As the title suggests, this chiming ballad sets out to topple the head of the British monarchy, by pointing her to the curtains that await her beyond the end of her lush, luxurious gardens. Inspired in part by the spirit of the protests of May 1968 in Paris, the band were inspired to create a song that espoused the virtues of a republic, free from the shackles of a dynasty that had subjugated citizens according to the boxes they were assigned to.
Formed in Manchester, the band boasted an anarchic spirit that was born in part from a desire to bring working-class gravitas back to the mainstream, particularly as the monetary elegies that had propelled Genesis, Dire Straits and Simply Red to the top of the charts stemmed from a very different point in society.
The Stone Roses were streetwise in their resolve, and although they boasted an accomplished guitarist in John Squire, they were a band of instinct, not education, soaking themselves in the atmosphere and ambience needed to launch themselves into the stratosphere ahead of them.
Vocalist Ian Brown spent his time reading books about revolutionary concepts, putting him in the perfect position to level his anger at the bourgeoisie who had tried to ruin his class’s standing. He was interested in poetry, drama, grandeur and outrage: His voice, although clipped, had a truthfulness that emanated from a place of great anger and ambition.
“lan had met this French man when he was hitching around Europe,” Squire recalled. “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.”
Brown felt that France held a fire that was sorely missing in England, and the bands that tended to point a finger at the establishment – The Pogues, The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners – were founded by Irish singers, modelling their interest in rebel song into something more immediate and angular. Shane McGowan, Morrissey and Kevin Rowland fashioned themselves as the voices of a grand movement, creating a new dynasty based on grit, travel and turmoil, creating a new identity of Irishness in a world that was suppressing their efforts, no matter their valiance of vigour.
But The Stone Roses were different because they were so decidedly English in their outlook, which is why their efforts to chastise the monarch mattered so much, and why they needed a homely melody to bring their point home. As it happens, ‘Scarborough Fair’ was a tune that had spent so much time in the vicinity of an English music hall, earmarking it as an earworm that allowed Brown and Squire the chance to sift through the track to create a biting, menacing piece that asked listeners to join them on their crusade, and tackle the Queen.
The band were inspired in part by The Sex Pistols, whose greatest anthem had cornered the monarch on her 25th year in office. But The Roses went one further, toning back on the heavy, heady effects of guitar work, to create a sparsely produced work that featured Squire and Brown in quiet contemplation.
“Tear me apart, and boil my bones,” Brown cries out, the emotion brittle and tangible. “I’ll not rest, Till she’s lost her throne.” Much like Morrissey’s equally incendiary ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’, the song speculated on the country’s ability to carry on without one of its most problematic leaders, and although The Roses stop short of wishing death upon Elizabeth II, they signal an alternative scenario where her influence would be arbitrary at best.
It featured on their debut album, making it the one song that didn’t feature percussion of any nature. It was also the shortest song on the album, but it signalled the sense of anarchy, change and contemplation that soaked into the album. Like the other songs, it was produced as if it was done in the style of the 1960s, which might explain why Squire’s fingerwork is so pleasantly reminiscent of Paul Simon’s. Through the work, The Stone Roses recreated themselves as the rebels of a working class, bringing a sense of polish headfirst into the realm of pop culture.