As we’re gradually working our way through every song in The Stone Roses’ magical debut album, it’s time for (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister.
We consider this one of the band’s great underrated gems. A lyrical and swoon-worthy masterpiece that’s too subtle to compete with the band’s anthemic numbers like Made of Stone.
Nonetheless, we’re here to sing its praises, examine the lilting lyrics, and make a nod towards the band’s sense of inner harmony.
The Stone Roses’ Sweet Natured (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister
The song first appeared on the band’s debut album, which launched on 2nd May 1989. Although it’s clear the members had an early version ready from at least 1986.
Sugar Spun Sister is a make or break song for many people new to The Stone Roses. If you don’t like this one, you may struggle with the rest of their music.
We’ve seen some people online (mainly Oasis fans, so perhaps getting a bit needlessly combative) dismiss the song as sickly sweet and “shit”.
We love the song and it’s grown on us over the years. We always liked it. But in recent years we’ve realised it’s a subtle, but shining, little gem off that stunning eponymous debut album the band landed in 1989.
And we consider it one of the band’s many masterpieces. Above everything else, on this occasion (as with the soaring and inspirational Waterfall) its brilliance is down to its lyrics.
It’s spread across four sections. After the intro, we get this.
Until the sky turns green,
The grass is several shades of blue,
Every member of parliament trips on glue.
That’s a nod to the failings of Thatcher’s Tory government in 1989. Youthful dissatisfaction with the elitist regime in place.
But it doesn’t stay for long as youthful exuberance takes over. The song is distracted by the Sugar Spun Sister. And that’s when it becomes a lyrical wonder. After the opening chorus, the second section breaks into this.
For fifteen or more,
But my guts,
Can’t take many more.
Are stuck to my jeans,
And she knows (she knows),
What this must mean.
Unlike many of the band’s other songs, there’s no cryptic sense of mysticism here. It feels like a nod back to the attention grabbing She Bangs the Drums, with its line:
“Passion fruit and holy bread, fills my guts and ease my head.”
But (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister is about a young guy who sees a girl at a fair ground. She works at a candy floss store. He keeps visiting the store to see her, buying too much of the stuff, overeating, overpaying her, and all in pursuit of that thing called love.
The highlight of the song for us are guitarist John Squire’s clever flourishes around the song’s lyrics, which nod to the innocence of youth and pursuing someone you find attractive.
“Are stuck to my jeans”
Chime to the sound of Squire’s chords. There’s a sense of wonder to that. A realisation it’s a special moment. A waste of time. Everything else! Arsing about in your youth in the hope someone you like feels the same way.
And it parts to allow for a briefly looping set of lyrics, complete with drummer Reni’s backing harmonies over the top.
She wakes up with the sun,
She asked me what is all the fuss,
As she gave me more than she thought she should.
She wakes up with the sun,
I think what have I done,
As I gave her more than I thought I would.
There’s no conclusion to the story. It’s just a boy who falls for a girl. Considering its place on the The Stone Roses (the album), Sugar Spun Sister is just a nod to love interests.
The rest of the album may be about revolution and a more advanced take on The Sex Pistols’ sense of that. But The Stone Roses’ song is more 1989’s version of The Who’s Substitute.
Faffing about in a love interest. Maybe not feeling all that adequate. Instead of Mod level pill popping, the band’s sense of innocence is there in a sugar high brought on by a pretty young lady.
It stands out on the album as everything else, on closer examination, is so much more advanced. We see the album as a demand for the end of all the UK’s horrible, hard-right traditions. None of it happened and we’re paying for the price of it now.
Yet Sugar Spun Sister remains. The item within about ignoring it all to find some candy floss driven enjoyment.
An Early Demo of Sugar Spun Sister
An early version of the Sugar Spun Sister, from 1986, features different lyrics. In that, singer Ian Brown directly mentions candy floss. It’s cut out from the official version.
Despite some people having an issue with the song, we think it’s a beautiful little number. It has an easy charm about it, reminding us of wasted days in our youth frittering time away carelessly.
The Stone Roses captured that sense of youthful innocence perfectly, especially with singer Ian Browns hushed vocal styles. He could be positively angelic.
He could also sound godawful live (depending on how much he’d been smoking that day). But it’s important to remember he is a great vocalist and lyricist. Most of the time.
Notable Live Performances of Sugar Spun Sister
This is one of the band’s songs we feel they never really mastered when playing live. In fact, quite a lot of live versions aren’t particularly great.
We’re not sure why, it just doesn’t have the same melodic presence as on the album version.
Incredibly notable (despite being a pretty rubbish version), is the Manchester Haçienda performance from the 27th February 1989. It’s from a few months before the band exploded and hit the big time.
This one doesn’t sound great. The band often had “they’re awful live” accusations levelled at them. But this was never a wealthy group. At this point they were just struggling to get by. The underlining success being they’d got their core songs together.
The thing with this performance is, if you listen to the rest of the gig, it kicks off into a classic show. But, again, we just think the band struggled to nail this one live.
One of the astonishing things there, recorded by Snub TV (which ran from 1987-1989 as cult TV show thing), is it has a record of drummer Reni… saying something.
Alongside his genius as a drummer, the one thing Reni has been great at is barely saying anything. In the last 30 years he’s provided one interview—for the October 2011 reformation of the band. That’s it.
Anyway, in August of 1989 the band took it to a heavier extent at the famous Blackpool 1989 gig, leading into a punchier version towards the song’s climax. Unfortunately with this one, Reni’s backing vocals weren’t properly added to the mix.
And we also like the some of the takes the band did for their reformation gigs, as seen below at Heaton Park in June 2012.
This was recorded the day we were at the gig, actually! Nifty little memory there (no, that’s not us recording it, we were much further back).
Not the most celebrated Stone Roses song. In fact, one used by some people to suggest the band isn’t any good.
To which we can merely chortle balderdash. It’s a gorgeous song and we think it’s swoon worthy for all the right reasons.
I love their jangly guitar sound, and I feel this song showcases that characteristic of theirs at its peak.
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Absolutely! Jangle those guitars, Madchester was a hotbed of it in the late ’80s. And I think the Roses did it best.
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