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(Credit: Rough Trade)

Music

The Smiths guitar riff inspired by Mott the Hoople

@TylerGolsen

Glam rock was an essential element to The Smiths’ DNA. Morrissey was a noted fan of proto-punks The New York Dolls, while Johnny Marr’s brand of guitar rock more than occasionally showed signs of Mick Ronson’s iconic work with David Bowie. Although they usually went more down-trodden and morose than the traditionally uplifting sounds of classic glam rock bands, The Smiths still built their foundation on the likes of T. Rex and Mott the Hoople.

The latter band proved to be a direct inspiration to Johnny Marr while the band were recording one of their final singles. ‘Shelia Take a Bow’ finds The Smiths in a more energetic and hard-hitting mode, mainly thanks to Marr’s fuzzy guitar licks. The king of arpeggios was diversifying his style by the end of The Smiths’ all-too-brief career, latching on to more traditional rock sounds on songs like ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ and ‘Panic’.

‘Shelia Take a Bow’ was a logical extension of those sounds, and Marr wasn’t shy about hiding where he got the inspiration from. “I was going for a Mott the Hoople sound, but it ended up like Mott the Hoople as performed by the Salvation Army Band. Which is very Smiths,” Marr observed in the book Songs That Saved Your Life. 

The Army Band sound was later beefed up by a legitimate horn section, a relative rarity in The Smiths’ catalogue. “We were excited to bring that to Smiths records, whether it was ‘Sheila Take A Bow,’ starting off with the brass band playing, starting a pop single with that. That was a subversive act,” Marr explained in an interview with MusicRadar in 2022.

Quite appropriately, ‘Shelia Take a Bow’ would be one of the last songs that The Smiths ever performed live. Although it wasn’t featured at their final concert in late 1986, ‘Shelia Take a Bow’ was performed live by the band when they appeared on the British music program The Tube in April of 1987, along with ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’. Just two months later, Marr officially left the band before the release of their final album Strangeways Here We Come.

Check out the glam-inspired riff from ‘Shelia Take a Bow’ down below.