If Johnny Marr’s guitar is breezy and filigreed then Eddie Vedder’s voice is bristling and thunderous: together they could be heaven, or they could be hell. Thankfully, they come together in such a way that Johnny’s ethereality remains unmarred by Vedder’s hurricane vocals. Like this new craze of Bee Sting pizza, it’s the sweet and spicy combination you never knew you needed.
This fated notion carries through to the classic song itself. Amazingly, The Smiths seemed to almost mystically unearth it. “We did it at the start of the day,” Marr recalled in an NME interview in 2011. “It was an enjoyable 40 minutes. When we all got together, one-two-three-four, it was the first time all four of us had heard what it sounded like. It was magical. Someone told me that if you listen with the volume really, really up you can hear me shout ‘That was amazing’ right at the end.”
“I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard,” Marr told Select Magazine in 1993, in the sort of typical way that has fans calling bullshit and scratching their heads. Nevertheless, nearly unrealised masterpieces happen so often in music that we simply have to take their word for it and put it down to some sort of creative oddity that brilliance can briefly escape the eye of the beholder, but instantly slaps the chops of the beer holder.
Marr also openly revealed that the introductory riff was ripped off from The Rolling Stones’ cover of ‘Hitch Hike’ by Marvin Gaye which, in turn, had also been inspired by The Velvet Underground for the intro of ‘There She Goes Again’. This hand-me-down cycle of craftsmanship is indicative of rock ‘n’ roll in general. As Nick Cave once said: “The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation — everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time.”
The Smiths made the song into a masterpiece that celebrates love in a rather morbid light. Somehow ten-tonne trucks have never sounded sweeter. And with Vedder’s classic gravelly tones that juxtaposition soared over the Californian crowd as the pair performed at Ohana Festival a few years back.
You check out the cracking performance below. I’d recommend the top video for the sound quality and the second one to soak in the festival atmosphere (which is perhaps proof that it is always better a good few rows further back from the front).