In a previous article, I wrote an article Primal Scream’s classic album Screamadelica, which was one of the greatest albums of 1990’s. Screamadelica was a snapshot of a new movement of music which was a fusion of rock music and dance music. A year prior to the release of Screamadelica, the Happy Mondays had released Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, another album that led the way, and would prove to be hugely influential. It was one of the greatest albums of the so-called, Madchester music scene, and the Happy Mondays would, later, come to personify what rave culture was all about.

The Happy Mondays were formed in 1980, and throughout their history, the band’s line up has been fluid, constantly evolving, with members leaving and others joining, or even rejoined. Originally, the band consisted of Shaun Ryder on lead vocals, his brother Paul on bass guitar, Mark Day on lead guitar, Paul Davis on keyboards and drummer Gary Whelan. Later on, Mark “Bez” Berry would join ostensibly to provide backing vocals, percussion and be the group’s dancer. However, when you read the credits for Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches his role seems to be Bez, the life and soul of the party. Rowetta Satchell joined as backing vocalist in the early 1990s.

Their first official release was an EP entitled the “Forty Five EP”. Many people wrongly call this EP the Delightful EP after its first track. The EP was released in September 1985.

Tony Wilson, the hugely influential Manchester music impresario, was responsible for discovering the Happy Mondays. They had taken part in a battle of the bands at the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. Wilson and New Order co-owned the Hacienda. At the time the group had a manager, Phil Saxe. However, they decided to change management, and this was to proved a fruitful union.

In 1987 the Happy Mondays released their debut album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). It was produced by John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground. The album failed to chart in the UK, although it reached number four in the UK indie charts. A problem arose with one of the tracks on the album. On the album, was a track called Desmond, which to put it politely, borrowed heavily from a track by The Beatles, Ob-La-Di, Ob La Da. The sample had not been cleared, and then owner of The Beatles back catalogue, Michael Jackson forced the removal of Desmond from future pressings of the album. Only a few hundred copies of the album had been released with the track on it, and on future pressings, the track 24 Four Hour Party People replaced Desmond. The final track on the album, Little Owen’s Rap, is listed in the compact disc’s running order, but does not appear on the album.

The Happy Mondays second album Bummed was released in November 1988. It was produced by legendary producer Martin Hannet. He was partly resposible for developing Joy Division’s sound and produced albums for, amongst others, the Durutti Column, Nico and John Cooper Clarke. Hannet also worked briefly for New Order and U2. On Bummed, Hannet used a lot of reverb and echo on the drums. Some people question whether this actually helps or inhibits the sound. Bummed features rock music which includes funk influenced bass and drum rhythms. There is a electronic influence on the album, which is apparent in the keyboard melodies. Some of the tracks were remixed, by various high-profile remixers. One of the tracks, Lazyitis was remixed by Paul Oakenfold. This had the effect of hugely increasing the group’s profile, and exposing their music to the dance-floor, especially the increasingly popular rave scene. Fans of electronic and dance music were for possibly, the first time, exposed to the Happy Mondays music. Bummer only reached number fifty-nine in the UK charts, but reached number two in the UK Indie charts.

The album this article is about, Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, was released in November 1990. It reached number four in the UK album chart, and was Happy Mondays first album to chart in the US, reaching number eighty-nine. The album was produced by Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne. Oakenfold and Osborne formed the Perfecto Records team, who produced and remixed a number of artists including Suede and New Order. Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches was given a good reception by music critics on it release, and it was the right album at the right time for the Happy Mondays. It exposed their music to their traditional fan base and also those who had become interested in the rave scene and dance music. Their music is a fusion of styles. Imagine a mixture of rock, funk, house music and northern soul, that is what their sound was like at the time. The album went platinum in the UK, and the band embarked on a series of successful and high profile tours. They were known as 

After the release of Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, the Happy Mondays next album was Yes Please! This was their fourth studio album. It was released in September 1992 and reached number fourteen in the UK charts. However, it failed to chart in the US. The six original members of the band disbanded in 1993. 

In 1999, the Happy Mondays decided to reform. The line-up was Shaun and Paul Ryder, Gary Whelan and Mark “Bez” Berry. New members joined the band. This included Wags, Ben Leach, a formed member of The Farm, Rowetta Satchell and a number of session musicians. In 1999, they released a cover of Thin Lizzy’s famous track, The Boys Are Back In Town, which reached number twenty-four in the UK singles charts. The also were the support act for Oasis on their Standing On the Shoulder of Giants tour. The band split up again in 2000.

The Happy Mondays reformed for the third time in 2004. This version of the group included Shaun Ryder, Gary Whelan and Mark “Bez” Berry. Also joining the group were Kev Sandhu, Danny Newman and the rest of his band Sonic Audio, who featured on turntables. Paul Ryder would never play again with the band, having sworn never to play with his brother Shaun again, after the break-up in 2000. The group toured during 2005 and played the final show in Manchester. 

They released their fifth, and final album Uncle Dysfunktional in July 2007. It reached number seventy-three in the UK album charts. The band toured in 2009, and again in 2009. The tour in late 2009, saw the Happy Mondays supporting the Psychedelic Furs in the US and Canada. This tour saw the line-up change again. Paul Ryder’s son, and Shaun Ryder’s nephew, Jack Ryder, standing in for Gary Whelan on drums. This was to be the last time the group toured. 

Looking back on the band’s twenty-nine year career, it is amazing that the band only released five studio albums and two live albums. They were a group that many people, including myself, feel should have gone on to have a much more successful career. However, when one looks back at their career, one can ask the question, how many groups produce two great albums, never mind one great album. The Happy Mondays Bummed and Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, both of which are great albums. I will now tell you why Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches is such a good album.

Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches starts with the track Kinky Afro. It is a track that features some lovely rhythms and grooves and riffs. Shaun Ryder sings the lyrics really well. When I listen to the lyrics, they appear to involve a dialogue between a father and son. The father explains about himself, then the son telling the father what he thinks about him. That is far from complimentary. It is like a kitchen sink drama for 1990. The song is infectious, you can’t stop singing it. What a great song to start the album.

God’s Cop starts with a screaming guitar riff, and then the funk enters. The song is about police corruption, and how easy it is for the police officer to get away with the corruption. Within the lyrics about a serious subject, police corruption, is the trademark Happy Mondays’ humor. On this track they sing about the police officer and his boss, smoking drugs. This tracks sees the group fusing rock, funk and house music, to produce five minutes of great music.

Donovan is another track with some great lyrics. The song starts with the lyrics: “six cheap people in an empty hotel, every last one with a story to tell, give them all pills so their heads won’t swell”. As soon as you hear these lyrics you are drawn into the story. You find yourself want to know what happens next. However, the rest of the lyrics do not have the same standard, after that it is slightly downhill. The rest of the lyrics are not as strong. This does not make it a bad song though. Quite the opposite. It is a good song, it is just that the rest of the lyrics fail to match the early promise they show. The song starts slowly and then just over halfway through the track, the tempo increases. Ryder sings the song well, varying his vocal throughout the track. 

Grandbag’s Funeral has a somewhat retro sound to it. The track sounds not unlike the Beatles. In fact Paul McCartney said that he thought the Happy Mondays sounded like The Beatles. I think it is the guitars and vocal that makes me draw this comparison. This track has the most traditional sound on the album so far. There is not the same funk influences on this track. THe Happy Mondays were obviously looking to the past for inspiration on this track, not forwards. I like this track, but prefer the sound on Kinky Afro and God’s Cop.

The next track is Loose Fit. Here the style and influence is different from the previous track. It has a much more modern sound, out is the retro sound of Grandbag’s Funeral. The track has a funky feel to it, and features a really loose vocal from Ryder. He leaves plenty of space in the track, at the start, allowing the track room to develop and breath. Occasionally, the tempo of the vocal increases, and the rest of the band join in. Just as quickly as the tempo of the vocal increases, it drops. This continues throughout the track. It is really effective, and adds to the impact of the track.

Dennis and Lois sees the tempo increase. The track features a quicker vocal and it features a good performance by all of the band. I especially like the guitars and keyboards on this track. What I do not like at all about the track is the use of the effects. The effects are overused on the track, and this takes away the impact of the effects. Effects are a powerful tool for a producer. However, they must know where and when to use them. Sometimes, if they are used sparingly they are more effective. Their overuse here, detracts from what is a good song. Maybe a more experienced production team would not have made the same mistake, as this was early on in Oakenfold and Osborne’s production career. This is not enough to spoil the track, it is a good song, although not the best on the album. I just wish that the next time the album is rereleased that the overuse of the effects is rectified, it would really improve the track.

Bob’s Yer Uncle is the next song on Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches. This song features some interesting lyrics. It is a song about a couple whose love life is not what it once was. The song is about how the husband wants to spice up their sex life and what he wants to do to make their sex life more interesting. His wife is not interested and this frustrates him. I find the song loaded with irony, and almost ignorance. Maybe the husband should ask why his wife why she feels the way she does. This is a track I have always enjoyed, and is one of the best on the album.

When you hear the opening bars to Step On, they are instantly recognizable. They transport you back in time, to a time and a place. The song was huge, it seemed wherever you went, it was being played. You turned on the radio, this song was being played. If a car or van passed you, what was on the radio? Yes, you got it in one, Step On. Even though it was played so much, and you heard it so often, it still is a great track. It reached number five in the UK charts and number fifty-seven in the US Hot Hundred. Quite simply, this is a great track, that is one of the Happy Mondays’ finest tracks.

Holiday starts with the sound of a plane taking off. Then the you think the track will open out into a glorious slice of funk. However, that is not the case. There is a funk influence, early on in the track, that is heard throughout the track. The bass and guitar have a funky sound. But the promise early promise is unfullfilled. Don’t get me wrong, Holiday is not a poor song. Ryder sings the vocal well, and your attention is pulled in a multitude of directions. Listen carefully, and  you will hear all sorts of samples, sounds and instruments. Two things that I like about this track, are the guitar sound and the backing vocals. The guitar playing is some of the best on the album, and the backing vocals have almost a gospel sound. With this track, it is a case of what might have been. Although this is a good enough track, this could have been a really funky track, had it been developed and more attention paid to the arrangement and production.

The final track on Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, is Harmony. When I listen to this track I am immediately struck by how the track seems to meander, almost without direction. There is almost lazy style of playing and singing on the song. Instruments, Ryder’s vocal and backing vocalists flow in and out of the track. It is almost like a freeform jam session. The strange thing is, it is effective. This works. It seems a good way to end the album. My only criticism is that the sound seems muffled, everything seems as if it is sitting too far back in the mix. 

Having spent some time revisiting, Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, it really was the high point in the Happy Monday’s career. To use boxing parlance, it was their one shot at the title. Although their previous album Bummed was a good album, Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, is their best album. It is sad that they never went on to bigger and better things. The album that followed Yes Please! and Uncle Dysfunktional never saw them produce such a complete album. To me, it is a case of unfulfilled promise, very much what might have been. Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches, is by no means a perfect album, it has a couple of tracks that let it down, namely Dennis and Lois and Holiday. However, I have no hesitation in recommending anyone who has not heard the album, or heard the Happy Monday’s music to go out and buy it. A good album to accompany it is Bummed. Once you have both albums, you will have the best music of the band’s career. I am sure you will enjoy listening to their music as much as I did, all those years ago. Standout Tracks: Kinky Afro, God’s Cop, Bob’s Yer Uncle and Step On.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: