5 - 1
(Gold Against the Soul, 1993)
The highest placing Gold Against the Soul track is another single from that album and another enduring live favourite. It’s also a lyrically quintessential Manics work, in that it is titled after Van Gogh’s fabled last words and written about the bitter feelings of an elderly war veteran. Amidst all the thrilling hard rock bluster, there are also (as with other GATS tracks) flashes of the greatly increased intellectual and instrumental palette that would be demonstrated on subsequent albums. The song also helped open a long-running interest in art and painting for the Manics, something they have maintained ever since—the closer on Rewind the Film is partly concerned with the paintings of T.S. Lowry.
(The Holy Bible, 1994)
Serving as the unforgettable opener to The Holy Bible, “Yes” makes clear from its very beginnings that what will follow is an album unlike any other. The song is Richey Edwards’ harrowing, propulsive treatise on prostitution both of the literal kind and of the metaphorical kind—of the way people “do something you hate to get something you don’t need”. With its wiry, exposed feel “Yes” is perhaps the Manics at their most post-punk, a musical approach that helps listeners feel they are being truly immersed in the depths of the human spirit this singular song depicts. Indeed, the band stated that they often felt the same—1994 was a dark time for them, one during which their personal lives were under the glare of a media gaze they could not always control. Surprisingly, the profanity-filled, five-minute “Yes” was once considered as a single, but as it stands the song is the most popular album track in the fan poll.
(Everything Must Go, 1996)
There was no room for surprises in the top three of the fan poll. The songs that hit those spots are undoubtedly the one which have attained the most legendary reputation amongst not only fans but also the musicians themselves –- when the Manics ranked their own singles for NME in 2011, “A Design For Life” came in just a touch higher at #2 (also its UK Singles Chart placing). The song in which the Manics most eloquently defend the dignity of the working class and best showcases their sweeping, muscular sound of 1996 was also the first track they recorded after Edwards’ disappearance. Having considered ending the band, Bradfield, Wire and Moore instead decided to return in spectacular style with “A Design For Life”. Exemplifying the song’s enduring impact, the Manics were present recently when its opening line (“Libraries gave us power”) was unveiled on a plaque in Cardiff’s new Central Library.
(Generation Terrorists, 1992)
Only one song kept “Motorcycle Emptiness” from the very summit of the fan poll, but the origins of this song are surprisingly modest. The six-minute elegiac meditation on what Manics biographer Simon Price called “the soul of man under capitalism” began as two very early demos called “Behave Yourself Baby” and “Go, Buzz Baby, Go”. The Manics have said that the knowledge that they still had “Motorcycle” in their war chest kept them going through some of the tougher times in their very early days. Now, almost everything about the song has passed into legend, from its apparently “Dancing Queen”-derived coruscating riff and lyrics about the hollow, crushing nature of capitalism, to its iconic video shot in Japan. To a significant portion of the British population specifically, “Motorcycle Emptiness” is almost synonymous with the band – they are unlikely to feel bad about that, as they ranked it #4 among their singles.
(The Holy Bible, 1994)
Beating out the #2 track by a fairly comfortable margin, the placement of the incendiary post-punk explosion of “Faster” further confirms its huge esteem in the Manics fanbase. A significant part of the towering reputation of The Holy Bible is owed to this song, a piece that simply could not be accommodated on any other album, nor recorded by any other band. What made the song’s impact even greater was that it was released as part of a double a-side single (with “P.C.P.”, #11 on our list) in advance of the album, making it the world’s first taste of the new, lacerating Manics sound. The fact that the release took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day landings tallied with the band’s new militaristic aesthetic and further underlined the significance the song would have on the band’s discography. A crushing performance of the song on the BBC’s Top of the Pops programme in June 1994 provoked a record-breaking 25,000 complaints due to Bradfield’s “IRA-style” balaclava emblazoned with his name. The Manics have said that this moment had made them feel “completely ostracised” from the rest of the world, but it’s the four minutes many people have spent with this utterly unique song that made them Manics fans.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.