Stereophonics’ Debut Album Turns 25

Welsh singer-songwriter Kelly Jones was working in produce at a small market next to his art college throughout the early-to-mid 1990’s. He recalls intensely listening to customers’ conversations and “writing [them] on the back of bags”. These stories of suburban imagery, despondent youth, and gaiety inspired Jones to write television scripts, stories, and songs.  Along with childhood friend Stuart Cable and drummer Richard Jones, these would slowly turn into the group’s debut album, “Word Gets Around”.

“Ironically,” said Kelly Jones, “the BBC offered me a job to write scripts and Richard Branson offered me a record deal in the same month.”

Photo © V2 Music Limited

Photo © V2 Music Limited

The first single, “Looks Like Chaplin”, was released in 1996. It’s not a reference to the silent movie legend, but Jones’ hometown street flooding. The song ends on lyrics of discouragement, a story that doesn’t have much to do with the subject matter of the song, but is, I assume, another one of Jones’ market accounts.

He asks to use the phone, yet he lives alone
He lives alone there’s no one home to phone
Sits alone home alone calls
His home, his own wife is still unknown

This welcomed, inventive approach to songwriting is truly what makes the album (and the band) so distinct.

The ‘Phonics as they remain as of 2017; Kelly Jones being third from left.

The album itself opens with one of my favorites; the energetic, youthful, and loud “A Thousand Trees”. The phrase actually comes from England’s Glory cigars, which also inspired the song’s chorus.

But it only takes one tree to makeA thousand matchesOnly takes one match to burnA thousand trees

“That phrase to me,” Jones told NME, “was about rumors spreading around a very small town and somebody’s reputation being basically burned to the ground.”

The final single, the slow, acoustic, “Traffic”, was released the same day as the album. Every verse, really, attempts to tell a different story; the inside of windows you’d see in, you guessed it, every day traffic. The subject matter, though, attempts to answer the chorus’ question, “is anybody going anywhere?”

A nurse without a job?
Another uptown snob?
But have I got you all wrong?
One look and you were gone

The album closes and gets its title from “Billy Davey’s Daughter”, a soul-stirring deep-cut. It tells the story of a girl in Jones’ town who took her own life at a very young age. It is told in a cavernous truth, as the narrator takes Jones’ third person point of view; just the same as the others in the town. Some “recounts” in the song refer to her as “another goldfish to drown”, while some “never knew her name”.

While not much is known about the encounter, Kelly Jones did meet the real Mr. Davey and said his fear of the family hating the song was not true.

Billy’s left with nothin’ but a dreamHe dreams, dreams, dreams, dreamsHe dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams
The word gets around

Writer’s Highlights: Billy Davey’s Daughter, A Thousand Trees (Acoustic), Word Got Around Documentary