In 1993 Steve Albini published a memorable screed with the title “The Problem with Music,” in which he detailed—in excruciating detail—how the economics of making money off of music make it very likely that the average band just trying to put out some records is going to get the shit exploited out of them. Five years earlier, Factory Records released the Happy Mondays’ second album Bummed, which was the band’s first real breakthrough, and the Granada TV show Information Technology in the U.K. released an episode depicting, in a far gentler register than Albini’s testimony, the business decisions that went into what proved to be one of the touchstones of acid house culture.
The documentary, which lasts about 20 minutes, takes us—most obliquely—through three “Decisions,” those being “Recording Budget,” “Promotion Budget,” and “How Many to Make.” The strategy the filmmakers adopt is mostly fly-on-the-wall, so viewers have to glean information as best they can.
The affable Tony Wilson is our guide through some of the process, during which we see Tony Michaelides, Factory head of PR, grumbling about Shaun Ryder and Co. failing to appear for a radio interview; the esteemed producer Martin Hannett twiddling knobs at a console while the band lays down tracks; and manager Nathan McGough patiently explaining that Happy Mondays are worth the trouble even though they are a pain in the ass.
We also see the band and their friends at Central Station Design deciding on the album artwork as well as what the first single should be. (It was “Wrote for Luck.”)
So many music documentaries stress the extraordinary nature of the subjects, how sexy and cool and talented they are—it’s quite refreshing to see the other side of it, band as cog in a system fulfilling a specific economic role.
Selective memory can be a marvellous thing. It ensures we are never wrong, always right and (best of all) that we have always had such impeccable taste in music.
In Britain there were a lot of drugs about in the nineties—a lot of bad drugs—which might explain why so many of us—who lived through that heady decade—only recall the really good stuff rather than all that crap we apparently really enjoyed—Mr Blobby? Babylon Zoo? Rednex? Will Smith?—well, somebody bought this shit, how else did it all get to #1?
Personally, I have no recollection (officer) as to how all these records charted, but I can certainly give you a brief illustrated history of what we were actually listening to and what we all supposedly liked.
Exhibit #1: Select magazine
Select was arguably the magazine of the 1990s—the one that best represented (or at least covered) what happened during that decade—well, if you lived in the UK that is. Select had attitude, swagger and wit and was very, very opinionated. It didn’t tug its forelock or swoon before too many stars—though it certainly had its favorites.
Select kicked off in July 1990 with his purple highness Prince on the cover. It was a statement of the kind of magazine they were going to be—cool, sophisticated, sexy, sharp. Prince was good—everybody loves Prince. It didn’t last long. Over the next few months, the magazine struggled to find a musical movement it could wholeheartedly endorse. In its search for the next big thing—even The Beatles (rather surprisingly) featured on its cover.
Select threw its weight behind such bands as Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Blur and most significantly Suede—who never quite managed the level of success the magazine hoped for. Then Select did something remarkable—rather than follow the trend the magazine decided to shape it.
In April 1993, Select published an article by journalist Stuart Maconie entitled “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Cobain?” In it Maconie made a very convincing case for abandoning the influence of American music (grunge) and taking up with the “crimplene, glamour, wit, and irony” of local British talent.
Maconie offered up a list of bands he thought would make it big—Suede, Saint Etienne, Denim, The Auteurs and Pulp—lumping them together under the title “Britpop.” Within a year—the idea of one journalist had become a movement of disparate bands, genres and styles—from Oasis to Blur, Elastica to Pulp, Sleeper to The Verve.
Maconie’s idea gave Select their drum—one they were going to bang until everyone was deaf or the thrill had gone.
Select lasted for just over a decade 1990-2001. Its final cover featured Coldplay—which might explain where Britpop had gone wrong. Some kind soul has scanned all of the back issues—inside and out—and a trawl through their covers tells the story of what was in, what was hip, and what was “going on.”
If you’ve a hankering for the past or just want to relive the heady days of the 1990s, then check here to read, view and enjoy the whole archive of Select magazine.
Prince on the very first cover of ‘Select’ July 1990.
Something old, something new… a taste of what’s to come…
Something very old: The Beatles—but a hint of what this magazine hoped to find in the 1990s…Britpop. November 1990.
You get the feeling this bloke’s gonna feature a lot in this magazine…Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, January 1991.
More Select covers for selective memories, after the jump…
Bez the talismanic dancer from the Happy Mondays launched the Reality Party on Monday and announced his intention to stand as a representative for the party at the UK’s parliamentary elections in May. Bez is running on a platform of “free energy, free food and free anything.”
The perpetually bankrupt Celebrity Big Brother contestant (real name Mark Berry) is hoping to be elected to the Salford and Eccles constituency in Greater Manchester—the seat of former Labour cabinet minister Hazel Blears who is standing down.
The Reality Party is a new political party founded in 2014, and this is the first time it will take part in a general election.
On Monday, under a billboard bearing the slogan “It’s Real – It’s Your Reality,” Bez announced his candidature, standing on an anti-fracking ticket. Bez says he wants to “create a permaculture society,” and his election manifesto includes plans for a zero carbon economy, an end to tax breaks for big business, more nationalisation, bee hives in every school, glow-in-the-dark roads and hemp to be grown on Salford’s Chat Moss. Bez is one of three candidates representing the Reality Party in the election.
However, as the Independent newspaper reports, Bez has one major problem—the Reality Party is not registered with the Electoral Commission. In fact, the party was “deregistered” on the very day Bez launched his campaign.
According to the Independent, the regulator for the Electoral Commisison wrote Bez “several times” informing him that the Reality Party would be removed from the register as its name was too close to that of the Realist Party. Under the Commission’s rules there cannot be “two parties similarly named” as it may cause confusion with the electorate.
Bez was given until 12th January to register a different name for his party but failed to get back to the Commission:
The Independent has discovered that Bez, along with two other Reality Party members hoping to become MPs, will in fact never be able to stand in any election under that name.
A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: “Following a review conducted last year, we contacted ‘The Reality Party’ on two occasions to tell them the party name they had registered, if seen on a ballot paper at a General Election, could mislead voters.
“We recommended what they could do to address this and whilst the party indicated that it was looking at ways to alter its name with the Commission, it did not submit a revised name before our 12 January deadline and so was removed from the register of political parties.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Bez and his fellow Reality Party candidates—Nigel Askew, a pub landlord is standing in South Thanet against Ukip leader Nigel Farage, and Jackie Anderson, “who is listed as the ‘west Salford and Eccles’ candidate, although the constituency does not exist anymore”—as a Commission spokesman said:
“There’s still time for the [Reality] party to submit a revised name to the Commission before candidates who want to stand for a party have to submit their nominations papers to Acting Returning Officers with the name of the registered party they are standing for.”
Which means Bez and co. could still stand for election but not under the name of the Reality Party.
In what could be construed as an effective warning as to the risks of cognitive impairment that can accompany long-term ecstasy abuse, Happy Mondays vocalist Shaun Ryder has traveled the world seeking evidence of UFOs. His travels were documented for air on a forthcoming new program, Shaun Ryder on UFOs, for the ever-increasingly misnamed History Channel, TV home of God, Guns and Automobiles, Storage Wars, and Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.
In advance of the show’s debut, Ryder spoke to The Guardian about the close encounters he believes he experienced in his youth, his ongoing passion for UFOlogy, and his most recent sightings:
His sentences become disjointed. “Well, all I’ll tell yous, right, is that I’ve seen one, really close up, about 50 foot above, and it looks like a cartoon. It doesn’t look real. It looks like it’s made out of Airfix kit. They look like toys. When you’ve seen something as close as I’ve seen – and bullshit drink, drugs, bollox, none of it, absolutely normal and straight – and you see it and you know they’re here … “
Tell me more, I say. “I can’t go into any more detail, apart from that it was literally 50 foot above me.” Did he have any contact with it? “No, no, but the thing is I wasn’t frightened one bit. I was very peaceful and placid when I was looking at the thing.” He says it happened after he finished making the documentary series.
Well, there you go, someone call SETI and tell them to turn off the machines that go ‘ping,’ England’s most wasted saw it with his own bleary eyes, so clearly the matter’s settled.
(Before any believers go all berserk on me in the comments, I’m not dismissing the likelihood of life elsewhere. I just think it’s telling that the world’s best and most dedicated scientific minds have thus far located none, despite decades of rigorous search, but we’ve got plentiful anecdotal testimony from hayseeds, drug and alcohol casualties, the mentally ill, and profiteering charlatans. In a universe as vast as the one in which we occupy a pitiful little corner, it’s incredibly unlikely that self-reproducing organisms and sentience are unique to Earth. But it’s even less likely that whatever technologically advanced E.T. life as may exist has made it its mission to traverse the vastness of the cosmos and stick things in our butts.)
Truth is, though, it’ll probably be a vastly entertaining show. Ryder is a gifted bigmouth. I was so fortunate as to interview him face-to-face in the late ‘80s, and though he was only just barely coherent from God knows what he and Bez were dosed on, it was massively enjoyable - captivating, really - just to be in a room with him talking. The sheer force of his lively personality is nothing to dismiss, which is why he’s lately experienced a career renaissance as a UK reality television personality. If his show turns up on Hulu, I will most certainly check out an episode or two. After all, the Mondays were basically a rickety band whose sheer energetic joy pushed them into transcendental greatness, maybe Ryder can tap that magic again on television? Failing that, he’ll still be himself, merrily opining, a sort of lumpen, less-literate Julian Cope. And that’ll be fun, too.
Enjoy Ryder in his prime, in 1989 on BBC Four’s “Club X”
While it feels a bit strong to call Happy Mondays a great band—they managed to produce one great album in their shambolic, drug-fueled history—or even a great singles band (although that’s nearer the money), pop music would certainly be a poorer place without their twinkling handful of finest moments, while singer Shaun Ryder (a degenerate pop poet in the mold of Shane MacGowan and Serge Gainsbourg) had a tendency of coming as close as anyone ever has to Bob Dylan in his mid-sixties prime. And this in spite of (or because of?) a complete absence of emulation on his part, or even effort.
Take his words for “Wrote for Luck.” I am currently OBSESSED with this tune (specifically the Vince Clark remix “W.F.L”), and oddly enough am similarly obsessed with its amazing video (see below for both). While Ryder’s cawing, derisive voice bears a distinct resemblance, couldn’t the words themselves have flowed from Dylan’s own pen circa 1965?
I wrote for luck.
They sent me you.
I sent for juice.
You give me poison.
I order a line.
You form a queue.
Try and think hard
Is there anything else you can do?
Dylan at a spiteful, lazy and inebriated nadir, perhaps, Dylan heartbroken and flu-ridden and slapdash to an almost unimaginable degree, but definitely Dylan all the same…
“You know you talk so hip man! You’re twistin’ my melon man!”
Although, of course, they are still well-loved and known as one of the two defining bands (along with The Stone Roses) of the so-called “Madchester” rave era in the UK, for the majority of American rock fans, Happy Mondays are seen more as early 90s British one-hit-wonders for “Step On” and just that. For a brief spell they looked set to breakthrough here, too, with their incredible third album, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, but that never happened. Today, in the US, Happy Mondays are no better recalled than, say, the Soup Dragons or Jesus Jones, something you might see flipping past Vh1 Classics.
I had the good fortune to see Happy Mondays do one of the greatest live sets, like, fucking ever, at the Sound Factory in New York in 1990. The Sound Factory was a legendary dance club catering mostly to black and Latino gay men. Hallowed House music DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Junior Vasquez spun there and the place was known the world over for having one of the most insanely powerful, bass-heavy sound systems that you could ever possibly experience at top volume while tripping your face off on Ecstasy. It was the sort of place where the bar sold mostly bottled water and the crowd spilled out into the streets as the sun was coming up. Although not generally thought of as a live music venue, the Sound Factory seemed to be THE place where all of the British “Acid House” and rave-related groups wanted to play when they came to New York in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Dee-lite were the (perfect) opening act and they killed it, as they always did (I saw them dozens of times during that era), leaving the E’d up crowd good and energized for the headliner’s set. The Mondays came out and absolutely blew the roof off the place. From the minute they walked onstage, hundreds of joints were lit up and with that crazy Sound Factory BASS moving the crowd as one, it was a high-energy, you had to be there to believe it experience. It was you might say, a memorable evening of music being made for people on drugs by people who were on drugs themselves. A crazy good time was had by all and this was on a week night!
As far as rock shows go, their druggy, trippy, shamanistic set was a triumph by any standard and the Happy Mondays must’ve felt like they were the kings of New York that night. They were! From low-level Manchester hoodlums and drug dealers to the top of the pops at home and being welcomed as heroes in New York City? What an experience that must have been for them.
But it didn’t last long. Singer/lyricist/ringleader Shaun Ryder—whose surreal wordplay Factory Records boss Tony Wilson compared to W.B. Yeats—was deep into a heroin habit that turned into crack addiction in Barbados as the band recorded Yes, Please! the follow-up to Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads. The idea was to get Ryder to a place where drugs would be difficult for him to find… like Barbados?
Chris and Tina usually get the blame for Yes, Please! but believe me when I tell you that when I saw Happy Mondays around the time of that album’s release—I think it was at the Manhattan Center that time—they were but a hollowed-out shell of the scrappy, confident to the point of being arrogant group from just a few months prior. In contrast to the Sound Factory gig, this time The Mondays performed what could barely be called a perfunctory set, standing under a large neon sign that said “DRUGS” in chunky letters. To say that they seemed “tired” or “uninspired” would be too kind, they were like burnt-out ghouls. They were fucking horrible! The best thing about the show was that neon sign.
Nevertheless, through tabloid drama, drink, drugs, reality TV, more drink, more drugs and a guest spot on the classic Gorillaz single, “Dare,” Shaun Ryder inexplicably lives on. A few weeks ago it was announced that the band’s original line-up would reform for some UK tour dates in 2012.
For those of you who might’ve missed out on their charms back in the day, here’s a sampling of classic Happy Mondays from, uh… when they were peaking…