The Smiths were one of the last bastions of truly original thought in British rock and roll. But even they need to borrow the odd piece from the legends. Here, Johnny Marr talks through how he and Morrissey composed The Smiths’ debut single, ‘Hand In Glove’.
‘Hand In Glove’ was The Smiths‘ first single and was released in 1983 to critical acclaim. The band were heralded as a pure original but in this video, Johnny Marr reveals how in the creation of the song he leaned on Bowie, Iggy and more.
Speaking at ‘An Evening Of Conversation With Johnny Marr‘ at Radio X in June 2018, the guitarist explained that the idea for the song’s iconic riff was born out of love for both David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ and the undeniable funk of Nile Rogers but it was the former that lead him into the pantheon of rock guitarists.
“Once I’d learned Jean Genie, I was kind of like I don’t need to know anyone else’s stuff now,” he admitted. “That was kind of my passport – everyone was like ‘What can you play?’ Well, I can play ‘Rebel Rebel’! About three years later, they’d say ‘How are you getting on?’ I’d say… well I can still play ‘Rebel Rebel’.”
Marr then treated the small audience to a brief insight into The Smiths’ creative beginnings. “I was round at my parents’ house and they had this old crappy toy guitar. I was playing this riff that I thought was a Chic hit. I thought I really like that, but I had no means to record it.”
“Angie [Marr’s girlfriend, now wife] had just passed her driving test and her parents had loaned her this little VW Beetle that we used to sort of hang out in. I said, ‘Get me round to Mozzer’s!’ Cos he’s got a tape machine. So we got in the car like I was going to have a baby, you know?”
Marr then sits like a child on his seat, cradling the birth of his new riff, “So I’m in the car, trying not to change this riff – cos you just change stuff, you know? So all the way though this 20-minute ride to Mozzer’s, I’m playing the riff.
“Angie always leaves me to it when I’m in that nutty headspace, but maybe because it was boring for her… she said ‘Make it sound like Iggy!’ She loves Iggy Pop. So I just took that Nile Rodgers thing and just played Iggy Pop chords. She said, ‘Yeah that’s cool!’ And I was like, Oh really!” Angie, The Smiths have a lot to thank you for.
Marr continues: “So it’s a Sunday evening, we get to Morrissey’s house. I prayed that it was the one night of the year that he didn’t leave the house! He opened the door and I’m stood there with this guitar. He said ‘What’s happened?’ I said, ‘Check this out!’
“He knew me pretty well by this point, so he said OK, went and got this little tape machine. I was on the stairs in his hallway and I started putting it down. As I was putting it down, I thought, this song needs another bit – ‘Rebel Rebel’!”
“And that became ‘Hand In Glove’, which was the best Smiths song at that point, I think. We were rehearsing, either the next day or the day after, and I showed Mike and Andy. I said, check this bit out. Andy, who’d played with me since being 14, goes ‘I’m sure that’s ‘Rebel Rebel’”
There you have it. One of the best rock songs ever written was written on a crappy toy guitar in the back of a car. Couldn’t be any sweeter, watch Johnny Marr reveal how he and Morrissey wrote ‘Hand In Glove’ below.