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The Cover Uncovered: How The Stone Roses created the artwork for their debut album

While later eclipsed by the anthem churning Britpop sensation that was Oasis, the formative genius behind the rise of the Madchester movement was undoubtedly attributable to The Stone Roses. The group formed in 1983 and went through the mid-1980s with a series of both name and lineup changes before settling with Ian Brown front and centre, John Squire on guitar and Mani and Reni on bass and drums, respectively. 

It wasn’t until the close of the decade, on May 2nd, 1989, that the group released their eponymous debut album. The album saw the band rise from the obscurity of the swarming mass of aspiring Manchester rock bands to become the cream of UK rock music heading into the 1990s. While the album wasn’t an immediate worldwide success, by the early ’90s, after a successful touring campaign, it received due respect, both commercially and critically. It was also famously the album that gave Oasis their vision to take the throne later on in the decade; Noel Gallagher once said of The Stone Roses: “Without that band, there would not have been an Oasis”.

Today, we’re not directing the wonderful spread of music on offer within the album but rather looking at the striking artwork produced for the record’s packaging. As with most of the band’s subsequent releases, the foundation of the artwork consists of an abstract painting. In this case, it consists of a number of different colours, chiefly shades of green, black and white. Squire painted the background on a large canvas using a Jackson Pollock inspired brush-flicking technique.

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The pattern that Squire formed is said to have been inspired by the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The group had visited the famous rock formation shortly before the release of the debut album; they had travelled across the Irish sea to play a gig at the University of Ulster in Coleraine.

In an interview with Q magazine published in 2001, Squire discussed the motivation behind his artwork: “Ian [Brown] had met this French man when he was hitching around Europe; this bloke had been in the riots, and he told Ian how lemons had been used as an antidote to tear gas. Then there was the documentary – a great shot at the start of a guy throwing stones at the police. I really liked his attitude.”

On the iconic album cover, the three colours of the French flag can be seen at the top left, painted over the background design. Scattered below the title and posing as the “O” in “Roses” are the aforementioned lemon slices that signified the use of lemons as a tear gas remedy in the May 1968 Paris riots. Squire named the artwork ‘Bye Bye Badman’, a name given to one of the album’s tracks, the lyrics of which were also inspired by the Paris riots.

For those who aren’t familiar with the riots, they broke out in the spring of 1968 throughout much of France, erupting in violent demonstrations and strikes. The unrest was triggered by a series of far-left student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions. Sympathy strikes and mass protests began to drive the nation’s economy into the ground while the government feared civil war or a modern French revolution. 

Thankfully, the tempest petered out over time as the far-left seemed to tacitly agree to end the violence and economic damage. In part, the period is remembered for its enduring influence on protest art which was rife throughout the period in the form of songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans.

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(Credit: Press)