Get The Message

Band: Electronic
Album: Electronic
Year: 1991
Label: Factory Records
Status: Disbanded 1999
No need to hurry. After the jangle-guitar opening we receive the leisurely beat; soon a bassline; and only then does the song opens to images of man-made guardian angels, ideas combined in the way the urban electropoppers Electronic do so well. Their first track has a summer evening sound – the video showed Bernard and Johnny mooning around the Maldives – even if the song gets barbed later (“Hark the herald angels sting”). Johnny told Melody Maker he nearly fell into a volcano during the shoot. A metaphor for how this song mixes reality into the beauty, hurt into the love. Danger in the most lovely of things.

New bands battle to get noticed. “Why won’t you look at me? / I live and breathe,” Bernard sings, but this was a newly-formed supergroup so didn’t have that problem: instead there’s the pressure to be amazing.

Amazon Can't Communicate

I interrupt my series on Manchester Music because I want to write about a language issue that is infuriating me: corporate speak. So you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out the contents of the next Manchester Music post (cryptic clue: "a band and song title that, combined, make you think of email").

Ah, corporate speak. I recently asked my County Council some questions, and every answer was preceded by "I would confirm that..." It was bizarre, all using the formula:
"I would confirm that" + [restate the question, badly] + "would be" + [answer].
Who talks like that? Answer: robots. Robots with no emotions or empathy, the kind that will destroy us in the name of efficiency and profit. Councils, quangos, MPs, the Government, they all seem to be adopting communication formats which are totally at odds to how people actually speak. And they obfuscate rather than clarify the communication process. Which is no doubt the purpose of it.

Anyway, on to the rantathon: who drew my ire today? I would confirm that the organisation that today is drawing the ire would be Amazon.


The Only One I Know

Band: The Charlatans
Album: Some Friendly
Year: 1990
Label: Situation Two
Status: Still going
“Everyone has been burned before, everybody knows the pain”: these key lyrics sung by Salfordian Tim Burgess immediately recall this 1990 hit. They weren’t written by Tim though: they were taken from “Everybody’s Been Burned” by The Byrds, 1967. Entirely appropriate for a Manchester group influenced by 1960s West Coast US psychedelic bands (just listen to the funky keyboard!)

And this was pure loose-beat, guitar-driven Manc, as is clear when you watch the video. The baggy-clothed and bowl-headed band play in a warehouse, jiggly dancing with dodgy kids and police in the background. Classic Madchester: you could almost expect their contemporaries 808 State (also formed in 1988) to appear with Moss Side rapper MC Tunes, since their collaboration was the other 1990 hit, The Only Rhyme That Bites, filmed in a similar setting (see page 231).


Blue Monday

Band: New Order
Album: [NA]
Year: 1983
Label: Factory Records
Status: Still going
Blue Monday. The best-selling UK indie 12” of all time. Strangely for a song that was already perfection it has been remixed and re-released time after time, each version helping to keep it eternally popular in the dance club scene. Fellow Mancs 808 State created an acid house remix in 1988 which is one of the most well-known, and was often heard at the Hot nights in The Haçienda. Pretty good for something that started life as a tune the band could set playing on auto as they left the stage, to avoid doing an encore. So what makes this song so identifiable?
  • The track opens with the most recognisable kick drum rhythm ever; then that unforgettable melody hits. An error meant the melody is slightly out of synch with the beat, but the band decided they liked the way that sounded and kept it like that. 
  • “Tell me how do I feel? Tell me now, how should I feel?” The lyrics are delivered in a detached way, almost an electronic lack of emotion (which will be relevant a few chapters from now).
  • Synth bass lines pulse, played on a synthesizer Bernard Sumner built. A feature of many New Order songs is the focus on strong bass lines (guitar or electronic). Peter Hook often played bass as the lead guitar.
  • The song breaks the rules, lasting an epic 7 and a half minutes with an unconventional structure.


Band: Joy Division
Album: Closer
Year: 1980
Label: Factory Records
Status: Disbanded 1980
This serious post-punk album has the intensity of Manchester but without the light relief. The lead singer, Ian Curtis, sets the tone. He’s like a burning humourless hypnotic light, one focus, no artifice, no sucking up. Watch Ian on his first TV appearance in 1978, Granada Reports, the way Tony Wilson introduces him while Ian is stood frowning down, arms akimbo: he won't smile, won’t even look at Tony. This isn’t party time. That’s appropriate for a band named after concentration camp sex slavery.

Who’s the album for?
  • Literary types. First track is the harsh and drilling Atrocity Exhibition, named after a J.G. Ballard novel. Ian Curtis didn’t just sing, he wrote the lyrics, and was rarely seen without a book in his hand that informed their creation.
  • The proletariat. Like many of these Manchester bands, there’s a working class sensibility. In the midst of millions we still feel Isolation as we grind away at A Means To An End, losing our Heart And Soul in the process.
  • Goths. Joy Division perfected melancholy and darkness in songs about sorrow and pain, loneliness, desolation, emptiness, urban decay. This album helped establish the gothic rock genre.

Loose Fit

Band: Happy Mondays
Album: Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches
Year: 1990
Label: Factory Records
Status: Still going
This song defined a type of music and an attitude. Loose Fit – yeah, it’s the whole thing. Clothes match personality, all in one package, you get what you’re seein’. And if you don’t like it – well, the door’s over there. It’s all perfectly carried by their “don't give a fuck” attitude, Shaun smirking his way through songs: you only have to hear a few lines to picture him stood there, shoulders back and head nodding; Bez doing his slow-swim dance, his own rhythm section, surprisingly important to the band’s energy – when he’s absent from live performances everything seems to drop a notch. It all comes together, as taut as baggy can be.

The song itself reinforces this. Blissed-up sounds, laid-back chorus, plus the noise of Shaun dragging on a spliff throughout. Even its position on the album, track 5 of 10, the other songs round it like slack clothes. Just be yourself he says. “Sounds good to me.”



Band: Paris Angels
Album: [NA]
Year: 1990
Label: Sheer Joy
Status: Disbanded 1992 - back in 2013!
Opening jangly guitars and tambourine grab the ear; then drums kick in, and you really take notice. When people heard this song in the summer of 1990 they’d stop, intrigued, and ask who it was. The song’s appeal is partly because it’s so singable, but also it is full of distinctive features such as the way the band play with tempo, moving it into higher energy, or the chorus where Jane Gill’s angelic “Oooh-aaaah” contrasts with Rikki’s deep-voiced “I’m going stupid once again,” before they combine with “I left it up to you.” A move to unity. There are hints of New Order or a happier Joy Division (singer Rikki’s voice and look is reminiscent of Ian Curtis). Even the sunflower seed image on their first single cover and video resembles New Order iconography. Then at the end of the song it sounds like a spaceship taking off, a band on the rise. Paris Angels erupted onto the Madchester scene at a key point, full of promise and making an immediate impact.

Perfume, this shoe-gazing dance crossover, was their biggest hit, Manc-pop at its best, and is still played by DJs in the know today. John Peel did a session with them. Perfume was single of the week in NME. It sat near the top of the indie chart in the summer of 1990. Paris Angels signed with Sheer Joy (owned by an ex-Factory employee), then Virgin. At one Manchester gig their support was St. Etienne. They were going places.


This Is How It Feels

Band: Inspiral Carpets
Album: Life
Year: 1990
Label: Mute
Status: Still going
This is a story of unhappy lives, misunderstandings and lack of communication, and a desire for escape that will not be realised. Who said the Inspiral Carpets, so much part of the late 1980s Madchester scene, were just psychedelic organs and hippy guitars?

This song was their first top 20 single (and the album it came from reached no 2 in the UK). This Is How It Feels and Saturn 5 remain two of their most well-known and appreciated songs. Why is that?

Maybe we identify with the simple chorus: this is how it feels to be lonely, to be small. The final line is often misheard as “This is how it feels when your work means nothing at all” and can be internalised and appropriated as a truth by all alienated McJob workers.


Cigarettes & Alcohol

Band: Oasis
Album: Definitely Maybe
Year: 1994
Label: Creation
Status: Disbanded 2009
Could a title do more to glorify self-destruction? Maybe if it was backed up by a video where it is obligatory to have a bottle of booze in your hand or a cigarette hanging limply from wasted-looking faces; a video of people collapsing drunk, pissed snogs, smoky backgrounds, toilets as mixed-sex social spaces to show what things can descend into. Grainy black and white footage to imply a colourless life, fitting the lyrics – nothing worth making an effort for except drugs as escapism, go down the white line route. A seductive path to overindulgence reminiscent of the Happy Mondays. Even the single’s sleeve reinforced the smiling nihilism: cigarettes (Liam dragging on a fag) and alcohol (Noel holding up a bottle) cover the drugs angle. Beds, beautiful women, guitars: hints of sex and rock ’n’ roll too. It’s not subtle, but hammered home the new view of Oasis as something wilder than their psychedelically-influenced peaceful rock-pop first appeared.

This was the fourth single from their first album, Definitely Maybe. Cigarettes & Alcohol is a perpetual favourite with many of their fans. There’s a force and confidence to the music. Not from virtuoso solos or manic punk speed, but from the dirty guitar sound, the drawled pace, the working class perspective, and a “This is how it is” public persona statement that admits of no doubt and no alternatives. Confidence that suited a world-famous band.


Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

Band: Buzzcocks
Album: Love Bites
Year: 1978
Label: United Artists
Status: Still going
From the way the song bursts into life with no warning to the urgent guitar and drums, the non-stop energy blasts pop punk into our ears. So far, so expected. What’s surprising in punk is to find emotional honesty in as song, for example the distinctively timed words in the verse “You make me feel I’m dirt / And I’m hurt”. Normally we’d expect a punk song to swap the last words for “You cunt” (Sex Pistols, My Way). But not Buzzcocks. This is a personal situation, a lonely problem. As the guitar shreds at the end, and the drum whacks into the last chorus, Pete Shelley is still repeating the complaint. Nothing’s gonna fix it. Sometimes love’s too broken for you to do anything but grit your teeth or walk away.

Not humourless though. This song about love, with a huge heart on the single’s sleeve, had the B-side “Just Lust”.


Kinky Afro

Band: Happy Mondays
Album: Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches
Year: 1990
Label: Factory Records
Status: Still going
Kinky Afro acts like a manifesto of intent to kick off the Happy Mondays’ platinum album.
  • Baggy beats, funk and languid drums? Check.
  • Cocky swagger? Check.
  • Party calls? Check.
  • Self-centred lyrics? Check.
  • Laid-back delivery? Check.
Hey, that’s The Happy Mondays in a nutshell, brother.

The song is a conversation between a bad dad and his estranged son. Reconciliation is impossible: the dad won’t hear what the son says. Once, twice, say it again: he never will. Words are a barrier that can’t be passed as they stand across a gulf of difference. Tony Wilson described it as “the greatest poem about parenthood since Yeats”. Shaun Ryder, Bard of Salford.

Strangeways, Here We Come

Band: The Smiths
Album: Strangeways, Here We Come
Year: 1987
Label: Rough Trade Records
Status: Disbanded 1987
The Smiths’ fourth and final album: a farewell maybe, but Morrissey and Marr also created something that acts as an introduction to Manchester via the unpredictably changing rhythms of real life, real people, rather than polished bubble pop shit.

During the album’s opening jingle jangle an echoing ghost’s voice comes into focus, as if narrowing in on a transmission from the past. Sent to tell us stories about history, customs, place, loss and love, something fresh in every catchy song, from the toe-tapping bitchiness of Unhappy Birthday, to Girlfriend In A Coma’s pop perfection ambivalence, to the soundscape sadness of Last Night I Dreamt Someone Loved Me, where a piano fronts the sound of a crowd from the miners’ strike. These are everyman songs to hum afterwards at the bus stop, in your council flat, walking to work or queuing for chips. We identify with the perspective. “Eighteen months’ hard labour” sings Morrissey – about Strangeways, or just the grinding boredom of doing a job you hate? I’m not too sure.


Manchester Music Overview 1976 – 1998


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