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Music

The song that changed Johnny Marr's life: "It's a beautiful mix of rhythm, sex and street poetry"

While Johnny Marr may not have been the primary wordsmith in The Smiths, nor did he steal the limelight amid their rise to fame, but his impact on popular music as we know it today can not be understated. As the spine that propped up The Smiths, Marr’s jangly pop DNA can be seen running through countless bands from Blur to Oasis, Stone Roses, Pulp and on and on.

Although Marr has somewhat distanced himself from the band that pioneered a new wave of alternative music, his legacy and impact continues to unfurl. Having released Fever Dreams earlier this year, Marr’s fourth solo album to date, the guitarist has proven longevity that many musicians could only ever dream of.

Of course, Marr’s unique ability to stay creatively relevant spans much further than his solo work. One of Marr’s greatest qualities remains the fact that would never shy away from a project based on stature. Not sitting back to rest on his reputation, Marr has been an active member of Marr has been a member The Cribs, the Pretenders, The The, Electronic and Modest Mouse, proving his willingness to push his creative boundaries.

However, despite all of his achievements to date, Marr needed to start a life in music somewhere. While he now holds mythical guitarist status, Marr, like you and I, required a moment of inspiration to kickstart his love affair with the arts and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it came in the form of British pioneers. When asked by Nick Hornby to name one song that changed his life, Marr turned to ‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones.

“This song is pretty much perfection,” Marr told The Guardian. “It’s a beautiful mix of rhythm, sex and street poetry, with some of the coolest guitar ever caught on tape. Born of attitude, spirit and magic. Electric Voodoo.”

Of course, it should come as little surprise that Marr opted to cite the Stones as a major influence, especially given just how much he has referenced the band as an inspiration in years gone by. “When I formed The Smiths,” he said. “They were probably the biggest influence in terms of the politics and the blueprint for a band, including the dynamic between the guitarist and the singer,” he continued, before adding: “When I was trying to get The Smiths together, I took the behaviour of Andrew Oldham and Brian Jones in their resourcefulness, desperation and ingenuity as the MO of The Stones as a working unit, as a source of inspiration – which was a pretty unusual thing to do in 1982”.

While Marr picked out ‘Gimme Shelter’ as a song that changed his life, it is an unrelated album that particularly stuck with Marr. When discussing The Stones’ third studio album, Out Of Our Heads, released via Decca in 1965, Marr commented: “It is the British version of the album I am talking about [the US release would include ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’] and mostly because of the cover, which I think is probably my favourite ever picture of The Stones. If we are on that subject, it says quite a lot about Mick Jagger as a frontman that he was secure enough to be only third from the front on the cover of the early records.”

He added: “When you look at Out Of Our Heads it looks like Brian Jones’ or Keith Richards’ group. Mick is just peering in from the side. That’s how cool Jagger was – most singers are always pushing people out of the way so they can be at the front.”

Out Of Our Heads is often entirely overlooked within The Stones’ catalogue,” Marr said. “I love it because before that, on the previous albums, they were attempting to recreate the music of their heroes in an almost academic manner, with only a certain amount of success. What gave those early records credibility was that they were aficionados and experts and that was something, besides The Beatles, which was exciting to British kids”.

“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. Not just in terms of how the band look, but the evidence is there in the version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitch Hike’, which obviously the Velvets chopped on ‘There She Goes Again’ – and I used on ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’.”

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