In the grand scheme of things, Johnny Marr’s work with The Smiths was a fleeting passage in his career. He may have crafted some of the most iconic riffs of the 1980s indie scene, but the Jaguar-wielding guitarist has also played for the likes of Modest Mouse, The Cribs, Electronic and The The. In doing so, he has demonstrated that, above all, he is a man with impeccable taste and an earthy grasp of what separates good musicians from great ones.
Last year, Marr was invited by Uncut to discuss The Beatles’ pioneering album Revolver. Jam-packed with some of the most fascinating and complex songs The Beatles ever released, the 1966 LP is also a technological marvel, featuring the first backwards guitar solo on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ and heavy employment of drones on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. At the time, it sounded like nothing else, and today it is widely regarded as The Beatles’ finest studio offering.
Revolver is also the first Beatles record with a distinctly Harrisonesque flavour. For a long time, the guitarist lived under the shadow of Lennon and McCartney, letting the duo take the lead on songwriting duties while harbouring a desire to establish himself as a unique voice in the group. With tracks like ‘Taxman’, and ‘I Want To Tell You’ this ambition was finally realised.
But for Marr, it wasn’t just George Harrison’s talent as a songwriter that was worth celebrating, he was also one of the most level-headed and self-aware musicians in the industry. Opening up about his adoration of the previously neglected Beatle, Marr said: “I’ve been thinking about George Harrison a lot recently. He’s a good advert for how incredibly famous people might want to conduct themselves. He seemed to be above needy celebrity. He was, I like to think, a very singular personality in rock music. When I was a little kid in the early ’70s, his support for the Krishna movement was a big deal – he had the eyes of the world on him, but he single-mindedly followed his own path. If that’s not integrity, I don’t know what is!”
Well said. When it comes to people picking their favourite Beatle, Harrison tends to get swept to one side. Most young people are attracted to the political angst of John Lennon, whose activism was always heavily publicised. But while Harrison wasn’t so keen to draw attention to himself, that doesn’t mean he didn’t strive to make a difference. He organised benefit concerts, donated to Unicef, and created the Material World Foundation in 1974. And he did it all while shunning the idea of celebrity, ensuring that his fan’s generosity was focused on what mattered most.