To celebrate Johnny Marr's continued stellar musical output, we've pulled together The Smiths guitarist's 10 greatest riffs of all time. There's a lot to choose from, see if you agree. Read on...
The Smiths - ‘This Charming Man’: One of the most instantly recognisable opening riffs in British pop history, The Smiths’ first hit proper signalled that ambition and even virtuosity were acceptable aspirations for independent British bands. Landing at no.25 in the charts in October ‘83, it heralded the arrival of Marr the guitar genius (singer Morrissey wasn’t bad either).
The Smiths - ‘Still Ill’: Marr’s jangly guitar work, such a motif throughout the oeuvre of The Smiths, is no better exemplified than on ‘Still Ill’. It’s an intricate arrangement that always compliments Morrissey’s main vocal. Such a relationship hadn’t been this clearly defined since Bowie and Ronson in the 70’s and wouldn’t again until the early-90s and Suede.
The Smiths - ‘Girl Afraid’: If The Smiths hadn’t entirely been happy with the production on their eponymously-titled debut, then by the time they were doing sessions for the BBC, Marr was taking a controlling hand and proving how inspired he could be when overlaying guitars. ‘Girl Afraid’ combines some clean, furious picking with an ambient bleeding strain.
The Pretenders - ‘Windows of the World’: In 1987, following the acrimonious dissolution of The Smiths, Marr was soon ensconced in Chrissie Hynde’s The Pretenders. It was a short love-in, and there’s little now to show for it, but Marr’s lovely, plaintive acoustic guitar underpinning a wonderful one-take vocal from Hynde stands as a delightful hymn to brevity.
Talking Heads - ‘Nothing But Flowers’: Marr’s brilliance in The Smiths hadnt' gone unnoticed outside of the UK; he was soon in demand by legendary New York artrockers Talking Heads. ‘Nothing But Flowers’, with it’s afro pop-inflected rhythms and Bhundu Boys style guitar line, was the catchiest and most memorable highlight of the band’s last album, ‘Naked’.
Electronic - ‘Get The Message’: When Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner formed this Manchester duo, they united two of the most influential figures from three of the world’s most influential bands; despite unreasonable expectations they hit dizzying heights at times. ‘Get The Message’ with its open-chord strumming is simplicity itself.
The The - ‘Dogs of Lust’: Marr’s musical promiscuity continued apace, and he was an active member of Matt Johnson’s The The for six years (recording two albums between ‘88 and ‘94). No guitar refrain sounds more iconic than the angry sirens at the outset of ‘Dogs of Lust’, made from twisted notes and his own harmonica playing. Together they sound like dogs of war!
The Cribs - ‘Cheat On Me’: Almost as well known for joining already firmly-established bands as he is for being the former guitarist in The Smiths, Marr’s alliance with Modest Mouse raised some eyebrows, but not nearly as many as when he took up with the Jarman brothers. Yet again he proved how versatile he is, this time utilising the slide like a true bluesman.
Johnny Marr - ‘The Messenger’: Johnny Marr fronted the Healers at the beginning of the century, but it was late 2012 - 30 years into his career - that he finally emerged as a solo artist. ‘The Messenger’ was everything we could have expected and more, with a stunningly iconic guitar line at the outset and a formidable pop tune throughout.
The Smiths - ‘How Soon Is Now?’: This is one of the classic all time guitar riffs, or rather it’s two riffs playing off each other to create a moment of pure brilliance. One line feeds through a tremolo unit and stalks forward with purpose only to be scythed down each time it gathers pace by a riff that can only be described as supernatural.