Graded on a Curve:
Happy Mondays,
Greatest Hits

A crash course for the ravers—back in the late 1980s, Happy Mondays became the veritable house band for Madchester’s e-fueled rave scene, which transformed an entire generation of Joe Bloggs-clad English kids into pinwheel-eyed, whizz-happy 24-hour party people stepping on and up, up, up to a dizzying sound composed of equal parts alternative rock, acid house, funk, and psychedelia.

Oh, it was a glorious time, a true Renaissance as it were. I’d have loved to be there when the party started, and every blessed baggy-jeans wearing ecstasy-altered geezer at the Haçienda loved every other baggy-jeans wearing ecstasy-altered geezer at the Haçienda. And every single one of them knew the song—which just happened to be the Happy Monday’s deliriously danceable “Step On,” with its infectious keyboard progression and funky drumming—would go on forever.

It didn’t of course—I strongly recommend Pulp’s “Sorted for e’s and Whizz” if you’re looking for a post-mortem—and Happy Mondays crashed as hard, or harder, than anybody else, having gone “crack crazy” (in guitarist Paul Ryder’s words) in Barbados during the sessions that would culminate in 1992’s Yes Please! But you can still hear the joy of being young and very, very chemically altered in every song on Happy Monday’s 1999 Greatest Hits.

On such immortal ravers as “Step On,” “Kinky Afro,” “Loose Fit,” “Mad Cyril,” and “24-Hour Party People” brothers Shaun and Paul Ryder and Company (including of course, the band’s official “dancer” Bez) kept the punters soaring above the dance floor all night long. It’s all there in “Kinky Afro”—Brit pop melded smoothly to a seductive groove—and “Loose Fit,” the definitive baggy anthem and Madchester fashion manifesto, which fuses funky percussion to a lovely riff and a message (“Don’t need no tight fits in my wardrobe today”) that put a sizeable segment of England’s youth in flares.

The club mix of “Hallelujah” is glorious, what with its dizzying mix of vocal samples and hypnotizing keyboard riff, while the wonderfully catchy “One-Armed Boxer Remix” of “Lazyitis” not only borrows from but is an improvement on the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” On their cover of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” the Mondays go metallic K.O. on your ass, while still retaining an iota of dance-floor funk.

“W.F.L.”—both the original and Paul Oakenfield’s danced-up “Think About the Future” mix are included here—practically does the robot, as does the band’s inspired take on the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” This one actually reminds me of David Bowie during his plastic soul period, and is recommended to anybody who ever loved “Golden Years.” As for “24-Hour Party People” it’s a herky-jerky slice of martial funk, what with its deep-dish bass, regimented keyboards, and great chukka-chukka guitar. We’re a million miles from the shambolic “Step On” here yet they’re both eminently dance-floor friendly, proof that the Happy Mondays were all about diversity, baby.

The Madchester scene was magical, a veritable cosmic anomaly—who in his right mind would have predicted that the world’s second most giddy-making explosion of sound, dance, and expanded consciousness would take place in a grimy Northern English industrial city in seemingly terminal economic decline, whose last great contribution to Western Civilization was the utterly depressing Joy Division?

But at the dawn of the nineties something beautiful and inexplicable occurred, and while it proved every bit as ephemeral and Janus-faced in its consequences as the original day-glo revolution in San Francisco it must have been wonderful at its peak. You and I will never know what it was like, but we can at least catch a glimpse of the magic in such Happy Mondays’ songs as “Step On” and “Loose Fit.” Check ‘em out. They’ll twist your melon, man.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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