Stone Roses: One For All

Depressingly for my own sense of mortality, it was pointed out to me that in terms of chronology, The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album (1989) is closer to The Beatles’ debut Please Please Me (1962) than it is to today. It is also 21 years since the band released any new music as a group, and throughout all those years I’ve kept a flickering candle aloft for the seminal group of my youth.

And suddenly – out of nowhere – a new single. Is it any good? Well your mind is probably made up about the band one way or another so in a sense your opinion is moot, but I’m attempting to set aside my personal preference (basically to go drop some Es and drive round the countryside in a Mini Metro singing it at the top of my voice) to give it a fair hearing. So: here it is, after two decades of waiting….

In strict songwriting terms, All For One barely exists. I’ve not had the chance to completely break it down, but you can effectively busk it after a couple of listens with the G, F and C chords (in fact, the record was released at 8:00pm, and we did a live acoustic performance of it on Periscope before 9 the same night). There are just two vocal melodies, which sound like they utilise half a dozen notes between them – and the lyrics are genially optimistic nonsense that don’t really warrant much scrutiny.

So on that basis, you’d be forgiven for shrugging the song off, leaving some snarky comment on social media about how the Stone Roses are a Beady Eye tribute act and going about your business. However, the song does have some pretty interesting twists within its structure that I think betray its genesis and highlight some of the things that make the Stone Roses still a more musically astute unit than, say, the bands like Oasis for which they are ultimately responsible.

Is All For One Plagiarised from The Fall’s Squid Lord?

An interesting aside here is that the song’s major musical motif – the riff that runs throughout more or less constantly – is very close to that of the Fall’s Squid Lord. Not only is the figure very similar, but to my ear (and I haven’t had the chance yet to sit down and work it out) I suspect it’s also in the same key of G.

Sure, John Squire’s figure adds a couple of notes and has a much more fluidity, but bands have been successfully sued for less. Is it a direct copy or a subconscious thing? Pure coincidence? Until/unless there’s a court case, we’ll never know. Here’s The Fall – and you can make your own mind up.

Setting that aside, the riff is in the vein of classic “psychedelia.” It sits on an alternating axis of G and F and using the G major scale over both to create the effect of a polychord so beloved of British bands in the 60s (see: The Kinks’ See My Friends for perhaps the earliest example).

Melody

The opening melody is typically Stone Rosian. Ian Brown is not a gifted vocalist by anyone’s measure in terms of range so like many of their songs, All For One is tonally pretty conservative – probably to accommodate Brown’s limitations. But this is not to damn the song, for this is how all bands operate. Bob Dylan’s songs can’t be classed as terrible just because the guy can’t roam cover a couple of octaves – their appeal is directly tied to his voice, phrasing and vocal mannerisms. So, you either like the personality of Brown’s voice or you don’t. Yes, there are better singers, but he brings a certain phrasing and attitude to his vocalisation that has enough character to have informed a thousand imitators ever since.

Taken as it is, it’s clear the band are working in the same psychedelic genre that has birthed any number of drone-based songs. Perhaps the most obvious direct analog would be the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966.) The use of a drone is a common feature of folk music from around the world, but it is through Indian classical music that the ‘psychedelic’ sub-genre was born and the idea of the song-as-mantra has been part of Western culture since that movement arose in the mid-60s.

You know I mentioned the song’s genesis? Well to me, All For One has all the hallmarks of a developed jam – taking a riff which the band have developed together in the studio and worked into a song. “Oh it sounds like a band just jamming” is another lazy refrain of the lazy critic, but it’s a valid approach that’s had a long and honourable history across all genres of popular music for decades. In fact, I mentioned such an example while talking about Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up on this here very internet webzone some months ago.

Structure

It is the song’s structure that I think shows that how the Stone Roses have taken the bare bones of a studio jam and worked hard to create genuine interest within its limited sonic palette.

Firstly, there really is no structure in formal terms. The unimaginative songwriter/band will slap down (as Morrissey noted) “verse, chorus, middle-8 break, fade” when devoid of inspiration. Here, the Stone Roses chuck in the refrains, pauses, choruses, instrumental breaks in a way that makes no rational sense. You’re just thinking “Oh – I’ve got this now” when the song throws in one of its constituent parts from an unexpected angle.

The parts themselves are kind of uninteresting in musical terms, so these structural surprises are absolutely necessary to maintain interest over the song’s 3:36 running time and to my ear they rise to the challenge. John Squire’s guitar tracks have always had an extemporised feel to them – constantly shifting so that (if you’re really listening) they act as a kind of running commentary on the song: quiet here, loud there and only rarely repeating. The rhythm section too – clearly inspired by the rehearsal work they’ve put into the last 4 years of touring – subtly shift emphasis from moment to moment, and are so tightly interlocked that it’s easy to miss the moments where they pause together in tandem, displaying the kind of alchemy that very few bands achieve.

As a thought experiment, imagine the meat-and-potatoes of Coldplay’s rhythm section ploddingly following the chords of an early Who single, or adding flavour to a late-60s Stones record. Rhythm sections can absolutely make the difference as to whether or not a song works, and the Roses have one of the great rhythm sections.

The Stone Roses have always made a point of playing their backing tracks live, rather than building up layers through ProTools. I just think you either hear that and care about it, or you don’t. For the avoidance of doubt: I very much do, and appreciate the resulting organic sound and dynamic range of the recording in general.

And in conclusion?

As I said somewhere near the outset: if you like The Stone Roses, this song will work for you and probably has enough of the elements that made them popular to ensure that you can bounce in a moshpit with your arms around your mates singing “one big family” throughout the summer. If the appeal of that is lost on you, nothing here is going to change your mind. For me, this works on every level I’d like it to, and I’m busily applying Baby Bio to what little remains of my hair in the vain hope of regaining a fringe.

As an aside, ane complaint already repeated ad nauseum about this record is that it “just sounds the same.” Well, aside from a few truly transcendent examples, that’s just what artists do. Picasso didn’t have a twenty year break and come back painting watercolours of the English countryside. Tolkien’s unpublished works weren’t about 30-something women making friends and trying to find love in the corporate world. Artists have themes and styles and concerns that generally speaking stay with them. While it would have been interesting for The Stone Roses to return with a slice of dubstep that would be greeted with disdain you can imagine: either they’d be castigated for betraying their roots, or laughed at for straying beyond them. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Personally, I’m glad they did.

All For One: Lyrics

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall
All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall
Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

All for one, one for all
If we take a stand, we shall not fall

Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

Beside of me, all over me
Behind of me, right in front of me
Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all one family

Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall

Sex Dream: A new song!

So, while I spend a couple of months writing about the Chemical Brothers’ Exit Planet Dust for my Britpop Album Showdown (I’m finding hard to say much about it from a trad songwriting perspective) I’ve been busily penning a few original tunes. For your viewing pleasure, here’s one of them – which I recorded on my phone like a proper professional.

Musically, it uses a few tried-and-tested tricks: based in G, the descent from C to Am and the resolution on D is a probably overused songwriting move, so to mix it up a little I deployed a few rhythmic variations. This opening figure repeats – but firstly as a strummed progression, then as an arpeggiated figure. Following this, there is what I guess you’d call a bridge, which uses the kind of stabbing chord work that personally reminds me a little of the sort of thing The Who would do.

For the chorus I used a soft key change. C then D then a B minor all fit naturally into the key of G, but the final chord – a straight E7 – doesn’t really belong in the air: to my ears it seems like an upward move, probably resulting in E’s relationship to D. Either way, I’m pleased with it as a progression.

The melodies in each of these three parts are quite distinct – and I think that’s the sort of thing that any purposeful songwriting should be trying to do. My biggest gripe with, say, a band like Oasis or Coldplay is the repetition of either a line or a chord change which individually might be fine, but is wearying when repeated many times over the course of 5 minutes. Again: my personal style/preference is to get it in and out with as much variety I can muster in or around 3 minutes. The instrumental break in the middle takes a quick trip to a B flat, which would only make strict sense if the song was in G minor, but hopefully works to divert the threat of monotony that always lurks in the background of any simple song.

Please note that I’m not making any great claims for my songwriting prowess here: I’m just trying to illustrate how I personally approach a song and the sort of thing I like to do – there is literally no end to songwriting technique 🙂

Unusually for me, the inspiration for this song was lyrical rather than musical: the phrase that opens the song and from which it takes its name (“I had a sex dream – and you were in it”) came randomly to me in conversation and tickled me sufficiently for me to write it down. One thing apparently common to many songwriters is the keeping of notebooks with snippets of conversation or random phrases in.

Anyway, it’s a silly song – and it even has a punchline.

Lyrics

I had a sex dream – and you were in it
I’ll tell you about it if you’ve got a minute
We were both younger and a little bit firmer
Your hair got all tousled ‘cos you were a squirmer

We closed the bedroom door
And then I had you on the floor
But still you wanted more

It wasn’t exactly hearts and flowers
We tangled the bed sheets for hours and hours
You said that you liked it harder and faster
We did it so hard that we knocked off the plaster

The scene: a Travelodge for two
The cast: just me and you
Wondering what to do

And when I wake up with her by my side again
I wonder what I’ve done to be denied again
I wonder what does it mean
I mean it’s only a dream…..

You wanted to do something highly immoral
Cos you and your boyfriend had had a bad quarrel
I shrugged and unzipped with a grin on my lips
While you stood there and waited with your hands on your hips

You said you wanted it there
I blinked and said “where?”
And you said you didn’t care

If I have another sex dream
Let’s hope your mother isn’t in it