Also for the Q Best British Songs issue, I interviewed Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield about the mighty A Design For Life. Text after the jump.
“That song really was crucial in helping us to stay together as a band. We hadn’t written a thing since Richey disappeared. It was originally written as a two-page poem. One side was called A Pure Motive and the other side A Design For Life. I gave the whole thing to James and he cherry picked the bits he thought would work best. Pretty quickly he had an epiphany. He called me up saying, “It’s Ennio Morricone, REM and Phil Spector.”
“It was the first thing that clicked after Richey disappeared. On the face of it we were really stoic and Manics-esque, thinking we’d just plough on but in reality we weren’t fucking doing anything. Those lyrics were the first thing that poured out that I thought were good enough to give to James.
“We went into the place we recorded The Holy Bible – this shitty studio in Cardiff – and the three of us played it together and it just fell together so naturally. James already had the whole thing worked out in his head, he was singing the string parts. He knew he wanted a cinematic, broad sweep to the whole thing.
“The song was definitely inspired by what seemed to me at the time as a flippancy, what I perceived as the middle classes trying to hijack working class culture. That was typified by Girls and Boys, the greyhound image on the Parklife cover. It was me trying to say, “This is the truth”.
“It was never a number 1 single. Only the Who have had more number 2 records than us! Then again, it did sell 93,000 first week and was only beaten by Mark Morrison (Return of the Mack). I remember walking through the studio at Top of The Pops thinking, “We’ll have him one day!”
“So the rest of our career has been an elaborate plan to get back at Mark Morrison. Our career has always been based purely on revenge.”
James Dean Bradfield
“I remember being given the two lyrics by Nick. We had come to a total standstill since Richey had disappeared. There was a long period of shock where we just couldn’t do a thing. I just really needed something to occupy me. Deep down I wanted to know what it was like to write a song as a three piece. That was the most daunting task facing us at that point – how would it work? I remember being incredibly nervous when the first proper set of Nick’s lyrics arrived five months after Richey disappeared. I didn’t actually start writing anything for a few days after they came which is strange for me as I usually start pretty much the second I’ve torn open the envelope.
“I remember atomising the two lyrics. It felt like there was a thread running through them both; they shared the same anger and what I thought at the time was the same sarcasm. They both had truly amazing lines. From the time I organized the whole lot into one lyric, I think it was one of the quickest tunes I’ve ever written – it came fully formed in just ten minutes. By the time I called Nick, I was pretty sure I was onto something brilliant. It felt as like the song was something that we could truly grasp at. Up to that point, we were genuinely in limbo. That song was a door opening for us, showing us a way out.
“The most bizarre part of the experience apart from Richey being missing and working as a three piece was having people coming up to me in the street saying, “I love that song, it’s amazing, what a great first single”. That happened a lot, people saying they knew nothing about us. People were incredulous when we said we’d been going for years, they all thought we were some new upstart Britpop band. That was really, really strange.”