1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Regardless of what Oasis's Liam Gallagher says about British rock, after the whole British Invasion thing, most of anglo-rock has been a case of following in the footsteps of what came before you. Late '80s Manchester group Happy Mondays is another example, but that's not to say the group didn't leave its own mark on its scene. "Bummed," the band's second record, both established the sound the group would become known for, while borrowing from a number of musical sources that came before. First, the influences.
First, there's the ever-lingering phantom of Mod rock, which has been present in British rock since its peak during the '60s. Although Happy Mondays was rapidly traveling towards electronica-infused rock, even Paul McCartney said that when he saw the group, it "reminded me of the Beatles in their 'Strawberry Fields' phase." The comparisons are made especially obvious during closing track "Lazyitis," which openly steals its melody from "Ticket to Ride," but replaces the lyrics with the story of a man "that shot the boss/ I pinned him down and blew his face off." The contradicting disposition alone makes the song a hilarious diversion.
But, just as the early Beatles borrowed from American country and R&B, Happy Mondays looked to the States for inspiration as well. Opener "Country Song" is purposefully stereotypical in its portrayal of country-western music, but guitarist Mark Day keeps the country feel going with the simple-chord riff for "Moving in With" (compare the guitar style with Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train"). He changes styles dramatically towards the end of the album, mimicking Motown funk instead on "Brain Dead" and "Bring A Friend."
For all of the influence the band borrowed, it doesn't get enough credit for the effect it had on its fellow Manchester musicians. The groups in the area fit into a sub-genre known as "Madchester," which generally took rock music and incorporated house electronica and dance music to make it more club-worthy. Many attribute the rise of the scene to the more popular Stone Roses (and nearby Liverpudlians Primal Scream), but the the production style of Martin Hannett on "Bummed," adding echo and reverb to the percussion, is true onset of the movement's popularity.
Happy Mondays may have been overshadowed over time by the bigger acts mentioned before, but "Bummed" served as an ignition point for the "Madchester" movement. Plus the group's following album, "Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches," which will be featured later in this blog, would earn the band more renown.
INTERESTING FACT: The longest Wikipedia article on any of the six band members in Happy Mondays is for Mark "Bez" Berry, the maraca player/stage dancer. He was also in the group Black Grape with vocalist Shaun Ryder, but left over "artistic differences," whatever artistic differences a maraca player might feel. Basically, he's the real life version of Will Ferrell's cowbell-playing Gene Frenkle. As a result, to call someone a "Bez" in England is to suggest their contributions to a project are negligible.