Released on: Roses in the Hospital (Single #12) Columbia Records, 20 September 1993
Peak UK Chart Position: #15
Band Ranking: #17
‘Donkeys’ is not only the most celebrated B-side on the Roses in the Hospital single, but one of the most celebrated in the band’s history. This is especially true for the Manics themselves, who have frequently referred to the song in interviews as one of their best B-side efforts. In particular, Wire has singled the song out for having his favourite bass part, and the track is also a personal favourite of frequent Manics producer Dave Eringa.
In contrast to the hard-rocking and stadium-oriented anthems that comprised much of Gold Against the Soul, ‘Donkeys’ draws its appeal and resultant reputation from its grand yet defeated tone. The only song of the period with which it shares any real similarities is [B42] ‘Hibernation’, which is also more melancholic than it is angry.
The similarities end there, however. ‘Donkeys’ is louder and harder-edged, and propelled largely by Wire’s bass and Moore’s particularly firm but exhausted-sounding drum pattern. Guitars take a relative backseat outside of a wonderfully anguished solo from Bradfield which very much fits the tone of the song.
Compared with ‘Hibernation’ this track has much more oblique and figurative lyrics which are thought to have largely been the work of Edwards. Possible inspirations for the words that have been suggested include George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm, the more general but related notion of farmyard animals being subservient (and people being compared to them for that reason, as with the term “sheep”), and even Middle East politics. The latter idea is probably something of a stretch, relying as it does on the line “Jerusalem sawn off”, which could just as easily refer to the song, rather than the place.
True to the love the Manics have shown for this track, it appeared as the sixth track on the Lipstick Traces compilation which lent it significant extra exposure. A particularly notable alternate version is an acoustic performance by Bradfield which was recorded years later and which was posted on the official Manic Street Preachers website around 2008. This strips the song right back, making it feel very much of a piece with other solo Bradfield tracks released as B-sides around the same time, and even improving upon the elegiac power of the original.
Still one of the key 1990s B-sides and rightly regarded as a classic by fans and the band alike.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“put some lipstick on / at least your lies will be pretty”