Manchester’s music scene has been punching above its weight since the ’60s, giving us some of the most influential and world-beating bands of the last few decades and, from those groups, some stunning albums. With apologies to Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, James, The Hollies, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, M People, Magazine and so many more (not you, though, Simply Red), here are 15 of the very best albums from Manchester and its surrounds.
15. Wu Lyf – ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’
The enigmatic, angry Mancunians might have only released this one album before combusting via a cryptic message on YouTube, but ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’ is their everlasting legacy, a bold, brilliant piece of heartbursting indie. Few bands have so effortlessly and magnificently captured hearts and minds with just one record, but Wu Lyf managed just that with the epic, sprawling and emotion-filled tales on ‘Go Tell Fire…‘.
14. The Charlatans – ‘Tellin’ Stories’
The fifth album from The Charlatans came as Britpop’s bubble was beginning to burst, but continued the era’s feeling of positivity with surging riffs, soaring melodies and electronic influences. It also contained winning singles in the likes of ‘North Country Boy’ and ‘One To Another’.
13. The 1975 – ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware Of It’
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The 1975‘s second album has all the makings of an all-time great, thanks to its banging pop hooks, tender, heartfelt moments, ambient instrumentals and lyrics varying from witty to ludicrous, sentimental and socio-political. ‘I Like It When You Sleep…‘ is a record of astounding breadth, veering from the Bowie strut of ‘Love Me’ right through to the emotional acoustics of ‘Nana’ and ‘She Lays Down’.
12. The Smiths – ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’
This was the only album by The Smiths to make Morrissey‘s list of the albums that he’s proudest of a few years back and, while we don’t think its their best, it’s easy to see why he’s fond of it. It’s easily the band’s most ambitious and adventurous, from the oom-pah rhythms of ‘A Rush And A Push And The Land Was Ours’ to ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’, the first two minutes of which are largely just piano and the sound of a braying crowd in a distance, before it swells into one of the group’s most grandiose songs.
11. The Fall – ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’
Ah, The Fall. Mark E Smith’s gang could easily lay claim to being Manchester’s most prolific band, having released 30 studio albums in 40 years, not to mention the many, many EPs, compilations, and live records. ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ is their finest, opening with the creeping instrumental of ‘Mansion’, before moving into agitated post-punk gems like the whirring ‘L.A.’ and the discordant ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’.
10. Oasis – ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory
No sign of difficult second album syndrome here. Oasis‘ second album refused to succumb to any pressure that might have been caused by their debut, instead strutting out with even more anthems and songs to soundtrack all of life’s greatest moments with. Oh yeah, and there’s some solid gold classics on here, like ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.
9. Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
Elbow‘s back catalogue is intrinsically tied to Manchester. ‘Leaders Of The Free World‘ is considered their love letter to the city from the back of their tourbus, and that record’s follow-up, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘, references the nickname given to late local musician Bryan Glancy by frontman Guy Garvey’s dad.
8. New Order – ‘Power, Corruption And Lies’
Is there a better start to any album, regardless of geographical roots, than the opening salvo of New Order‘s second record? ‘Age Of Consent’ bounces in on an elastic bassline, glimmering guitar weaving in and out of it, and immediately casts a spell over you, before you even get to Bernard Sumner’s soft, warm vocals. And then there’s the rest of the album – the synth-y glitches of ‘5-8-6′, the experimental electro swagger of Ultraviolence’, the swooning melancholy of ‘Leave Me Alone’, the expansive beauty of ‘Your Silent Face’.
7. Buzzcocks – ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’
Manchester’s pioneering (pop) punks delivered in spades on their debut album. From the skronking urgency of opener ‘Fast Cars’ to the ominous thud and wiry guitar lines of ‘Fiction Romance’, it’s a record full of punch, power and potency.
6. The Smiths – ‘Louder Than Bombs’
That ‘Louder Than Bombs’ is a compilation of B-sides should eliminate it from a list such as this immediately. But it’s a testament to The Smiths’ enduring quality that its actually one of their finest albums, chock full of the amazing and beautiful, the melancholy and jubilant. ‘London’ judders and shakes like the roaring train Morrissey sings of in the first verse, ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ is intricate and golden, and closer ‘Asleep’ is a soft lullaby, all piano and Moz’s elegant, dulcet tones.
5. Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches’
The vital album from the Madchester scene, the Mondays’ third record swaggers and rolls through baggy beats, house piano and dance grooves. It’s inventive and experimental, never afraid to try something new and still as guaranteed to get you dancing now as on release.
4. The Stone Roses – ‘The Stone Roses’
Consistently voted one of the greatest albums of all time, The Stone Roses debut is packed with classics like ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and the louche bagginess of the eternally fantastic ‘Fools Gold’.
- Every fan of The Stone Roses has to check out this original 1989 tour tee – available from the NME Merch Store
3. Oasis – ‘Definitely Maybe’
The braggadocio and invincibilty of youth in one album, the Gallagher brothers’ debut defined an era of anthemic indie. Tracks like ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Live Forever’ are undeniable. Bring on that rumoured 2017 reunion.
2. Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’
The artwork for ‘Unknown Pleasures’ might now be one of those inescapable T-shirt designs everyone and their dog seem to own, but it wouldn’t have become so ubiquitous if the album it covered wasn’t so essential. Joy Division‘s debut is a stone cold classic – blackened post-punk brilliance that’s as brittle as it is bleak. Through all the darkness, it’s instantly and easily loveable, and a prime example of a record that has stood the test of time.
1. The Smiths – ‘The Queen Is Dead’
Morrissey and Marr’s most timeless effort, which the later has since described as having an “overloading of Smiths-ness” to it. By that he means it’s a rush of Marr’s iconic, jangly guitar lines, Morrissey’s self-deprecating lyrics and gorgeous croon and the all-prevailing sense that, if you listened hard and close enough, these songs could envelop you and become your whole world. Even 30 years after its release, that feeling still lives on, which is no small feat by any means.