When Johnny Marr crafted his filigreed guitar parts for The Smiths he wasn’t gunning for a unique sound. He was trying to craft something transcendental; the originality of his wailing tremolo merely came as a result of the alchemy. There are hundreds of post-punk bands with mad rig arrangements and likes, but none stand out as instantly definitive mostly because their aim was to conjure originality rather than a sound that has something to say, and as a result, Marr is one of the few that remain immediately recognisable.
As he remarked when breaking down the back catalogue of The Smiths, “I’m often asked what’s my favourite Smiths song,” Marr declared at a Q&A event upon the release of his memoir, Set the Boy Free. “I’ve always been able to say it’s ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ because I think it captured all those things that are transcendent, esoteric, that spiritual quality that means so much to me, that was captured not just by me but by every member of the band.”
While ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody loved Me’ might reside on the extreme end of ethereal atmosphere, it is a thread that ties his whole back catalogue together, including his latest barnstorming snatch of the ether with ‘Spirit Power and Soul’.
With lush and soaring melodies, The Smiths managed to couple moody folk introspection with the visceral edge of rock ‘n’ roll and soundtracked a thousand coming-of-ages thereafter. While a doppler slide can be murky, Marr has a unique way of giving it a light flourish that he has been propagating to sumptuous effect ever since. Rarely has such butter-cutting ease of melody been coupled with such mercurial depth — and it is this deeply personal style that informs the isolated guitar track we have rummaged from the archives below.
As it happens the melodious sweetness of ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ wasn’t viewed in the same light by the BBC for quite some time. The ‘Beeb’ actually banned the track claiming that the line, “and the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder,” was insensitive.
Far from condemning the track to the doldrums of history, for some fans of a later generation this song may have inadvertently opened to the door owing to the Mark Ronson cover that followed in 2007. While Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys wasn’t a fan, telling the NME, “Let me tell you what I can’t stand – that fucking R&B cover version of ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’.”
Apparently, Marr and Morrissey met it with rather more approval, with Ronson later remarking: “I found out that Morrissey liked it, and especially liked Daniel’s vocal, you can imagine how I felt when Marr approved it as well. This is not an apology but a way of showing respect for people who love The Smiths like I do.”
The track chartering a drunkard’s pledge that trips over the same lies he leaves strewn around the marital abode is almost allegorical of why Marr thinks the masterpiece of Strangeways, Here We Come critically suffered. In 1993 he told Select Magazine: “Strangeways suffers because it was our last record, so people think there were arguments and horrors in making it, but there weren’t. Morrissey and I both think it’s possibly our best album. That and some of The Queen Is Dead, which accepted opinion says is our masterpiece. That might be true, but Strangeways has its moments, like ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Love Me’.”
The isolated guitar work below is reminiscent of the wondrous beauty that lingers somewhere between melancholy and contentment that Echo & The Bunnymen captured on ‘The Killing Moon’. Both tracks triumph with the same figurative feat of bringing life to the same empty house it could haunt. Marrs work in isolation proves as mesmeric as ever.