The Return of eLf ideas

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Playing the Six-String with Twelve Fingers

(On Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths)
by aLfie vera mella

Among the countless brilliant musicians in the New Wave / Postpunk genre, Johnny Marr remains to be on the list of my favorites. Marr began his career as the guitar player and co-songwriter in the legendary English band The Smiths (1982–'87), which released four albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987).

Here are my recommended songs by The Smiths in which Marr’s jangly guitars are prominent: “This Charming Man,” Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “I Want the One I Can’t Have,” “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “Big Mouth Strikes Again,” “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” and “Girlfriend in a Coma.”

I love Marr's signature guitar style which he developed and had become apparent in his works with The Smiths—jangly and folky, a playing that combined strumming and plucking, creating crisp and melodic multitones of notes—a style that now also defines Postpunk music.

My favorite song from The Smiths, "This Charming Man," which features guitarist Johnny Marr's trademark Postpunk jangly and chiming guitar style

The Smiths, with "William, It Was Really Nothing," on Top of the Pops in 1984

The Smiths, in the music video of their song "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" (1984)

The Smiths, with "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," on Top of the Pops in 1984

After The Smiths, Marr pursued a path of a prolific collaborator, joining bands and leaving in their music his signature sound. Among these collaborations, the following are the most remarkable.

Modest Mouse
Another must-listen is his contributions to the music of Modest Mouse during his being a member of this US Indie band—in the fifth and currently last full-length album, We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank (2007); and the last EP, No One’s First, and You’re Next (2009).  His guitar tracks are always unmistakable. 

Recommended songs: “Dashboard,” “Missed the Boat,” “We’ve Got Everything,” and "Satellite Skin."

Modest Mouse with Johnny Marr, performing "Dashboard" (2007), on The David Letterman Show

Modest Mouse with Johnny Marr, in the music video of their song "Satellite Skin" (2009)

The Cribs
Marr's contribution to The Cribs is in the English Indie band’s fourth album, Ignore the Ignorant (2009). Marr’s guitar works are really different from those of the rest of the albums of The Cribs. Marr truly has his own distinctive style, especially to one who is familiar with his body of works.

Recommended songs: “We Share the Same Skies,” “Last Year’s Snow,” and “Victim of Mass Production.”

The Cribs with Johnny Marr, in the official video of their song "We Share the Same Skies" (2009)

The The
His works with The The made the music of this classic English Postpunk band more guitar-oriented, inevitably—Mind Bomb (1989) and Dusk (1993), The The’s fourth and fifth album, respectively.

Recommended songs: “The Beat(en) Generation,” “Gravitate to Me,” and ”Slow Emotion Replay.”

The The with Johnny Marr, in the official video of their song "The Beat(en) Generation" (1989)

His guitar works with Electronic are subtle in the first, self-titled album (1991); however, he seemed to have gone Postpunk mode again in the ensuing albums—Raise the Pressure (1996) and Twisted Tenderness (1999); he also played harmonica on some tracks, like what he did in The The.

Recommended songs: “Getting Away with It,” “Get the Message,” “Tighten Up, “Forbidden City,” “For You,” and “Vivid.”

Electronic with Johnny Marr (and New Order's Bernard Sumner and Pet Shop Boy's Neil Tennant), performing "Getting Away with It" (1991) on Top of the Pops

Electronic, in the official video of their song "For You" (1996)

Electronic, in the official video of their song "Vivid" (1999)  

Johnny Marr & the Healers
Ironically, I couldn't feel the Marr I love in the music of Johnny Marr & the Healers—which released its debut and, to date, only album, Boomslang in 2003—maybe because he was exploring a different avenue here—in which he was more into the bluesy side of Rock rather than into the Postpunk.  However, after countless of listening, the album eventually grew in me; and I was able finally to discern the Postpunk sensibilities of the album. 

Recommended songs, in which there are glimpses of Postpunk: “Down on the Corner,” “Something to Shout About,” and “You Are the Magic.”

Johnny Marr & the Healers, in the official video of "Down on the Corner" (2003)

Johnny Marr & the Healers, with  "You Are the Magic" (2003)

Billy Bragg and Talking Heads 
Notable also are his guitar contributions to the song "Greetings to the New Brunette" by Billy Bragg, from the album Talking with the Taxman about Poetry (1986); and to the single "Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads, from the album Naked (1988). Marr's Smiths-style really came out in these songs—jangly, melodious combination of strumming and plucking.

Billy Bragg's 1986 song "Greetings to the New Brunette," which featured Johnny Marr on the guitars

Talking Heads' 1988 song "(Nothing But) Flowers," which featured Johnny Marr on the guitars

The above are only some of Marr's diverse contributions to the world of music. Other artists whom he has worked with include Pet Shop Boys, Oasis, Pearl Jam, and John Frusciante. Furthermore, in his prolific and enduring music career, he has collaborated and continues to work with fellow artists not limited to his obviously preferred genre of music; he has worked also with the composer and film scorer Hans Zimmerman, particularly on the original soundtrack of the 2010 film Inception.

The Latest: A Proper Solo Album
In late 2012, Marr announced that he would be finally coming up with his first solo album, entitled The Messenger, slated for release in February 2013. With the sound of the first few songs off this, Marr's music is definitely back to where his guitar sensibilities lie best...New Wave and Postpunk.

"Upstarts," from Johnny Marr's upcoming solo album, The Messenger (February 2013)

The title track from Marr's forthcoming solo album, The Messenger, slated for release next month 

Final Note
In the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” 2012 Special Collectors’ Edition of the music magazine Rolling Stone, Marr ranked 51st.

My former band in the Philippines Half Life Half Death (1988-2003) used to cover a number of The Smiths songs.

Here's my former band's lead guitarist, Rain Paggao, in 2011, performing on acoustic guitar  a medley of selected The Smiths songs.


  • At Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:52:00 PM, Anonymous rainbow said…

    World class favorite divas :
    1.Shirley Bassey -I Who have Nothing

    Shirley first recorded and released the song, I Who Have Nothing' as a Columbia Single in 1963

    2) Barbra Streisasnd- Evergreen

    Barbara Joan Streisand, born (April 24, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter, filmmaker and actress. She has won two Academy Awards, eight Grammy Awards, four Emmy Awards, a Special Tony Award, an American Film Institute award, and a Peabody Awards

    They are timeless singers as far as classic singers are concerned just to name a few.

    As for intruments,piano and orchestra

    Music jazz and classical

    But just to be upbeat : I chose Black eyed Peas "Time of My life " my 2013 wild wild song countdown for the new year while wearing my 3 inches high heels


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