Released on: Stay Beautiful (Single #4) Columbia Records, 29 July 1991
Peak UK Chart Position: #40
Band Ranking: #22
Also on Album: Generation Terrorists (Track 11)
‘Stay Beautiful’ was chosen as the A-side of the Manics’ fourth single and their first release with new label Columbia Records, with whom the band had signed an eight-album deal. In promoting the combination of jagged punk and glam rock pomp that would comprise their forthcoming debut LP, the band could hardly have selected a more representative tune. With its lyrical assault on consumerism and teenage dispossession, the first of many enjoyably gratuitous guitar solos, and the introduction of the glossy sound provided by producer Steve Brown, ‘Stay Beautiful’ was very much the shape of things to come. Underlining the importance of the track to the overall aesthetic of its parent album, it was in fact originally going to be called ‘Generation Terrorists’. By reaching #40 in the UK singles chart, the single also opened a long period of consistency for the band in commercial terms; every one of their singles would reach the UK top 40 until [A237] ‘Some Kind of Nothingness’ in December 2010 (which reached only #44). In retrospect, ‘Stay Beautiful’ could be seen as the moment the Manics truly “arrived”.
A number of lyrical aspects are significant; for one, the theme of salvaging glamour and defiance in failure is made quite explicit, and the line “we’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint” has long been used as shorthand for the band’s aesthetic circa 1991. Another is a Manics live tradition accidentally created by Steve Brown, who after hearing an early demo privately balked at the idea of using the word “fuck” in a song’s chorus, especially if it was intended for use as a single. Although he said nothing to the band, Brown simply cut Bradfield’s utterance of “fuck off” from the mix entirely, playing up his guitar squeal to take its place. The fans’ desire to take part in gigs by screaming the omitted phrase (presumably cribbed from ‘It’s So Easy’ by Guns N’ Roses, which the band later covered live and featured on Lipstick Traces) themselves has helped secure ‘Stay Beautiful’ a constant presence in setlists over the years. Brown relayed the story during his appearance in Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair, the making-of film released with the 20th anniversary edition of Generation Terrorists in 2012; that release also contained the original “Marcus demo” of the song, which features other slight lyrical differences and a much less refined version of the solo.
In addition to the solo, musically significant aspects of the song include the subtle inclusion of piano in the chorus – which while not entirely new hinted at more major uses of the instrument in future – and the arrival of the drum machine which would be used for all tracks on Generation Terrorists. Although Moore’s drums are not heard on the recordings of this era, he did at least program the drum machine.
The song’s video – the band’s second and first truly professional effort – is a fairly bizarre piece of work which features the band being splashed with paint (an idea re-used for much of the promotional material for the Lifeblood album more than twelve years later) and concludes with the appearance of a giant spider-like creature.
The Stay Beautiful single was the first release from the band after the infamous “4 Real” incident of 15 May 1991.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“deny your culture of consumption / this is a culture of destruction”
The song’s last line is “anxiety is freedom”. Full quote: “anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility”, taken from The Concept of Anxiety (1844) by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.