Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

The Smiths song Johnny Marr wrote on a gifted guitar

@TylerGolsen

For most bands, the come up of success and wealth begins with modest desires. Maybe it’s moving out of the squalid apartment that you share with five other people, or maybe it’s getting your parents their own place. Some buy cars, others buy clothes, but when Johnny Marr saw success with The Smiths for the first time, he put his needs right back into the band and got rewarded with one of their best songs.

While sitting down for NME’s ‘Song Stories’ series, Marr shared the tale of how a new guitar that was bought for him by a record executive wound up being the impetus for writing the music to ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, the 1984 track that wound up being The Smiths’ fourth commercially released single.

Marr remembers the exact date: January 2nd, 1984. That’s when The Smiths were in New York City meeting with Sire Records president Seymour Stein. Stein was fulfilling a promise he had made to Marr that solidified the record between him and the band. 

“He was telling me about when he took Brian Jones to get a guitar in New York,” Marr recalls. “So I saw my opportunity right there. I told him, ‘Well, if you take me to get a guitar in New York, we’ll sign to your record label.’ And in a moment of weakness, he took the bait and said, ‘Sure, I’ll get you a guitar’”.

A few months later, Marr was in New York walking down 48th Street with Stein when they popped into a guitar shop. Marr doesn’t specify what guitar shop it was, but legendary stores like Manny’s Music and Sam Ash helped give 48th Street the nickname Music Row during the 1970s. Some sources cite We Buy Guitars as the shop in question, but Marr fails to mention the specific store during the interview.

In any case, Marr spied a 1959 Gibson 335 with a Bigsby tailpiece in the store. He immediately gravitated towards it and told Stein that he had found his guitar. At the time, Marr was relying on the Rickenbacker 330/6 and a Fender Telecaster to create his signature guitar sound. The Gibson provided an entirely different sonic palette, and when Marr cracked open the case back at his hotel room, the first thing he played was a series of major seventh chords that eventually became ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.

See Marr tell the story down below.