Former founder and guitarist of The Smiths, Johnny Marr has been one to watch over the past years since he went solo. Having released four albums to date, it is clear he has found his idiosyncratic sound, different from what he produced with his fellow Smiths friends, and bringing his different inspirations into one. But who exactly helped forge the Marr sound?
In an interview with John Freeman for The Quietus a few years ago, the Mancunian listed several albums which have made him the guitarist and songwriter he is today. Much to our surprise, there is a bit of everything, and not just indie guitars and post-punk vibes, as you might imagine there would be.
Johnny Marr goes through his wide range of influences, from Dusty Springfield to Magazine, the guitarist has an immense knowledge when it comes to music. And that not just for one particular genre. Having said that, when you were part of one of the biggest bands from the Manchester rock scene, the knowledge of the bands who were successful before and after The Smiths comes as some sort of given.
Putting all that aside, let’s go back to Marr’s favourite albums — but where to start? Well, one that comes up multiple times in his conversation with John Freeman, is The Stooges’ Raw Power released in 1973. Being a masterpiece and innovative album of the punk scene, this album had a remarkable impact on Marr’s career as he explains that it gave him “a path to follow as a guitar player. It was an opening into a world of rock and roll, sleaze, sexuality, drugs, violence and danger. That’s a hard combination to beat.” And to that, he even adds that Raw Power has always been—and always will be—his favourite album of all times. Johnny Marr also refers to The Stooges’ Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album as the perfect representation of what Berlin’s atmosphere was all about.
Roxy Music’s greatest hits introduced the Manc to a whole new mixture of entertaining, intriguing yet catchy music, while Bryan Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) brought something new and fresh that rock and roll had never heard of before. “I was making note of it,” he states, “it was anti-blues, it was anti-rock and it was anti-faux authenticity. It was a long, long way away from Laurel Canyon.” The guitarist followed the lead by making British rock music a whole new different genre compared to American rock. Whether it was a question of pride or originality, the difference is noticeable, and The Smiths are often considered as pioneers, cult references when it comes to the history of British rock and roll.
Going back to when Johnny was a child, T.Rex were his absolute favourites, and more precisely their album The Slider. He dedicated himself to being a fan of the band, and slowly built his identity. “A bit like choosing your colours as to which football team you would support, when I was nine or ten I found T.Rex. I was obsessed with Bolan.”
When listening to the ex-member of The Smiths’ releases, different bands come to mind depending on the generations, some of which are timeless references. The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones and even Magazine pop into our minds as if we’d clicked on a ‘Similar Artists’ tab on Spotify. The Velvet Underground’s pivotal VU released in 1985 is often used in Marr’s work, while the Stones’ Out Of Our Heads inspired the guitarist for classics like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, as well as influencing The Velvet Underground themselves. When speaking about the British version of the Rolling Stones’ album for The Quietus, the artist states: “Out Of Our Heads is a band just about to hit their stride and about to turn into their own songwriting machine. There is almost no other record like it. 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.”
On a different note, it is interesting to see how his punk, rock and roll references are also mixed with some pure soul and country music. Dusty Springfield and Four Tops have made it to his list, probably because they were two acts who were inspirational full stop, but also because they had their own angle on a particular genre. Something new, something fresh, something that made that type of music authentic. And that is what Marr was looking for. Four Tops were able to set the basis of rock music at the earliest, as well as easy-listening soul, while Dusty Springfield had a way around songs that no other could equalise.
Folk music also played an evident part in the various influences that marked Marr’s career. Bert Jansch’s album It Don’t Bother Me was a true masterpiece. “I got to be friends with [Bert Jansch] for about ten years before he died,” explains the guitarist to The Quietus. “He was an amazing person and because we were friends, I got to find out that the lifestyle choice of the folkies in Soho in the sixties was very deliberate and radical.” It’s no wonder Johnny looks-up to such a musical icon – who wouldn’t?
The list of albums could go on forever, and the singer often names the famous post-punk band Magazine and their Correct Use of Soap released in 1980 as one of his all-time favourites. Buzzcocks also made it on the list —Another Music in a Different Kitchen especially. Reminiscing about this particular band’s effect on Marr’s own quartet, he explains: “Buzzcocks influenced The Smiths massively in the way we approached our record sleeves and our choice of independent record company—because of the Buzzcocks we took a Mancunian DIY ethic, whilst being in the charts.” Manchester’s incredible music repertoire definitely had a lot to offer punk-rock-wise.
Last but not least, an album that marked Johnny Marr in many different ways and that was also qualified as “ahead of its time”, was Wire’s 154. Being some of the first to include keyboards in their records, the fact they had a different approach to the rock scene, made the ex-Smiths’ member add 154 to his influences—and rightly so.
These are only some of many who have made Johnny Marr the artist he is today, and we’re sure the list could keep on going. While some of them might seem obvious to us Marr fans, some names wouldn’t have sprung to mind when listening to his songs. This goes to show just how broad music is, and how curious one can be to find his own sound. And Johnny Marr sure has found his, whether it was with The Smiths, or his solo projects, we’d recognize him anytime.
- The Stooges – Raw Power
- T. Rex – The Slider
- The Rolling Stones – Out Of Our Heads
- Dusty Springfield – Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You
- Wire – 154
- The Velvet Underground – VU
- Magazine – The Correct Use Of Soap
- Four Tops – Super Hits
- Buzzcocks – Another Music In A Different Kitchen
- Iggy Pop – The Idiot
- Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
- Bert Jansch – It Don’t Bother Me
- Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music – Street Life: 20 Great Hits
You can stream Marr’s favourite albums in our playlist, below.
Source: The Quietus