Since the early 1980s, Johnny Marr has been an important fixture of the UK music scene. With The Smiths, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, and of course, his solo work, Marr has become something of an indie sentinel over the years, his reassuring presence on the musical map indicating that perhaps all is not lost after all. Back in 2015, the legendary guitarist sat down for a revealing interview in which he discussed some of his favourite records, with one artist standing head and shoulder’s above the rest, The Rolling Stones. Let’s take a closer look.
By the time Marr was making music, The Stones had already been on the way out for a number of years. With the arrival of punk, their macho posturing and blues-laden riffs seemed startlingly outdated. Part of me wonders if Marr kept his passion for the Stones a secret during his school years. Remembering that time, Marr said: “There was a point where I was into The Stones more than any other band on the planet. I found out everything there was to find out about them – about the band, about Andrew Oldham and how they made their records. That investigation was really good for me.”
“When I formed The Smiths,” he continued, “They were probably the biggest influence in terms of the politics and the blueprint for a band, including the dynamic between the guitarist and the singer,” he continued, before adding: “When I was trying to get The Smiths together, I took the behaviour of Andrew Oldham and Brian Jones in their resourcefulness, desperation and ingenuity as the MO of The Stones as a working unit, as a source of inspiration – which was a pretty unusual thing to do in 1982”.
One record that particularly stuck with Marr was The Stones’ third studio album, Out Of Our Heads, released via Decca in 1965. “It is the British version of the album I am talking about [the US release would include ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’] and mostly because of the cover, which I think is probably my favourite ever picture of The Stones. If we are on that subject, it says quite a lot about Mick Jagger as a frontman that he was secure enough to be only third from the front on the cover of the early records.
“When you look at Out Of Our Heads it looks like Brian Jones’ or Keith Richards’ group. Mick is just peering in from the side. That’s how cool Jagger was – most singers are always pushing people out of the way so they can be at the front.”
For Marr, the album became something of a private pleasure. “Out Of Our Heads is often entirely overlooked within The Stones’ catalogue,” Marr said. “I love it because before that, on the previous albums, they were attempting to recreate the music of their heroes in an almost academic manner, with only a certain amount of success. What gave those early records credibility was that they were aficionados and experts and that was something, besides The Beatles, which was exciting to British kids”.
As Marr went on to note, Out of Our Heads turned out to be a seminal record, offering the various rock groups popping up all over the world a template on which to base their sound. “I think you could argue that if you want to really discover what The Velvet Underground were inspired by, it is probably Out Of Our Heads. Not just in terms of how the band look, but the evidence is there in the version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitch Hike’, which obviously the Velvets chopped on ‘There She Goes Again’ – and I used on ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’.”