to be in a band. When I went to see the Roses, they looked exactly the same as we did… When I heard ‘Sally Cinnamon’ for the first time, I knew what my destiny was.”

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the stone roses john squire
Source: YouTube

'The Stone Roses' would be the driving influence for the Britpop explosion of the mid-90s.

The Stone Roses had formed in 1983 around Brown and Squire, with drummer Alan “Reni” Wren joining the following year and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield completing the line-up in 1987. After building up a solid word-of-mouth reputation in Manchester – helped in part by stunts including a graffiti campaign and the doctoring of other bands’ posters to place their names at the top of the bill, they were picked up by Zomba, a division of Silvertone Records, and in October 1988 released the single “Elephant Stone”, produced by New Order bassist Peter Hook. (An earlier single, “Sally Cinnamon”, was recorded before Mani joined the band.)

The swirling wah-wah guitars and dancefloor-fueled beats of “Elephant Stone” are now seen as ground-breaking – at the time they went all-but unnoticed by the country at large, with the song failing to chart at all on its original release.

Undeterred, the band entered the studio with producer John Leckie – whose CV included Pink Floyd, The Fall and Simple Minds – and set about laying down their debut album.

“They weren’t frightened,” Leckie later recalled. “They didn’t seem to feel any pressure other than that they were a band making their first album and didn’t want to lose the opportunity to make it good. So there wasn’t any pressure to prove themselves – they knew they were good”.

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the stone roses spike island
Source: mega

At the time of 'The Stone Roses' release the band were virtually unknown outside Manchester - where they were adored.

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The sessions were finished by February 1989, and despite another single, “Made of Stone”, only peaking at No. 90 the following month, The Stone Roses had nonetheless become the most talked-about band in Manchester.

And after the album’s May 2 release… they only remained the most-talked-about band in Manchester. After entering the chart at No. 32, it dropped to No. 54 the following week, and wouldn’t make the Top 40 again for a further seven months.

Meanwhile, the band themselves refused to compromise – and slowly, the rest of the country caught on. After being offered a support slot on the Rolling Stones tour, they dismissed the idea out of hand, saying “The Stone Roses have never supported anyone in their life and see no reason why they should now.”

They also refused to play on the Terry Wogan talk show unless they could be interviewed too, and when they did make their national TV debut on the BBC arts program The Late Show in the autumn of 1989, the segment descended into farce after a power outage cut short their performance. As the hapless presenter attempted to rescue the situation, Brown stalked the stage behind her, shouting: “Amateurs! Amateurs!”

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Finally, in January 1990, The Stone Roses re-entered the Top 40; it would go on to spend 25 weeks in the chart and sell over four million records. On May 27, 1990, almost exactly one year after its release, the band played a euphoric show to 27,000 fans at Spike Island, an event described as “the Woodstock of the baggy generation” and now seen as one of the defining pop cultural moments of the decade.

It took a while, but the importance of The Stone Roses is now undisputed. In 1997 it was named the second greatest album of all time in a poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and (perplexingly) Classic FM; and In 2004, it was voted the best British album of all time in an Observer poll of 100 musicians and critics.

Even today, 35 years after its release, the energy, optimism and sense of a youthful revolution that runs through The Stone Roses still has the ability to move listeners like few albums before or since.

Speaking to Q in February this year, Radio 2 presenter Vernon Kay said: “They were all anthemic tunes; as soon as you heard them you were hooked in straight away, you were singing along almost immediately – ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘Made of Stone’, ‘Waterfall’, all those big tunes. And still, 35 years on, you put them on in the car and you're up and away and it's gleeful, it's joyous.”


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