The blog site New Chart Riot are currently collating votes for a “top 50 Manic Street Preachers” song so I thought I’d join in with the fun.
As can be seen from one of our past polls, the Manic Street Preachers are a band that split opinion amongst the Wizards. I love em but Kicker can’t stand em and Rebel is somewhere between those 2 extremes.
Kicker’s chief complaint about the Manics seems to be that the lyrics don’t fit with the music and you can hear me making a pretty ham-fisted attempt to explain why that doesn’t matter on podcast 12.
One other thing that Kicker objects to is James Dean Bradfield’s voice. He’s not alone in that, Mrs Garbanzo has asked me many times “why is he always shouting?”
Personally, I really like the way he sings but if you don’t then fair enough. I’m not going to argue with you. Over the years, in answer to the dreaded “what kind of music are you into?” question, I’ve responded with Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Morrissey and more often than not, the reply comes back, “Really?? I can’t stand his voice.”
Like James Dean Bradfield, all those singers have distinctive and idiosyncratic singing voices so if you can’t get past the fact that you find the voice irritating then I’m not going to try to convince you you’re wrong. Even though you most definitely are!
Anyway, here’s my top 50 in reverse order with a bit of nerdy data analysis at the bottom. For each song, I’ve put my favourite bit in brackets. Also have a listen to the Spotify playlist below.
50. Die in the Summertime [when the guitar makes an “ah WOOO!” about 14 seconds in]
49. The Convalescent [the distorted organ sound in the verses, very ? and The Mysterians]
48. Empty Souls [JDB’s falsetto vocal on the “falling down” bit]
47. Golden Platitudes [the last minute with the “la la la”s, the Manics do singalong anthems very well]
46. Donkeys [guitar solo, starts off simple then it goes the full Brian May (in a good way, if that’s possible?)]
45. She Bathed Herself In a Bath of Bleach [nice distorted bass guitar]
44. Solitude Sometimes Is [opening line: “solitude sometimes is the place that I would like to live”]
43. There By The Grace Of God [another anthemic chorus]
42. All Is Vanity [“it’s a fact of life, sunshine”. Richey Edwards throwing mundane everyday phrases in]
41. This Is Yesterday [great guitar riff in verses, reminds me of Venus by Television. Most accessible song on Holy Bible?]
40. A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun [wonderful lyric, could be about obsession with internet / social media?]
39. Born A Girl [the electric guitar picking on the verses and the brilliant lyrics straight out of the “How to write songs like Kurt Cobain” handbook]
38. We Were Never Told [simple but brilliant song from the “This is the Day” single, James in acoustic mode]
37. Pretension / Repulsion [the lyrics about the odalisque by Ingres, famous painting of a nude with a few extra vertebrae]
36. Mausoleum [the bit that starts with “regained your self-control”. How on earth did they come up with that?]
35. Nostalgic Pushead [industrial snare sound, very metallic]
34. Postcards From A Young Man [another big anthem, love the repeated “This world will not impose its will, I will not give up and I will not give in” at the end]
33. Facing Page: Top Left [James in acoustic mode again, another Richey Edwards lyric where you just have to take your hat off to James for being able to make it into something singable]
32. From Despair To Where [that lead guitar part on the chorus]
31. Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky [see 33 above]
30. Some Kind of Nothingness [gospel choir on the last chorus]
29. The Masses Against The Classes [the Mick Jones-esque guitar solo, but also “a slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown”. That’s a quote from Albert Camus apparently but to me it’s a twist on The Clash’s “he who fucks nuns will later join the church”]
28. You Love Us [just the sheer big brass balls of the whole thing]
27. R.P. McMurphy [how can you not love a song named after Jack Nicholson’s anti-hero character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that has a chorus that goes “Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na, No more pills and no more drugs”]
26. Archives of Pain [passionate lyric that I’m not sure I agree with but it’s argued powerfully and forcefully]
25. Automatik Technicolour [the verses are more New Order than New Order!]
24. Let Robeson Sing [“Can anyone make a difference anymore? Can anyone write a protest song?” Touching salute to someone who could.]
23. Roses In The Hospital [the wah wah guitars, the Madchester beats and “we don’t want your fucking love!”]
22. Removeables [everything is “all removeables, all transitory”]
21. Of Walking Abortion [the repeated “Who’s responsible? You fucking are!” at the end]
20. Dead Passive [having a pop Kate & Johnny, Adam & Naomi, Michael & Helena, Hugh & Elizabeth at the height of the Britpop “isn’t everything marvellous?” faux-love-in]
19. Rendition [the guitar/drums thing that starts and ends the song, Manics back in post-punk mode]
18. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough [Yay! It’s Nina fucking Persson!!]
17. William’s Last Words [Nicky’s beautiful vulnerable singing, heartbreaking. “Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me”]
16. Glasnost [the Stuart Adamson style guitars]
15. You Stole The Sun From My Heart [another big anthemic chorus here, coupled with more reflective verse and simple but memorable guitar riff]
14. La Tristessa Durera (Scream to a Sigh) [the song of an embittered and impoverished old war veteran, “wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir”. Sold his medals only to see them treated as fashion accessories. “I sold my medal, it paid a bill, it sells at market stalls, parades Milan catwalks”]
13. Jackie Collins Existential Question Time [brilliant opening riff straight out of the John McGeoch school and chorus that asks “oh Mummy, what’s a Sex Pistol?”]
12. Yes [the whole goddamn lyric, amazing!]
11. The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever [the Brown Sugar influenced guitar riff and the brass bits just before the chorus]
10. Kevin Carter [the trumpet solo]
9. Me And Stephen Hawking [amazing playing from all the band on this one. I for one don’t have a bleeding clue what Richey’s on about here but he mentions Giant Haystacks, Stephen Hawking and he might be talking about cloning or genetically-modified food. There’s another joke here (kind of): “we missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical”. Hyuk hyuk!]
8. No Surface All Feeling [the drums in the whole song and especially the end]
7. Motorcycle Emptiness [“sorrow, sorrow, sorrow”]
6. A Design For Life [strings at the end of the instrumental break just before the vocals come in]
5. 4st 7lbs [all the lyrics in the slower 2nd half of the song, wow! And after all that, he ends with a joke: “I’ve finally come to understand life through staring blankly at my navel”]
4. Autumnsong [the massed backing vocals as it goes into the chorus, “done to your hair, done to your hair…” A song that says dress and look how you like and screw what anyone else thinks!]
3. Faster [anthem for the auto-didactic, “a truth that washes, that learnt how to spell.” The guitar bit on the “so damn easy to cave in, man kills everything” at the end]
2. My Little Empire [just everything]
1. Little Baby Nothing [“we are the useless sluts that you mould”. I’d never heard anything quite like this in 1991 and not heard much like it since!]
So there you have it. A quick totting up of the songs shows that The Holy Bible and Journal For Plague Lovers are definitely the most popular, the last album had some really good songs on it and Gold Against The Soul is better than Generation Terrorists. All author’s own opinions though, it’ll be interesting to see how much the final votes from New Chart Riot correspond with mine.
Lastly, I just wanted to mention how it’s great to see a contemporary band who have put out so many great “non-album” tracks, rather than just alternative versions.
There were 2 non-album singles in my top 50 (Masses Against The Classes & There By The Grace Of God) and 5 non-album b-sides. When choosing the songs for the top 50, there were loads of non-album b-sides that just missed the cut so just in case you’ve never heard them, check out Close My Eyes, Unstoppable Salvation, Black Holes for the Young, No-one Knows What It’s Like To Be Me, Happy Ending, Mr Carbohydrate, Comfort Comes, Welcome To The Dead Zone, Just A Kid, Askew Road and Fearless Punk Ballad.
And to finish here are my 2 favourite Manics covers.
- Tell us your favourite Manic Street Preachers songs by leaving a comment below.
- Or if you really don’t like them, then tell us your favourite songs by some other band instead