recently released its list of the 100 greatest tracks of its lifetime. Whilst such a list can never be taken entirely seriously, it does offer an interesting insight into current zeitgeists. What's most striking about this particular list is the dominance of Manchester bands in the top ten. Tony Wilson described Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Oasis as the five 'great' Manchester bands. Of these, the Mondays are the only band who don't make the top twenty. Here is a list of the top ten, with the Manchester bands in bold:
1. Joy Division – 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
2. Pulp – 'Common People'
3. David Bowie – '"Heroes"'
4. The Beach Boys – 'Good Vibratons'
5. New Order – 'Blue Monday'
6. The Stone Roses – 'She Bangs The Drums'
7. The Smiths – 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'
8. The Specials – 'Ghost Town'
9. Dizzee Rascal – 'Fix Up, Look Sharp'
10. Oasis – 'Wonderwall'
The five tracks provide a useful timeline of the development of Manchester music during its golden age. Love Will Tear Us Apart was released in April 1980; Blue Monday was released March 1983; There is a Light features on the Smiths' third album The Queen is Dead which was released in June 1986; She Bangs the Drums was released in July 1989; and Wonderwall was released in October 1995. The obvious markers for this period are the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Tony Blair in 1997, it all took place during this 18-year period of Conservative government in a city that was always defiantly Labour.
Another defining aspect of this period was the City of Liverpool's footballing dominance. In 1976, Liverpool pulled away from Arsenal to become the most successful team in England, with nine league titles. It was a position they would go on to consolidate, winning another nine titles over the next 14 years. When Manchester United won their eighth title in 1993, Liverpool responded (perhaps a touch hubristically) by saying "Come back when you've won 18." The rivalry between the two cities not makes for a fascinating contest in terms of the two football teams but also in terms of its bands, with the Beatles having been made such a huge impact in the 1960s. I've argued previously that whilst we should admire the band's success and respect their links with the city, the Beatles belong to Liverpool in the same way George Best belongs to Belfast. We can see the similarities in the way both the Beatles and Best (the 'fifth Beatle') invested their earnings in their adopted cities of London and Manchester, the Beatles with Apple Records and Best with his nightclubs and fashion boutiques. In 2002, Liverpool Airport was re-named Liverpool John Lennon. In 2006, Belfast City Airport was re-named after George Best.
Manchester music has received renewed attention with the re-formation of the Stone Roses, who play their massive homecoming gigs at Heaton Park this weekend. Along with the Smiths, the Happy Mondays and and Oasis, all these bands are closely associated with Manchester (not to mention the Buzzcocks, the Fall, John Cooper Clarke, Simply Red, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, James, the Ruthless Rap Assassins and a lengthy list of others). But perhaps the most important contribution came from Joy Division/New Order who, unlike the Beatles, invested their profits back into their home city, through projects like Factory Records and the Hacienda, raising Manchester's profile and preparing the ground for two ambitious Olympic bids and its subsequent marketing as a 'global city'. The five tracks above provide the soundtrack for a difficult period in the city's history, but one from which it emerged with a positive outlook thanks in part to the band(s) whose songs the NME now considers the greatest and the fifth greatest.