My Top Ten – Manic Street Preachers

Haven’t done a top ten for a while. Apologies dear reader, but they take quite a lot of effort, uploading tracks, photos ‘n’all. But here’s a good one to get things going again.

The Manic Street Preachers aren’t a band that I always regarded as great favourites, but there are a few songs that I’ve always had great affection for. Recently I was writing about them for my book on music. I had them in my chapter on Britpop, while recognising that they weren’t really Britpop. They started earlier, lasted longer – they are still going – and their roots are different. Less sixties nostalgia, more connections with punk (especially The Clash). But they peaked in 1995 with their album “Everything Must Go” and shared the stage at Knebworth with the ultimate Britpop band, Oasis, in 1996.

As I wrote about the Manics, all the memories came back, including the tragedy of their guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared in 1995, never to be seen again. Suicide by the Severn Bridge was suspected, but never proven.  But I also listened more closely to a couple of the albums that I’d bought but never really given much time to. Especially “Know Your Enemy” from 2001, which was associated with a trip to Cuba where the Manics were the first Western band to play there for twenty-odd years. Fidel Castro was in attendance! As a result there are a couple of tracks in this ten that might not have made it before. I’m glad they have. Because they are so good.

The band, minus Richey, are James Dean Bradfield on vocals and guitar, Nicky Wire on bass (and chief lyricist) and Sean Moore on drums. They have just released their 11th studio album, “Rewind The Film”. This is them in 2013. Moore-Wire-Bradfield.

manic-street-preachers

So let’s go, ten down to one, as usual.

10. You Love Us, from Generation Terrorists

imagesGeneration_Terrorists

1991 single, precursor to the first album. An audacious early rocker, with some of that punk spirit. This single version even has a bit of Iggy Pop at the end. I always think of it as a flip side to the Rolling Stones “We Love You” too.

9. Australia, from Everything Must Go

EverythingMustGo(1996album)Albumcover

I just like this as a dynamic, catchy rocker. It’s not about Australians, just the Manics’usual pessimism and anger. Australia synonymous with escape here.

8. Motorcycle Emptiness, from Generation Terrorists 

imagesGeneration_Terrorists

Another early Manics tune, and for the true fans, one of the keynote songs. Who knows what motorcycle emptiness is, but it sounds like an epic kind of emptiness. And the song has that epic, panoramic sense too. You understand.

7. If You Tolerate This (Your Children Will Be Next), from This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours

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It’s a Spanish Civil War thing, you know? The most Manics of Manics song titles. With a lovely melody, punched along by an electronic drum beat. The follow up to “Everything Must Go”. It did the business – this was a No1 hit single. Can you imagine that now?

6. La Tristess Durera (Scream to a Sigh), from Gold Against The Soul

La_Tristesse_DureraGold_against_the_Soul_Album_cover

The last words of Vincent van Gogh apparently: “the sadness persists”. It’s a punchy, hard hitting song, which I always thought was another Spansh civil war type thing. In fact, it’s about the travails of a British war veteran, who feels utterly forgotten. All together now, I see liberals…

5. So Why So Sad, from Know Your Enemy

Manic-Street-Preachers-Know-your-enemy

This is one of the songs I’ve got to know and love recently. Even though the album title sounds like a classic Manics political statement, the album is their first true foray into more personal lyrics. Their songs have always had a tinge of melancholy. This one is right in that camp, but in a wonderfully upbeat way. Happy/sad pop. The minor keys lifting you up rather than down. And even with a bit of doo-wop.

4. A Design For Life, from Everything Must Go.

EverythingMustGo(1996album)Albumcover

I guess a lot of people would have this as their No1. Probably their most perfect pop song. The symbolic song from their finest album. Rock, pop, sixties strings. Sweeps you along. So why haven’t I got it as No1? Well, there are three more which just have a special, personal, appeal…

3. Ocean Spray, from Know Your Enemy

Manic-Street-Preachers-Know-your-enemy

Another of my new favourites. Everything I said about So Why So Why Sad (apart from the doo-wop) applies here. Feels sad and yet so uplifting. It’s a song about fighting for a better place, I think.

It’s easy to see, it’s easy to see, to see only white where colour should be… 

2. Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier, from Everything Must Go

EverythingMustGo(1996album)Albumcover

What an evocative title. That sense of the dead end, and yet the dream…

It’s the start that grabs me.

20 ft high on Blackpool promenade – Fake royalty second hand sequin facade – Limited face paint and dyed black quiff – Overweight and out of date…

That last line stings!

I’ll tell you what though. I respect those Elvis impersonators. We used to have one at the school summer fair at my children’s primary school. Invariably it rained. But Elvis never gave up. In his late Elvis Las Vegas style garb, he crooned the songs that made the grannies – and plenty of others – relive their youth. A real trouper. A man in love with rock’n’roll. Any man in love with rock’n’roll is in love with life.

1. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, from Send Away The Tigers

Manic+Street+Preachers+-+Send+Away+The+Tigers+-+CD+ALBUM-398349

When I first heard this tune, on the radio, in 2007, I instantly fell in love with it. I hadn’t listened much to the Manics in recent years, but that didn’t matter. There was just something about it that hit all my buttons. I had it on repeat on my iPod as I walked into work; it was all I wanted to listen to. That doesn’t happen very often. It’s a magnificent, soaring pop song, again with those minor chords lifting it higher and higher. It’s simple, a boy-girl thing, with a bridge, sung by Nina Persson of the Cardigans that takes you to a special place. And then at the end a guitar solo of utter splendour. You might listen to this and say, what’s the fuss, heard it all before. You might. It’s nothing new, I admit. But I do think it is one of the greatest pop songs ever written. I really do!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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15 Responses to My Top Ten – Manic Street Preachers

  1. Your number 1 is also my current Manics number 1.

  2. Tony Lord says:

    Ah! Great Top Ten! Really brought back the memories.

    The Manics, at least in their early days, had a fair few goth influences of course. This gets a bit forgotten when they move into britpop.

    I’m surprised that their cover of Suicide is Painless didn’t make your list. It was early (91/92?), and has extra significance given Richey’s later disappearance. Its one of my favourite songs, ever.

  3. Although I don’t find Husker Du’s early thrash metal stuff turgid, just that I can handle that stuff in small doses at a time. From Zen Arcade on, I can listen to them for hours.

    Are you into them? If so, would love to see you do a Husker Du top ten.

    • John S says:

      Got Candy Apple grey, but that’s it. Don’t know them that well, though I think they’ve influenced a few bands I like: Foo Fighters, Augustines, Japandroids, amongst others.

  4. And also a Paul Simon (with or without Art Garfunkel) top 10, a Pogues top 10, a Joy Division / New Order top 10,…

    • John S says:

      Like them all, but might struggle to select a ten that I really really like for JD/NO and Pogues. Sacrilege, but there’s only 2 or 3 Joy Division tracks I listen to much. “She’s Lost Control” and “Love Will tear Us Apart” mainly. Paul Simon in all his guises might be fun.

  5. The stream, the breadth of your modern music knowledge literally “blows my mind”.
    Thanks John! _Resa

  6. DyingNote says:

    Not much into the band – I’ve only got “Everything Must Go” and “The Holy Bible”.

    On a slightly different note – do you cover the Stone Roses in your book?

    • John S says:

      Looks like you’ve got the best and the worst of the Manics! i’d say their best tracks are very good indeed, and a lot of the rest is just OK. Which is why it took writing about them to reignite my interest.

      And yes, the Stone Roses are most definitely there – already written, the crowning moment of eighties indie!

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