We were parked at the Meijer gas station on Plainfield Avenue outside of Grand Rapids. Jake was gassing up the black 1976 Datsun 280Z his mother had finally let us take out and I was in the passenger seat listening to classic rock radio station WLAV’s resident hipster Steve Aldridge do the lead-in to his weekly “alternative” music slot, Clam Bake. We’d read all about them in British weekly music rags and had seen a handful of pictures, which was almost enough to sell me on the spot. They were snotty faces and shaggy hair and flared jeans and bucket hats. Aldridge paid them the proper amount of respect as the “next big thing” out of Britain and then cued up the first Stone Roses song I ever heard, “Made of Stone.”
The Stone Roses were an odd band from the beginning. Ian Brown doesn’t exactly have range, or even pitch, and his live recordings are proof of that. But on record—and without the aid of digital pitch correcting tools, thank you very much!—he exudes a sort of foreboding and danger within that somewhat fey whisper of his. When he sings “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me,” you believe it. There is something menacing about this skinny Mancunian with a slightly simian look and a Christ complex. He’s the street hustler who is underfed and over drugged with a knife in his backpack. It doesn’t take much to imagine him as the scooter boy he claimed to be in interviews and if you’ve been to the rougher parts on Manchester, England you know how raw the inhabitants can be. Their sissies will kick your ass.
We knew from reading the articles that they were obsessed with the Beatles and that guitarist John Squire was a disciple of The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, which made for two references you simply could not beat with us then. You can hear the strains of the Fabs in the backing vocals and Marr’s hand in the 12-string guitars throughout but the Roses were more than the mere sum of their collective influences. The inspirations weave and blend like the paint on their album covers, which could just as easily be dismissed as Jackson Pollack knock-offs just as some would dismiss any band who hews a little too close to their musical heroes. But the Roses took those clear references and created a new sound, and that was extremely exciting for two Anglophile Midwestern boys whose favorite bands were in the past. The Stone Roses were different…and they were ours.