Johnny Marr: soundtrack of my life

The former Smiths guitarist on his love for Chic, bonding with Morrissey over Bob and Marcia and the raw power of the Stooges

Former Smiths guitarist and co-writer Johnny Marr's recent solo album The Messenger – the first the 49-year-old has released under his own name – earned almost universally positive reviews. Since the release, Marr has spent much of 2013 on the road in Europe and the US, and he embarks on a major UK tour this autumn. He played a handful of American shows with New Order in the spring, and next month will do so again, joining Bernard Sumner and co at a Manchester mini-festival, Live from Jodrell Bank (7 July). After that Marr appears at T in the Park (14 July). His single New Town Velocity is released on 22 July.

THE RECORD THAT GAVE MY SON NILE HIS NAME

Chic-ism, Chic (1992)

My sister turned me on to Chic when their first album came out, in 1977, and I couldn't believe quite what I was hearing. So much is made of Nile Rodgers's distinct rhythm sound that it's ignoring the incredibly beautiful thing that he does: the chord changes with his left hand. That's what I fell in love with on I Want Your Love and [Sister Sledge's] Lost in Music. He was a hero not just as a guitar player but because he worked on lots and lots of projects – and it seemed like no one gave him shit for it! So he was someone I related to, and still do. And it so happened that they reconvened and put out Chic-ism just before my son was born… And now that Nile Rodgers and I are friends, and he and my son are friends, it's worked out very well. And Nile Rodgers calls my son his soul son.

THE ALBUM THAT REMINDS ME OF MEETING MY WIFE, ANGIE

Parallel Lines, Blondie (1978)

Like all good working-class teenagers, you spent every Friday and Saturday night bunking in your mates' parents' houses when they went out to the pub, and taking over the place and burning holes in the carpets with cigs and joints and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans. And Parallel Lines was around at that time. It was a damn good record to be a soundtrack to a teenage romance.

THE TRACK THAT REMINDS ME OF FIRST TOURING AMERICA

Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Tears for Fears (1985)

Everybody Wants to Rule the f*cking World – I could not get away from that song no matter how I tried! Every TV show on every TV you switched on, out it came. How a band got to be so in-your-face at that time was anathema to me. I've now worked out how showbusiness on that level works: you have to have that kind of haircut and that sort of sensibility. But I actually believe that they did rule the world at that time. I guess it's to do with the explosion of MTV.

THE ONE THAT IMPROVED MY GUITAR PLAYING

LA Turnaround, Bert Jansch (1974)

I already had a certain facility and knew what I wanted to do. But someone gave me this album – and this is after punk, so it was quite a broad-minded thing to do in those days – with the tagline, "There you go, hotshot, with your Johnny Thunders shit – let's see if you can get your head round that." And I must confess it was one of the few times I actually sat down and thought, "Wow, I'm either gonna have to work this out, or give up." I told Bert that when I got to know him. And after he came and stayed at my house the first time, I saw afterwards that he'd gone through my records and signed it for me. Which was a really beautiful thing.

THE RECORD THAT MORRISSEY AND I BONDED OVER

Young, Gifted and Black, Bob and Marcia, (1970)

We bonded over a lot of records, but we both loved that song in the same way at the same time. And that's very likely to be the thing that inspired the music for Girlfriend in a Coma. We liked so many of the Trojan singles, and a whole list of other things in the glam-rock period – Sparks, Roxy Music, some David Bowie. And the Crystals we really loved, too. But if I had to mention one, it would be Bob and Marcia.

THE ALBUM I WOULD TELL NILE TO STUDY AS A MUSICIAN

Raw Power, The Stooges (1973)

But he would either ignore that, or has already studied it well enough but won't admit it – which is entirely his prerogative! James Williamson's guitar is as good as any guitar playing that has informed British or American punk rock, or the G-word – grunge. And as for the singing – well, Iggy's the greatest rock'n'roll singer of all time.

WHAT'S GETS ME THROUGH LONG TOUR-BUS RIDES

Gravez, Hooded Fang (2013)

They're from Toronto and their last record was called Tosta Mista, and I really liked it, so they sent me a CD they'd burnt themselves. It feels musically very current and quite… almost… the word would be witty. It has echoes of everything from the Cramps to Del Shannon to Dion to Eddie Cochran and the Strokes maybe. It's very contemporary surf/ garage rock, but the words are quite funny, too.

THE RECORD THAT WOULD GET ME ON THE DANCEFLOOR

Let's Start to Dance Again, Hamilton Bohannon (1981)

It's just a big, chocka, dense, full-on, four-on-the-floor disco record, without too much singing, and this scratchy guitar that you can hear influenced me and Nile Rodgers too. It's almost like playing three S'Express records at once – who I love as well.

Interview by Craig McLean

Listen in at tinyurl.com/MarrSoundtrack

Contributor

Craig McLean

The GuardianTramp

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