Written By Paul Tingen
The Stone Roses are one of the most important British bands of all time. The Manchester band’s fame and influence is based almost entirely on its self-titled debut album. Released in May 1989, it is still considered one of the greatest British albums of all time.
During the 1980s the Manchester music scene was dominated by bands like The Smiths, New Order and The Fall. Formed in 1983, The Stone Roses drew on these influences, as well as on that of the emerging indie-dance scene that was emerging in the city and on Ibiza. In so doing the Stone Roses became one of the originators of the cultural and musical movement that became known as Madchester. The Stone Roses also strongly influenced Britpop, and DJ and dance culture.
With the release of their first album, The Stone Roses were seen as a breath of fresh air, and the band members as the epitome of cool.
After a decade dominated by largely programmed pop music featuring synths and drum machines, The Stone Roses put rock and music-played-by-humans on more traditional instruments on the map again, while retaining a link to electronic dance music.
Some of the enormous impact of the band was reflected in New Musical Express, the leading British music magazine at the time. In 1989, The Stone Roses won four reader’s poll awards, for Band of the Year, Best New Band, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year.
So how did an album by four young and unknown Mancunian upstarts manage to shake the foundations of music in the United Kingdom and beyond? Recordings for the album began in October 1988, at Battery Studios in London, with producer John Leckie in charge. Some additional sessions took place at Konk Studios In London.
However, conditions were not ideal, and the sessions were moved to Rockfield Studios in Wales, a legendary place in British music history, where Leckie and the Stone Roses were joined by Battery in-house engineer Paul Schroeder.
The entire album was recorded to 2 synchronised Studer 24-track multitracks, so on 48 tracks, with the tape running at 30ips, no Dolby. In general Leckie didn’t run the tape until the arrangements were fully in shape, and the band sounded really confident. The drum sound of the Stone Roses, often inspired by the kind of shuffle beat that was pioneered by John Densmore of The Doors, was crucial.
The rental company Dreamhire was associated with Rockfield, so the band always had a choice of gear. Several different snares and kick drums were tried, with a smaller Noble & Cooley snare often preferred. This would mostly be recorded with a Shure SM57. The kick might have had an AKG D12 for the weight, plus a Sennheiser 421 for more slap and clarity. Leckie tended to use Neumann U87’s and Sennheiser 421 on the toms, and an AKG 451 on the hi-hats. On some tracks kick and/or snare samples were added, and to get them onto tape Leckie used an AMS DMX1580 that triggered a backwards copy of the live sample.
Bassist Mani played a painted Rickenbacker 4005, which was recorded DI and with an AKG D12 in front of an Ampeg SVT amp. In the beginning a Laney bass amp was used. John Squire played a Gretsch Country Gentleman from 1964/65 with Super’Tron pickups, a Höfner T45S and a 1960 Fender Stratocaster, going through a 1982 Fender Twin Reverb amp. Squire is known for using an array of guitar effects. Amongst them were the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-9.
Leckie records electric guitar cabinets with a Shure SM57 or 58, though prefers the 58, as the 57 has more top end. An alternative mic is the Neuman U87. He likes to place the mics close to the grill and slightly off centre to the speaker cone, and then record the microphones flat, unless there’s a problem. Guitar parts often were double-tracked, with Squire working out his guitar arrangements on a Fostex 16-track tape recorder.
Leckie recorded Ian Brown’s vocals with a Shure SM58, often with the singer in the control room. In general, Leckie likes to use a mixture of expensive and cheap microphones on vocals, the former being a Neumann U47 or a Neumann FET 47, the latter a Shure SM 57 or 58. Leckie notes that a vocal recorded with a 57 can often be fitted really easily into a track.
Outboard used during the Stone Roses sessions included EQ from SSL or Pultec, compression from the DBX 160 and the Urei 1176 and several reverb units. An Alesis Midiverb II was used on the drums in “Shoot You Down,” and a Lexicon PCM60 was always used on Brown’s vocals.
Other reverbs that saw action were the AMS RMX16, Lexicon 480XL, Yamaha SPX1000, and an EMT plate at Battery Studios. On “Bye Bye Badman” the guitar was played through a revolving Leslie speaker. Leckie also used sound effects from an Emulator keyboard, that worked with floppy disks. Just uploading sounds to audition them took ages.
COOKS IN THE KITCHEN
The Stone Roses’ first album was wrapped up with mixes done in Konk, Battery and Abbey Road. Leckie also mixed the Peter Hook-produced “Elephant Stone.” The album was released on May 2nd, 1989, with a cover designed by guitarist John Squire. The record initially only reached to number 32 in the British charts, and the critical and audience reactions were lukewarm, with only the New Musical Express and Melody Maker immediately enthusiastic. The latter called the album “Godlike.
On August 23, 1989, The Stone Roses and John Leckie went into the studio again, to record a new single called “What the World Is Waiting For.” The location was another residential studio, Sawmills, in Cornwall. The control room had, and still has, an 82-channel Trident Series 80B console, and the music was laid down on a 24-track Otari MTR90 Mk II recorder by Leckie and in-house engineer John Cornfield.
The recording process for “What the World is Waiting for For” was similar to that of the band’s debut album, but they also worked on a B-side called “Fools Gold,” which was radically different and required a different approach. Moreover, the moment Silvertone’s A&R man, Roddy McKenna, heard “Fools Gold,” he declared it the A-side. The band was not immediately convinced, but history proved McKenna right: “Fools Gold” became the Stone Roses’ most influential and acclaimed song.
The drum loop that the band used as the basis of the song was a shuffle beat from a James Brown track called “The Funky Drummer,” played by Clyde Stubblefield, and released in 1970. It has become one of the most sampled piece of music of all time. At Sawmills, Leckie and the band loaded the loop in an Akai S1000 sampler, sequenced it in Cubase and started to work with it.
After 18 days of work at Sawmills, Leckie tried to mix the track at Battery Studios in London, together with Paul Schroeder. They didn’t get anywhere, which Leckie put down to them not having enough objectivity, and the fact that more cooks in the kitchen often result in inferior meals. Leckie tried again, alone, on October 3 and 4, 1989, at RAK Studio 3, where he mixed both “Fools Gold” and B-side “What the World is Waiting for For” on an SSL.
“Fools Gold” was released on November 13, and became an instant classic, because it was the first time sixties psychedelic rock, seventies American funk, eighties British guitar pop, and late eighties Manchester acid house and dance music had been combined.
“Fools Gold,” which was included on later versions of the Stone Roses’ first album, demonstrated that all these seemingly disparate musical elements could co-exist and even enhance each other. The record became a blueprint for British music in the nineties, and also had an impact in America.
The Stone Roses’ debut album eventually went quadruple platinum in the UK, and sold over four million copies worldwide. It had a huge impact on the UK music scene in particular, and was credited with setting the tone for British music in the nineties.
The Stone Roses only made one more album, and its significance as one of the most important bands in music history is almost entirely based on their first, legendary album, including the track “Fools Gold.” Those who know it, will be aware of its qualities and importance. And to those who have not heard it, go check it out.
Check out the video below to learn more about The Stone Roses iconic album!