Released on: Kevin Carter (Single #19) Epic Records, 30 September 1996
Peak UK Chart Position: #9
Band Ranking: #14
Now here is a real turn-up for the books – ‘Horses Under Starlight’, the first ever Manics instrumental. The band have only ever recorded a tiny handful of instrumentals; in 1996, they had existed as a band for ten years before releasing one, and after ‘Horses Under Starlight’ another ten years would pass before they recorded another.
The lack of anything but wordless vocals is far from the only unusual thing about this track, however – for one, the title is among the least characteristically Manics titles of all time, and the first indication of the radical musical departure the track represents not only from the Everything Must Go-era style, but from the Manics style as a band altogether. Sure, Bradfield’s guitar and voice are recognisable, but the rest of this largely laid-back track essentially comprise cinematic lounge jazz. Really, the only thing that grounds the track to the Kevin Carter single on which it appears is the significant presence of Moore’s trumpet as a key instrument.
There is a slightly comical touch to Bradfield’s “bah bah bah” vocals and it has been pointed out that the rockier finale is a big break from the classy, relaxed feel of the rest of the song. The other way of looking at it, though, is that the finale is actually a perfectly positioned means to prevent the song from coming across as muzak or “elevator music”, of which a definite risk exists.
If ‘Horses Under Starlight’ seems to have a retro feel, it is likely because it is a deliberate nod to the instrumental pop music of the 1950s and early ’60s, when instrumentals actually hit #1 on the UK charts from time to time (as an aside, twenty-five songs have achieved this feat to date, five of them by The Shadows – there was a long period between 1974 and 1999 when there were none). In fact, this track is probably best understood as a Manics pastiche of these kinds of recordings and/or film music. Pastiche is a very rare Manics mode, possibly only seen in one other track, 2001’s bizarre ‘Miss Europa Disco Dancer’, which is aggressive and bitter where ‘Horses Under Starlight’ feels soft and affectionate.
“Bah bah bah bah bah”