UNKLE featuring IAN BROWN
b/w “THE KNOCK-ON EFFECT”
Kind of an interesting case, this one. Throughout its 15 year existence, UNKLE has largely been comprised of Mo’ Wax Records founder James Lavelle and whoever else is around at the time. UNKLE’s first formation revolved around Lavelle and future DFA co-head Tim Goldsworthy; its second major incarnation featured Lavelle and Josh Davis a.k.a. DJ Shadow.
The group’s debut album Psyence Fiction was released in 1998 and featured collaborations with artists like Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft, Badly Drawn Boy and Mike D., among others. One vocalist that did not appear on the album is former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, yet the second single released to promote Fiction features his rough Northern tones. Originally presented as an instrumental entitled “Unreal”, with Brown’s words and vocals on top the song became “Be There”.
On a personal note, this particular single changed my musical life, and therefore my life in general. I imported this single (like so many others) through sirendisc.com, but purely for its b-side, a remix of Psyence Fiction‘s “The Knock (Drums Of Death Pt. 2)” done by Noel Gallagher of Oasis. I had picked up Fiction when it came out the year before and really liked it (especially “Lonely Soul”), but I was certainly not an UNKLE completist. I was, however, an Oasis completist, and in these distant days before filesharing and hi-speed, sirendisc was usually my only way to get the UK-only releases that Oasis and so many of my other favorite bands put out.
The aforementioned remix, entitled “The Knock-On Effect”, was a pretty good effort and incorporated elements of the Led Zeppelin sound Noel was obsessed with at the time (it’s also probably the only time Noel Gallagher, DJ Shadow, Jason Newstead and Mike D. will ever appear together). But on my way to this b-side, I listened to “Be There”. It started like “Unreal” did on the album: dreamy keys underlined by ominous strings until the beat kicked in. So far, so same until about 40 seconds in when that voice comes in.
Now, Ian Brown doesn’t have a technically great voice. He’s a personality singer. And for whatever reason, as he sang the lyric of “Be There”, I was captivated. I was aware of The Stone Roses, knowing them as an influence on Oasis, and I was vaguely familiar with their single “Love Spreads”, which was a moderate U.S. hit. But for whatever reason, as of early 1999, I had yet to investigate them. It was a real moment of discovery for me. The next month I was at the CD Warehouse on Merle Hay Road in Des Moines, and bought The Stone Roses’ debut (as well as Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur). It really changed my life, and influenced the way I sing, the way I write lyrics and the way I look at the world. Hyperbolic maybe, but true for me. And it may not have happened without “Be There”, a great, great single in its own right.
And a severely truncated live version on Top Of The Pops circa ’99: