(On Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths)
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 full-length studio albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987).
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.
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.
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.”
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 album, We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank (2007). His guitar tracks are always unmistakable.
Recommended songs: “Dashboard,” “Missed the Boat,” and “We’ve Got Everything.”
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.”
His guitar works with Electronic are subtle in the first, self-titled album; 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 he did in The The.
Recommended songs: “Getting Away with It,” “Get the Message,” “Tighten Up, “Forbidden City,” “For You,” and “Vivid.”
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. He was also the lead vocalist, so this extra main task may have diminished his focus on the guitar works.
Recommended songs: “Down on the Corner,” “Something to Shout About,” and “You Are the Magic.”
Talking Heads and Billy Bragg
Notable also are his guitar contributions to the single “(Nothing But) Flowers” by Talking Heads, from the album Naked (1988); and to the song “Greetings to the New Brunette” by Billy Bragg, from the album Talking with the Taxman about Poetry (1986). Marr’s Smiths-style really came out in these songs—jangly, melodic combination of strumming and plucking.
Lest I forget, here are my recommended songs by The Smiths in which Marr’s 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.”
The above are only Marr’s more notable contributions to the world of music. In his prolific and enduring music career, he has collaborated and continues to work with numerous fellow artists not limited to his obviously preferred genre of Rock. (He has already worked with the composer and film scorer Hans Zimmerman.) In the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” 2012 Special Collectors’ Edition of the music magazine Rolling Stone, Marr ranked 51st.