Johnny Marr’s 10 Best Post-Smiths Songs
Few musicians have had as much influence on what we now call "alternative rock" as Johnny Marr. First as Morrissey's songwriting partner in the Smiths and subsequently as one of music's greatest collaborators, the Mancunian guitarist has forged a 30-plus year career filled with artistic triumphs. Marr's oft-imitated playing style combines Roger McGuinn's shimmery jangle with the twang of '50s rockabilly and the haunting guitar tone of those classic Phil Spector-produced records of the '60s. Since the Smiths' demise, Marr has always found fresh and exciting way to infuse his singular style into new projects, and while we here at Diffuser.fm love us some Moz, we decided to honor the the guitarist's second act with this list of Johnny Marr's 10 Best Post-Smiths Songs.
Perhaps influenced by Paul Simon’s seminal ‘Graceland’ album, Marr throws some South African flair into his playing on this Talking Heads collaboration. He also mixing in some Smiths-like riffing, and the combination of Marr’s contributions and bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz’s bouncy rhythm helps land ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’ on our list.
Written by the legendary team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, ‘Windows of the World’ was first recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1967, and although the song didn’t become a huge hit for the singer, she’s gone on record as saying it’s her favorite of all her singles. Marr recorded a gorgeous version of the song when he was briefly a member of the Pretenders in 1987. Where the original version had a breezy, jazz-pop kind of feel, Marr’s pastoral guitars transform ‘Windows of the World’ into something much more melancholic.
In 2011, Marr worked with some up-and-coming musicians for a special project commissioned by the folks at Ray-Ban. The strongest song of the experiment was easily his Best Coast co-write, ‘In Your Sleep.’ Although Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino never actually sat in a room with Marr to hash out the song, her relaxed vocal melody and Bobb Bruno’s ‘60s girl group-inspired drums are the ideal partners for the beach-kissed guitar parts written by the former Smiths icon.
Known for her successful solo career and show-stealing performance on the Pogues’ Christmas classic ‘Fairytale of New York,’ Kirsty MacColl became part of Smiths lore by singing backup at several sessions with the band (and later on with Morrissey). Marr co-wrote ‘Walking Down Madison’ -- MacColl’s biggest U.S. single, a No. 5 hit on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart -- with the vocalist and lends a series of funky riffs to the track. In Marr's extensive discography, ‘Walking Down Madison’ is probably his most unashamedly pop moment.
Marr co-wrote and appears on Billy Bragg’s 1991 anti-homophobia anthem ‘Sexuality,' featuring MacColl on background vocals. The song includes a Smiths-ian array of musical hallmarks, especially its jangly main guitar refrain.
In 1988, Marr teamed up with New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner to form Electronic after the latter aborted a solo album project. The stylistic union of Marr’s tasteful guitar work and Sumner’s synth-pop keyboard flourishes and dance-oriented rhythms made for a critical and commercial success, and Electronic’s 1991 eponymous debut album is considered a minor classic in some circles. Over a bed of summery acoustic guitars and a simple drum-machine loop, Sumner lays into a sugar-sweet melody with his trademark whispery vocal style. The result is Electronic’s finest single.
‘Dashboard’ was written on the very day Marr began collaborating with singer/guitarist Isaac Brock as a member of Modest Mouse. The song features a jangly guitar riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of a place on an early Wire album on top of a dancefloor-ready drum pattern and occasional horn accents. The track remains one of Modest Mouse’s most popular, proving that Marr could also do the whole American indie rock thing like a champ.
After leaving the Pretenders, Marr hooked up with The The and was an official member of the group from 1988 to 1994, appearing on two studio albums. ‘Dogs of Lust,’ a single of the English group’s excellent ‘Dusk’ album, finds Marr not only lending some bluesy guitar swagger, but also throwing down the song’s hopelessly infectious harmonica hook.
Marr surprised many of his fans when he joined British power trio the Cribs in 2008. ‘Cheat on Me,’ the first single released from ‘Ignore the Ignorant,’ his lone album with the group, is a moody number, driven by disjointed guitars that give way to an angst-ridden chorus. After briefly playing with Craig Gannon during the Smiths’ later period, Marr again proved with his stint in the Cribs (he left in 2011) that he can mesh well with another full-time guitarist in a band setting.
Coming off Marr’s recent ‘The Messenger’ solo album, ‘New Town Velocity’ is a low-key affair that would have sounded at home on one of New Order’s most recent records. It’s the way the keyboard washes into the clean guitars and Marr’s restrained vocal that makes ‘New Town Velocity’ so darn irresistible.