The Happy Mondays only seemed to burst on the scene in 1990. I have talked about the Manchester scene on this web site in the past so I won’t go into it at length this time around. Suffice to say it had the reputation of being an Ecstasy driven 24 hour rave. If you haven’t seen the movie 24 Hour Party People it’s a fun film. It centers around Factory Records mogul Tony Wilson and The Hacienda Nightclub in Manchester, England. Shaun Ryder and Happy Mondays were a huge part of this “scene” in 1990 along with bands like The Stone Roses and The Soup Dragons. It’s kind of amazing that it’s been nearly twenty years since the release of Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. It was a must own CD back in the day. This was just prior to the onset of the so called Grunge sound led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and The Stone Temple Pilots. It seemed like a simpler time…maybe because it seemed like everyone was placated by party favors.
Most of us stateside knew who New Order was and Joy Division before them. We had an idea that something was going on in the UK because we kept getting these really cool sounds to listen to over here. We only had WZBC and WFNX along with Newbury Comics to keep us informed around these parts…remember almost nobody, relatively speaking, carried a cell phone back then and the Internet was still in its infancy. If you were collecting voice mails on your answering machine when you got home you were styling. Heck, CDs, were only five to seven years old. The music was all we had. You had to go to a club like Spit and then Axis to find anything remotely like what was going on in England. Still, Happy Mondays were big at that time. According to our friends at Wikipedia Q Magazine rated Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches as the number 31 Greatest British Album…EVER. Whoa.
The big hit on Pills ‘n’ Thrills was “Step On,” which was a cover of a 1971 song by South African singer songwriter John Kongos called “He’s Gonna Step On You Again.” It is credited by The Guinness Book of World Records as the first song to use a sample. I’m not sure what sample they are referring to, but you get the idea. Happy Mondays came along and multiplied that effort. “Step On” was played so much on the radio I couldn’t stand it. The music of Happy Mondays was not restricted to Pills ‘n’ Thrills, they had an eight year run that has since been resurrected intermittently. Led by the allegedly unreliable Shaun Ryder, Happy Mondays was really only in the International public consciousness for a couple of years there. He resurfaced in 1995 with a band called Black Grape, which has at least one decent record called It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah, but Black Grape was a short lived venture. If you have never checked that record out please do so. If you like Happy Mondays you will like Black Grape.
“Step On” was not the only good song on Pills ‘n’ Thrills. “Kinky Afro” and “Bob’s Yer Uncle” were also great tunes. It took the local Alternative Rock radio about a year to burn through those three tracks. They were all rave like dance tracks that played big in the clubs. I tried to be a club person, but frankly, if you weren’t on drugs there wasn’t much to do if you weren’t a dancer. I’m not much for either of those things. My clubbing days lasted about two years. I got bored. It was too dark and too loud and I normally like loud. Trying to talk to the women, with whom you ostensibly had something in common with because of the music, was fruitless in some of those places. Combine that with the velvet ropes, arbitrary dress codes, big entry fees and the women only bouncer types and my career as a club goer was very short. Give me a dive bar with a great jukebox and a little volume anytime. New York City seems to be teeming with them. Boston? I swear I can barely name ten. Nothing like a well stocked Jukebox, with EVERY song on the CD available, and a little volume. That’s nirvana to me. Cold beer, on ice preferably, and great music. Why is that so hard?
I don’t play Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches all that much anymore, but it was a landmark record. Not so much for originality points, musicianship or anything like that. It was big at a time when Alternative Rock music was at a crossroads of sorts. You could feel that change was coming. I can’t really explain that remark, but I know I felt it at that time. I also love that regions, Seattle in this case, sometimes seem to absorb sway when things seem to get tired like maybe the Manchester sound did. Not always, but it’s always curious when it happens. Athens, Austin, Minneapolis, Memphis, London, Seattle, Manchester, Liverpool, Berlin, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Biloxi, Las Vegas, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit…it’s kind of fun to visit the epicenters of musical groundswells.
Grunge, which kind of followed the Manchester sound, seemed to last four or five good years before giving way to the mix of Rap and Industrial Rock which I called Industrial Rap. Snoop Doggy Dogg (I won’t be calling him anything else Puff Daddy breath) and Rage Against The Machine had a nice collaboration called the “Snoop Bounce” I thought was pretty cool, but radio sort of lost its way around this time. Thank God for Napster, I say, because there wasn’t enough variety on the air for my money. Napster, for all the legal trouble that ensued, really helped some of us learn about bands we never ever would have been exposed to. We were downloading crappy MP3 files for crappy MP3 players that held maybe 3o tracks back then, but we didn’t care. Indie rock really surged forward in the late 90′s and is still extremely popular today. I think a lot it had to do with the advent of peer to peer file sharing. I hate to generalize, but Indie Rock fans are generally younger folks who may not have the resources to buy CDs without sampling many of the songs. Napster more than afforded them that opportunity. Right or wrong. Some Indie artists really took off as a result I think.
Happy Mondays came and went very quickly by most standards. Still, they more than made their mark and these songs will be long remembered by those of us who were looking for something different as the 80′s turned into the 90′s. Hope you like them.
Buy or download Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches from Amazon here.