The Second Summer of Love
It was 20 years ago today (well, this coming summer, which is just around the corner) that what was known as The Second Summer of Love occurred. England's youth fell in love with Ecstasy, which they combined with a taste for Chicago House Music and the results made history. As is often the case, the fashions of 20 years ago (in this case, the 1960s) became fashionable again. Tye dye and peace symbols abounded on teens around the world. Thousands of people started attending massive Acid House raves. A feeling of pacifistic and environmental optimism swept much of the planet (or maybe that was just my teenage outlook). The Factory label's Hacienda nightclub featured DJs and bands which mixed disco, house, hip-hop, electro and indie rock. Soon, other northern clubs followed their lead, such as Boardwalk, Devilles, Isadora's, Konspiracy, House, Soundgardens, Man Alive, The International, Bugsy's and The Osbourne Club. And the hooliganish Casuals tuned in and begat Acid Casuals.
Madchester, So Much to Answer For
Half a world away in Columbia MO, I used to listen to KCOU, which would play lots of Acid House and Belgian New Beat. It was the first contemporary music that I was into as it was happening. My parents only played soul, bluegrass, jazz and classical records. Then I discovered the Doors, T Rex and the Beatles through the radio. And after discovering College Radio, a new world opened up. I would dance (in private) on the hearth in the living room to these strange, new sounds and hope that my mother wouldn't ask what the hell that stuff was all about because I couldn't really explain its hold on me, although it's debt to my beloved Kraftwerk was evident. Our exchange student, Alexis Poul, found an Acid House button at JFK which was, of course, a smiley face with the words "acid" and "house" printed on them. Alexis told me that all anyone listened to in France was house music. And when I went there, in '89, it was true. Even the buses played house.
Putting a smiley face on an otherwise faceless merchandising whore
By December of 1988, the British Music Press began to detect strange stirrings up north. The following year, the Manchester music scene bore an explosive, creative and diverse scene that became known as Madchester after the title of an EP by hometown heroes The Happy Mondays ("Madchester Rave On" having originally been suggested by their video directors the Bailey Brothers as a potential t-shirt slogan). Manchester, like most economically depressed cities, produces a lot of great bands. Most of them, such as The Chameleons, The Smiths and Joy Division, reflect the city's urban blight with imagery that's dour and grey. In the late '80s all that seemed to change. Seemingly overnight there were innovative house and techno acts like A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State. There was hip-hop, courtesy of The Ruthless Rap Assassins and MC Tunes. There were dance-rock bands like the New Fast Automatic Daffodils. And then there were groundbreaking bands that meshed it all together in a musical gumbo called Baggy.
Most of the purveyors of Baggy, whether they admitted to being part of a scene or not, had a similar style and outlook. They favored bowl haircuts, fishing caps, long-sleeve Ts, tracksuits and flared jeans-- reflecting their disparate influences in streetwise fashion that owed something to Scallies and Casuals before them. Their music, though varied, generally could be identified by lolloping, funky drummer beats paired with psychedelic guitars and occasionally keyboards. The singers sang surreal, frequently prickly lyrics with a detached, sneering calm. And they all danced like monkeys. Check out Amoeblogger Chaz's instructional and informative moves.
I remeber eagerly catching videos by the likes of The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, The Farm and their ilk on Much Music. Whilst watching The Soup Dragons' video for "I'm Free" my uncle Kyle remarked, "It's just the '60s." (He's a Meatloaf and Mellencamp fan, so I don't know if it was an observation or an insult.) But, while its debt to the 60s was obvious, it was, more accurately, simultaneously retro, modern and futurist.
1990 was another amazing year. I remember how huge Earth Day was in Columbia. More than 200 million people worldwide attended Earth Day events, ten times the number from 1970 when it started. The Berlin Wall came down. You could hear South Africa's Apartheid system breathing its last sighs. It was also the year when Baggy reached epic proportions. Amoeba's own Jackie Greed was there at what many consider to be our generation's Woodstock-- the Spike Island concert with the Stone Roses, Frankie Knuckles and Dave Haslam. It was seen as one of those era-defining moments where thousands of loved-up youth gathered together and felt a chemical-fueled connection, whether real or imagined. If you look at comments for Baggy bands' videos on Youtube, in addition to the usual "...fookin boss tune" comments you'll read stuff like, "Lets bring these days back, they were too good. We have fuck all here now in Britain to be inspired by. Lets bring back the baggy revolution!! It is possible! What say??" Maybe it's just nostalgia for our formative years, but I think it was something considerably more, the final days before irony, cynicism and sarcasm became the fashionable attitude.
Baggy even rattled the bones of the dinosaurs. Bands who'd been around for ages sometimes attempted to update their sound and get into the groove. James had been around since 1981 but it wasn't until "Sit Down" became an anthem of the scene and then they re-recorded a baggier version of "Come Home" that anyone (besides Morrissey) listened. Even veterans like the Cure ("From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea"), U2 ("Mysterious Ways"), Electronic ("Get the Message") and Morrissey himself ("Interesting Drug") seemed to jump on the Baggy train. Sample lyric from E-inspired "Interesting Drug":
Designed to kill your dream
Oh mum, oh dad
Once poor, always poor
La la la la la
The one that you took
Tell the truth - it really helped you
An interesting drug
The one that you took
God, it really really helped you
You wonder why we're only half-ashamed ?
Before long, bands from outside of Manchester, like Flowered Up, Candy Flip, The Farm, The Soup Dragons and Blur started to record distinctly Baggy tunes, adopt their fashion and dance like monkeys. Then, as quickly as it began, Baggy ended. Like most youth explosions, when the press and opportunists jumped on board, it led to the inevitable backlash. At the same time, the rise of Baggy-influenced, student-led Shoegazer in the south and the Grunge Invasion from America further shifted music's focus away from England's north. Drugs and shootings crept in too, as gangsters grew out of the fertile environs and therein uncovered the scene's dark side. Violence at the Hacienda led to a campaign against it by the Greater Manchester Police. The government introduced legislation to kill raves.
Of course, its influence lived on. There's the bland, missing-the-point traditionalism of Oasis, whose Liam Gallagher has made a career aping King Monkey. Kula Shaker, The Bluetones and other '90s relics also tried to peddle a less-inspired version of Baggy. And in America, the Vice crowd ate up the Mondays-pilfering of all those indie dance revivalists from the 2000s like The Rapture and !!!.
Bez's Madchester Anthems
The Baggy Vanguard
If one band can be said to exemplify what it was to be Baggy, it was The Happy Mondays. Their name was a loved-up play on fellow Mancunians New Order's dour dance tune "Blue Monday." They were discovered by Factory Records' Mike Pickering after coming in dead last in a battle of the bands. Despite their musical incompetence, a fusion of funk, soul, rock, house, hip-hop and psychedelia was evident in their shambling compositions. Their singer, Shaun Ryder, was a husky, unlikely singer but also a surrealist thug poet of the highest echelon. At one performance, their drug dealer Bez spontaneously jumped on stage and began dancing. He became a full fledged member and dance innovator.
Their second album, 1988's Bummed was probably the first instance of a band and its producer (Martin Hannet) taking loads of E and then trying to capture that sound on record whilst on said drug. It's kind of an E-quivalent to the Acid Rock of the 1960s. Fittingly, the sounds buzz, chirp and echo in both a way that's simultaneously cavernous and claustrophobic. Shaun sings about porn, house raids, E, weed and stuff that probably doesn't even make sense to its creator but nonetheless creates a hallucinatory masterpiece.
Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches, their follow-up, was a massive critical and commercial success, spawning the hits "Kinky Afro" and "Step On," their cover of John Kongos' "He's Gonna Step On You Again." It probably contains the only example of the term "Baggy" being used to describe the scene on any record and, unlike their peers The Stone Roses, they seemed to cherish their association with the scene with songs like "Loose Fit." Sample lyric from "Kinky Afro":
I said dad you're a shabby
You run around and groove like a baggy
You're only here just out of habit
All that's mine you might as well have it
You take 10p back and then stab it
Spray it on and tag it
So sack on me
I cant stand the needy
Get around here if you're asking you're feeling
Ultimately, the drugs got the better of them. Sent to the Caribbean to dry out, they instead discovered crack, sold their clothes and held hostage the tapes of what would be their final recordings. Factory went bankrupt and the band collapsed. Shaun went on to form Black Grape with former members of Ruthless Rap Assassins and The Paris Angels, which I suppose qualifies them as something of a Baggy supergroup if ever there was one. The results weren't half bad, but a bit bloated and uninspired as you'd sensibly expect of a supergroup.
English Rose was a Jam-inspired band led by a group of Scooter Boys in the early 1980s. After discovering an amazingly talented drummer in Reni and re-christening themselves The Stone Roses, they went about making a clamorous, cavernous post-punk roar at warehouse parties and were famously despised by Factory's Tony Wilson (who would let them play at the Hacienda but not sign with his label). They spent most of 1986 working on songs (and their image) and returned recognizably as the Stone Roses people know and love with bowl haircuts, baggy clothes and a bald stage dancer named Cressa.
Their eponymous debut still tops many polls as the greatest record of all time and I'm inclined to agree with the critics on this one. They had a contentious relationship with their label Silvertone and attacked its offices with paint, turning it into a Jackson Pollock-inspired mess, which mirrored guitar god John Squire's artwork. Then they squandered it all, spending the next 5 years embroiled in legal battles, smoking and snorting incompatible drugs and producing the John Squire-dominated, coke-fueled, Zeppelinesque Second Coming which, whilst in possession of its champions (Simon Pegg's character won't throw it at the Zombies in Shaun of the Dead), was seen as a creatively backward step and a phenomenal letdown by most.
Shortly afterward they split. Ian Brown (nicknamed "King Monkey") -- after a short stint in prison -- went on to an artistically and commercially successful solo career that amazed many who'd assumed Squire was the main (or only) songwriting talent in the band.
Manchester's Inspiral Carpets were initially seen as one of Baggy's Big Three. With a keyboard-centered sound and slightly less-traditionalist spirit than the Roses, they seemed positioned to be a major new band in British music. However, as with so many bands associated with Baggy, when the scene collapsed, the Inspirals were buried in the rubble. Although they continued soldiering on over the course of a few quite listenable albums, they didn't exactly provide evidence of their artistic growth.
The Charlatans were originally from the West Midlands, but poached singer Tim Burgess from Norwhich band, The Electric Crayons, largely due to his resemblance to King Monkey from the Roses. They surprised many when they went on to eclipse all their Baggy peers with their level of stardom and somehow defied to odds by surviving to this day, despite their original keyboardist's lock-up (for his role in an armed robbery) and later, death in a car crash. Perhaps even more amazingly for a band which began so heavily indebted to another, they've managed to expand their sound with each release and continue to make quality records with each album.
The High came into being, supposedly, when the Stone Roses kicked second guitarist Andy Couzens out of their ranks for not being a Beatles fan (in a reversal of The Sex Pistols with their Beatles-loving bassist). Although they were probably the least overtly danceable band to be associated with Baggy, their connection was strong due (in addition to their Roses lineage) to sharing Cressa with the Roses and their popularity stemming from playing raves. Plus, they gobbled up the sounds of the '60s and sheets of acid in equal measure.
The Mock Turtles had made the rounds in and around Manchester for a few years, showing up on tributes and other compilations before scoring a massive hit in 1990 with "Can You Dig It" which was used in a Vodafone ad. Truly, they're an underrated band capable of genre-hopping whilst maintaining quality. Some of their later stuff should've been part of the Suede, Denim and Auteurs-led Glam revival. If the singer Martin Coogan looks familiar, then you may've figured out that his little brother is none other than Radio Norwhich's Alan Partridge.
Manchester's Paris Angels, I'm convinced, would've been massive if they'd just been (how can I put this charitably?) a bit more videogenic. Their mix of indie and electronic sounded a bit like Joy Division might've if E had made its way to England a decade earlier. Wags went on to be in Black Grape with Shaun Ryder and Kermit. When they found themselves without a contract and singer Jane got pregnant, they called it quits.
Colne band The Milltown Brothers usually peddled a more Trad-Rock sound but eventually forayed on to Baggy turf (and style) with songs like "Seems To Me."
Candy Flip, named after the practice of taking E and Acid together, were widely (and probably correctly) seen as opportunists. Their biggest hit was a not especially inspired cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever" that basically just melded hip-hop beats to a note-for-note cover. Their album, Madstock... The Continuing Adventures of Bubble Car Fish seemed designed to capitalize on Manchester's hipness, despite the fact that the band was from the Midlands or something (I can't remember for sure). It isn't that bad, though, owing as it does quite a bit to the not-at-all Baggy Pet Shop Boys.
After the success of the Baggy bands, a lot of older, established bands transformed overnight into Baggies. Some were just money-chasing bandwagon-jumpers, but I think a lot of them probably started rolling, going to raves and their new sound was a natural, E-tailored reflection of that.
Take Wigan's the Railway Children: For years they'd made pretty jingle-jangle indie rock. Then, in 1990, in came programmed beats and a Baggier sound (and clothes). Now they show up in a video with rainbow colors, flowers, backwords motion and vertiginous camerawork.
Liverpool's The Farm began under the moniker "The Soul of Socialism." After losing their drummer in a police chase and another member to the construction business, a regrouped version gained notice with a Baggy cover of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" which was built on a sample of Mantronix's "King of Beats." Soon after they scored a couple of massive hits with "Groovy Train" and "All Together Now" before receding back into obscurity, occasionally resurrected on the soccer terrace.
The Telescopes are one of the Space Rock scene's lesser known bands before their Baggy re-invention. Then they moved on into Shoegazer territory where they remain to this day.
The Soup Dragons were from Bellshill, Scotland. Originally they were lumped in as part of the Bellshill sound alongside their peers the BMX Bandits and Teenage Fan Club. When the Baggy explosion occurred, they transformed with the times. Out was the Buzzcocks-ish pop-punk and in was a Baggy cover of the Rolling Stones' "I'm Free." The attendant album, Lovegod, was adorned with fractals, which were to early-90s psychedelia as the paisley had been to the '60s strain.
Baggy Come Latelies
By 1991, most people were eager to distance themselves from the prematurely passe movement. The Roses were silent, the Mondays were out for KFC and the Charlatans were critically dismissed by the eagerly destructive British Music Press. But the Baggy sound had moved beyond England's Northwest, even beyond England, inspiring even more bands to carry on carrying on both at home and abroad.
Manchester's Northside formed in 1989 and quickly signed to Factory -- a move many cynically suggested had more to do with Tony Wilson's having slept on the Roses. But Northside, whilst a little light, had good tunes. Once I had a dream about them re-forming and going on tour.
I don't know anything about The Top except that they had a hit with the sarcastic and thoroughly Baggy "Number One Dominator." Also, people who bought their sole album, Emotion Lotion, through amazon.co.uk also bought Northside's Chicken Rhythms.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, The Wendys signed with Factory and scored a hit with "Pulling My Fingers Off." Touted as the "Next Big Thing" and positioned by hopeful critics to fill the void left by the Mondays and the Roses, they instead failed to capture the public's attention. Their follow-up came out a mere eight years later.
Over in Kilkenny, Eire, the Baggy, tracksuited-Irish combo Slow Bongo Floyd scored a couple of Baggy hits, with "More Than Jesus" and "Funky Traffic." Not surprisingly, they released a Baggy cover of "Across the Universe." After disappearing, their singer Mick Jones entered a five year artistic relationship with Rowetta from the Happy Mondays.
The Scouse band The Real People were often cited as an influence on Noel Gallagher, who roadied for the Inspirals, whom the Real People, in turn, supported on tour. Noel even gave a demo to their singer Tony Griffiths and was surprised (having become used to Manc's purportedly self-serving ways) to receive support from the Liverpudllian. Despite considerable critical acclaim and recognition from the subsequent Britpop scene, The Real People were soon eclipsed by the bands who supported them like Verve and Oasis.
Sheffield's The Dylans owed a heavy debt to their Manchester forebears. With singles like "Lemon Afternoon" and "Planet Love," their neo-psychedelic affiliation was writ on the sleeves of their long-sleeve Ts.
Chapterhouse began as a Space Rock band alongside the likes of Spacemen 3, The Telescopes and Loop. After a brief foray as Baggies, they eased into the Shoegazer vein and, subsequently, a more electronica-influenced vein sometimes described, mockingly, as Shoetechno.
Londoners My Jealous God released three undeniably Baggy singles with one video which I carn't find anywhere. Criticized for the obvious Madchester debt, they split before releasing an album.
Brummie band Ocean Colour Scene began their career, supposedly against their wishes, as a Baggy band due to label insistence. Sadly for them, when given creative control they turned out to be a bland, derivative Dad Rock band better suited to BBQs than raves. Their only decent song was "Sway" which you can watch on youtube but embedding is disabled.
In 1991, Londoners Blur somewhat unbelievably claimed in Select to have killed Baggy whilst sounding, dressing and dancing completely Baggy. Maybe that was the point. I remember thinking they were one of the dumbest bands to come along. They surprised me a couple of years later, reinvented as Mods on Modern Life Is Rubbish. Now I can listen to their Baggy stuff knowing it was all just a pose, but not that bad of one.
Flowered Up sounded like a London version of Happy Mondays in a way that, to me, seems completely calculated. From the Grandpa Simpson vocals, to the drug problems, to the fact that they had their own Bez-- only he was called Barry Mooncult. Whereas most Baggy singles are, to me, like shortbread slathered with butter, Flowered Up are curiously endurance defying.
World Of Twist formed in the mid '80s in Sheffield and then moved to Manchester with an updated sound. Tony Ogden, with his Glam Rock sensibilties and junk-art aesthetics, was something like a Baggy version of Jarvis Cocker. Sadly, he died in 2006 after a lengthy smack problem.
So there you have it, all that you need to jumpstart your own Baggy revival. Foo-foo-foo-kin' Madchester!