How Iggy Pop inspired Johnny Marr to be in The Smiths
Former Smiths man Johnny Marr is comprehensively one of the most integral figures in the development of modern alternative music and his name is quite rightly in the hat for the best British guitarist of all time. His trademark jangly sound that was developed back in the early 1980s soundtracked a generation, one which can still be heard clearly in 2020. There was one major influence that helped shape Marr’s formative years that confirmed to him that he wanted to be in a band like his hero; Iggy Pop.
Marr would begin The Smiths with Morrissey in 1982 and, from the moment they began working, the duo had instant creative chemistry and began recording music together. Within a matter of months later they already had an arsenal of songs ready to fire at the bow of the music industry. It’s a testament to Marr and Morrissey’s drive to create music that would resonate outside of the four walls they created it in but they were both wired in different ways which made their partnership such a dynamic one. Morrissey came from the world of words and a love for beautiful poetry whereas Marr was an admirer of rock ‘n’ roll, with the emphasis on the roll which Iggy Pop and The Stooges more than provided.
Although Marr is a guitar purist, he never quite fell in love with bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple that his friends were into at the time — it missed that special ingredient which made him tick. “Even though it was very guitar-based, I didn’t take to it too much. It seemed quite drab,” Marr confessed to SPIN. The future Smiths guitarist already adored Marc Bolan and was searching for something which made him feel in a similar way as T. Rex but nothing quite made him tick in the same way — that was until one moment when he stumbled across a record which would change his life.
“I got into Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges because a friend of mine who was a little older, Billy Duffy, now of the Cult, heard me playing a riff I’d written, and he kept saying that it sounded like James Williamson from the Stooges, who I had never heard,” Marr said in the same piece. “I thought I’d better check this Raw Power record out as it sounded intriguing, just the words Iggy and the Stooges and Raw Power, so I went to find it. I was always looking through the racks in the record shops in Manchester, and when I came across it I got an actual physical jolt from the cover and vibe of it. I went back a week later and bought it for about £3.50. On the bus ride home, I just stared at it in awe,” Marr recalled fondly.
“What first struck me about Raw Power was a beautiful darkness to it, a sophistication almost. It delivered exactly what was on the cover: other-worldly druggy rock’n’roll, sex, violence, but strangely beautiful somehow. From then on, I just climbed into a world with that record,” Marr complimentary noted about the 1973 record.
The record would provide him with an early musical epiphany and the memories that are attached to the album are ones that he still carries with him today. “I spent an entire winter playing guitar along with the album in my bedroom, in the dark, orange streetlights coming through the windows, when I was sixteen. Its influence came out on the Smiths album The Queen Is Dead,” Marr honestly revealed about this record would go on to shape his career even years later — which shows just how much of an important album this was in his life.
These countless dark evenings that Marr spent in hiding in his bedroom as a 16-year-old helped him become the guitarist that he would go on to become and create his own distinctive sound which is nothing short of infectious. He wanted to form his own band that would redefine music in the same way that Iggy did with The Stooges and Marr was hellbent on achieving this dream. There are undoubtedly countless guitarists from the generation after Marr like Noel Gallagher who spent there days as a 16-year-old in their room but playing along to The Queen Is Dead rather than Raw Power.