The Godfather

How Humphrey Bogart inspired The Stone Roses’ greatest song

‘Fools Gold’ is, by any liberal definition of the word, a masterpiece. Densely produced, and brimming with more ideas than many albums from the era, the single showcases Mani’s stealthy bass playing, John Squire’s ferocious guitar playing, and Ian Brown‘s propulsive vocal delivery, hitting every note as if singing to the back of a packed stadium. No question about it, ‘Fools Gold’ is a superb effort from the band and one that still holds up all these decades later.

Although they like to cloak themselves in mystery when it comes to talking about their compositions, songwriters Squire and Brown have actually been fairly forthright about their involvement in the song’s creation. First of all, Squire claims that the single came from an unlikely place and one that stemmed from their native Manchester. “We were signing copies of our single, ‘She Bangs The Drums,’ in a Manchester record shop called Eastern Bloc,” Squire admitted. “The owner said we could pick a couple of albums as a thank you and I picked out a breakbeats album because I liked the cover and I wanted to see what it was all about. That’s where I heard the ‘Funky Drummer’ loop that we built ‘Fools Gold’ around.”

Squire was responsible for the riffs and central melody, diving into the recording with gusto, creating a sense of atmosphere and agitation, but it was Brown who came up with the lyrics and images. In an interview with Q, Brown said he was inspired to write the song after watching the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.

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“In the film the friends go up a mountain looking for gold,” Brown recalled. “But as they go on, they start turning on one another. That’s how it felt once the Roses started getting successful. Suddenly everyone was after their piece of gold.”

Brown appears to be pointing fingers during this interview, but he was talking about a band that had a guitarist who played like a drummer, a bassist who played like a guitarist, and a drummer who created sounds once thought inconceivable of a drumkit. The band were growing more and more confident in their abilities to meld the genre of rock to fit their agenda, but it was inevitable that one or two of the members wanted to be heard in the mix, especially since the public saw Brown as the face of the band. And with a drummer of Reni’s calibre, can you really blame him for expecting a slice of the public attention?

As it happens, ‘Fools Gold’ is barrelling track that puts as much focus on the drums pummelling at the back, as it does on the soaring vocals in the centre of the track. Ultimately, the tune shows commitment and courage that demonstrates a ferocity that stems from the back as it does from the front. It’s a pummelling, piercing, polished track, brimming with energy and excitement.

It is interesting that Brown was enticed by Humphrey Bogart‘s work to write one of his most enduring lyrics, but he was only following his gut, and clearly, the film spoke to him in a way that made it more tangible for him to sing about than some obscure, esoteric object that he couldn’t put his mind on. Instead, it funnelled into his work with the vibrancy of a fly, buzzing in and out of the region, demonstrating a fondness for the 1940s, much as the music was the emblems of the 1940s.

Ultimately, Bogart created a sense of purpose for the singer, who was creating a sense of urgency and understanding in a track that could otherwise have been about the backdrop. Instead, it’s the marriage of melody and lyrics that makes it worthwhile, creating a sense of propensity that only grows more elastic with every passing minute. For those who do not want to listen to the instrumental passage, they can switch the song off the minute Brown leaves, and for those who want to journey with the musicians, they can enjoy the remainder of the fiery track.

Stream the excellent ‘Fools Gold’ below.

Stone Roses - Fools Gold(Full Version)

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