Six Of The Best – Johnny Marr

October 7, 2015

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 22 in a series:

Johnny Marr_JUN14_Colour_Portrait_II_PHOTO CREDIT_Jon Shard

Johnny Marr is the wunderkid guitar player who, one day in 1982 knocked on the door of 384 King’s Road in the Stretford area of Manchester and encourgaged the bequiffed answerer to be the wordsmith that would sing atop his unique tunes. Together, they formed a partnership that would over a few short years become the most unique British guitar group of all time. To many of a certain age they were our Beatles, our Pistols, our band. There was no-one like them before and there’s been no-one like them since. From the first time I heard them (unusual for such a seismic event, I can’t actually remember when this was), The Smiths became my favourite band and, as a ham-fisted, fat-fingered guitar player with lofty ambitions, Johnny Marr became my instant hero.

With a guitar in his hands, Johnny is a magician. In The Smiths, brightly ringing, sparkling arpeggios fell from his fingers as regularly and as rhythmically as the Mancunian rain. Over the course of one memorable weekend the barely 21 year-old Johnny wrote three of the tunes that would define not only his band but an entire era; William, It Was Really Nothing, How Soon Is Now? and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want were all committed to tape in order to have something new to present to producer Stephen Street come the Monday morning. Three time-tested classics. One weekend. 21 years of age. Unbelievable.

smiths 85

As a Smith, Johnny wrote an obscene number of brilliant, inventive tunes. Lazy writers would go on about his ‘chiming‘, ‘jangly’ guitar sound, but there was far more to his arsenal than that. There was always, even in the Smiths’ most tender moments, a bite to his guitar. He could fingerpick. He could play inventive chord patterns. He could fingerpick and play an inventive chord pattern underneath it at the same time, with 10 fingers sounding like 25. ‘Like Lieber and Stoller piano lines playing alongside the guitar‘, to misquote him from those early days. Then there were the open tunings, the Nashville tunings, the hitting of the strings with knives to get the desired effect. He reinvented the wheel.

Johnny agreed to an interview ahead of his forthcoming October tour, a tour that takes in the west coast forgotten backwater of Kilmarnock (a show I’m involved in putting on) and telephoned me from his car, “somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester, just out of rehearsals. It’s good to get the band back together and blow the dust off the songs. I’m energised and enthused and I can’t wait for the tour to start.“

johnny marr freckfest

I explain to Johnny that our interview will be in two parts. The first part will focus on his recent work, his upcoming tour and his in-the-pipeline autobiography. The second part will focus on his Six Of The Best, albeit a 6otB with a difference. But more of that later.

Tell me about the last couple of years, then. It seems to me that it’s been quite full-on and intensive – two albums (The Messenger and Playland) written, recorded and released in two years and toured around the world and back again. This is the sort of behaviour I’d expect from a band with it all to prove, not from someone who’s made his mark in the world and who, by now, should be sitting back admiring his body of work from the comfort of an easy chair.

I’ll take that as a compliment. I really enjoy my work. It’s what I do and I’m good at it. It’s actually been 10 years of non-stop action! I joined Modest Mouse in 2005, just in time to record the ‘We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank’ album. That album really took off in the US and we toured there for a few years. It was pretty great, playing in a band again. Then, as fate would have it, Modest Mouse decided to take a break from touring and at the same time, The Cribs asked me to join as a guitar player. Without so much as a pause, it was back to being full-on and intense all over again. But I like that. I’m not into taking a year off.

Over my time in The Cribs I collected lots of ideas for songs. My travels informed what I was writing about, and as I wrote I had a specific sound in my head for a group that could play them. It was important to me that the band I put together should operate like the best bands; we should live in the same city and we should all be friends. I’m lucky that my best mates also happen to be the bass player, the guitar player and the drummer in my band.

Johnny Marr_Yellow Wall_II_JUN14_Landscape_PHOTO CREDIT_ Jon Shard

The Messenger was released in 2013 and was really well-received. This gave me the encouragement to keep going, and I got on a bit of a roll. The songs that ended up on Playland the following year were very much a narrative for city life. I’ve always seen the two albums as a pair. Playland was my ‘difficult second album’, but I think I pulled it off. It sounds vital and NOW!

I point out that, from The Smiths via Electronic and The The to Modest Mouse and The Cribs, Johnny Marr has had a lot of ‘difficult second albums’.

Ha! Yeah! That’s true. ‘Meat Is Murder’ was a pretty good 2nd album, wasn’t it? I’ve always been a fan of them – I loved Talking Heads and The Only Ones second LPs. You don’t always have the luxury of having a long time to write your follow-up album. Usually, they’re written on the hop. Both Talking Heads and The Only Ones were made under the conditions conducive to getting the job done.

And now, following the wham-bam knockout of the two LPs, you have a tour that will see the Messenger/Playland era come to a close and immortalised for posterity in your first live album, the aptly-named Adrenalin Baby (recorded earlier this year in Manchester and due November.)

johnny marr adrenaline live

Yeah. The live album. I’m really proud of it. It’s a really good document of the time. I’ve kept it to one CD (although it’ll be a double LP) as it’s short ‘n sweet and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s a good representation of the live set. Hopefully, people who come to the shows will enjoy it as a reminder of what the shows were like, and those who never made the shows will get an idea of what the live set is all about. I wanted it to sit alongside my favourite live LPs, albums like Bowie’s ‘Stage’ and Iggy’s ‘TV Eye’.

I remark that my favourite live album is The Ramones’ ‘It’s Alive’. Oh yeah! The energy on that is amazing. D’you know, I stole my copy! I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, so I ‘borrowed’ it from the local newsagent and never gave it back. It’s a brilliant album, isn’t it? Like all the best live albums it has volume and energy. Hopefully, people will get that from Adrenalin Baby.

Adrenalin Baby is a good potted history of Johnny’s best bits – half a dozen or so tracks from The Messenger/Playland eras, a cherry picking of the Smiths tracks he plays live, Electronic’s perennially melancholic Getting Away With It and a garage band ramalama run through of I Fought The Law. It’s Alive indeed.

Looking at the tracklisting of the album and scrutinising the playlists from the recent tours, it’s clear that Johnny holds his back catalogue dear to his heart. This is where my idea for this Six Of The Best came from – if Johnny were to put 6 of his own tracks into a time capsule to be dug up in 100 years time, which tracks would he choose? What are the tracks that Johnny Marr is defined by?

You want me to pick my own tracks? Cool! I’ve never been asked that before. Usually, everyone wants to talk to me about The Stooges. You want me to pick my own records? Alright then. Let me think about that.

Johnny Marr_JUN14_Colour_Landscape_PHOTO CREDIT_Jon Shard

And think about that he does. Johnny then very methodically gives me a chronological list of what he deems to be his best bits. An impossible task, most folk would agree (and a final choice that many would also disagree on), but, for the record, here are the tracks that Johnny Marr is most proud of having been involved in.

The SmithsHow Soon Is Now?

Y’know? The Smiths really blew me away. I’m defined by them and I can quite happily live with that. The combination of guitar sounds on How Soon Is Now? is amazing. The layering. The patience required to put it all together….it hadn’t been done before and it hasn’t been done since. I’m very proud of How Soon Is Now?

ElectronicGet The Message

The band was borne out of The Smiths and New Order, but sounded like neither. We were very unique. Bernard and myself had a real spark. Get The Message is a great example of what we do best. Those early days in Electronic were great fun. I remember the first tour, drinking pints of champagne after an insane Barrowlands show.

The TheSlow Emotion Replay

I can only play harmonica one way (!), and it’s all there on Slow Emotion Replay. The guitar part – it’s what people think I sound like. You and I know differently, of course.

Modest MouseDashboard

This is the track that kind of kicked off the 1st phase of my ‘new’ career. When we wrote the album, all my guitar parts were worked out in advance. I spent ages with my effects pedals making mad Captain Beefheart sounds until I discovered what I was looking for. I’m extremely proud of the guitar sound on the whole record. Everything you can hear in the left-hand speaker is me, doing my best Beefheart impression.

The CribsWe Share The Same Skies

I’ve chosen this for the same reasons as Slow Emotion Replay. The guitar playing – classic me, isn’t it?!?

Johnny MarrThe Messenger

This song is a good representation of how I like to sing. I was never known as a singer, but I’m comfortable doing it. The Messenger is kinda post-punk in feel, jagged and spiky but the vocals are warm and textured. I like that juxtaposition.

johnny marr fender

Never one to look back, Johnny is always looking forward to the next thing. After “10, 15 years of offers”, now is the right time for him to commit his memories to print in the form of an autobiography.

There’s a genuine interest in my life from enough people to warrant this. I was always unsure about doing this, but then I saw the satisfaction – no pun intended! – that Andrew Oldham got from penning his two memoirs. And Nile (Rodgers) writing his – well, that’s me been given the seal of approval to do my own.

We have a wee chat about music autobiographies in general and enthuse about Keith Richard’s book, specifically the section where he talks about discovering open G tuning and how that opened up a whole new world of guitar playing.

We also chat about our kids, how it must be great, I say, to look out and see your son (Nile’s band Man Made are the support on the October tour) on stage, following in your footsteps. And then, the gent that he is, Johnny passes on some advice for my own son (he’s only 8) who’s beginning his first tentative steps on the six string. Getting guitar tips from Johnny Marr – does it get any better than that? I even have the cheek to pass on a capo trick I’ve discovered for myself – not quite the whole new world that Keith Richards discovered in open G, but enough of a trick for Johnny to prick his ears and say, “Right, run that past me again! Ah! Got it! I’m gonna try that next time I play ‘There Is A Light..’”

Whether he will or not remains to be seen, but what a great way to finish an interview!

Johnny Marr is on tour this month. Check all the usual places for ticket details.

West of Scotland fans might like to get themselves to Kilmarnock for his only date in the area on Thursday 15th October. See you down the front.


Hang On Sloppy

September 30, 2015

Louie Louie by The Kingsmen is the basest, crassest, lowest-level, stoopidest rockist frat-boy thunk ever committed to vinyl. Which happens to make it just about the best record ever. But you knew that already. The fact that it is sloppiness in excelsis; badly played and full of mumbled, mistimed vocals only heightens its appeal.

louie label

Louie Louie was written and recorded in 1955 by Richard Berry, who, along with his band The Pharaohs released it as a single to mass indifference. Shame, as it‘s a mighty fine piece of skronking, doo-wop inflected rock ‘n roll.

Louie LouieRichard Berry

The Kingsmen first became aware of Louie Louie not via Richard Berry’s original, but from another cover. Rockin’ Robin Roberts‘ version was a regular on the jukebox in Seattle’s Pypo Club where the band often gigged.

Louie LouieRockin’ Robin Roberts & The Wailers

They quickly spotted it was a guaranteed floor filler, so The Kingsmen began incorporating it into their sets of lounge standards and easy listening classics.

kingsmenAll the King’s horses and all The Kingsmen

To say the recorded version was a departure from their usual sound would not be an exaggeration. Look at the band. Hardly The Stooges, or even The Troggs, are they? But with this one record they unwittingly created the caveman stomp of the Garage Band movement. Three chords? Check! Farfisa organ? Check! Nagging, repetitive chorus? Check, and check! Those Troggs’ and future Stooges’ ears pricked attentively at the hot-wired sound emanating from their AM radios.

Louie LouieThe Kingsmen

In order to give the record a live feel, the one vocal mike was hung suspended from the ceiling of the small studio and singing guitarist Jack Ely was forced to shout into it over the noise of the band. Just after the scratchy solo, he comes in to the verse a bar too early, checks himself and is saved by an on-the-ball drummer who casually flings in a recording-saving drum fill.

The fact that the teenage Ely was wearing braces on his teeth meant that when he wasn’t coming in on the wrong cue, he was mumbling his way through much of the song, a point that lead to the band and record being investigated for obscenity by the FBI. They were even banned from playing live in some States. As has been proven time and time again, this is exactly the sort of promotion a record needs in order to scale the charts.

If you listen carefully, more carefully then the FBI as it would appear, at the 54 seconds mark you’ll hear the crystal clear exclamation of Lynn Easton the drummer shouting “Fuck!” as he fumbles his sticks mid fill. Check it out.

Shock, horror: the Kingsmen performing live, possibly singing Loui Louie.

The whole record took as long to record as it does to listen to – done and dusted for $50 in one imperfect take and sent to the pressing plant before the band had any time to object.

The Kingsmen hated the version that was put out, although they mellowed slightly when it finally settled in the number 2 slot of the actual Billboard Hot 100 –  a somewhat bittersweet tale, as by this point they had split up. To promote the single, drummer Lynn Easton (who named the original band and therefore ‘owned’ the name – although I’m sure a Drifter or a Bay City Roller or 2 could contest this in court) put together The Kingsmen Mark 2 for all promotional work around the single. As long as they played it with the required loose limbed sloppiness, who would even have noticed?

*Bonus Tracks!


Here’s Toots & The Maytals skanking take, all clipped guitars, tippy-tappy hi-hat and stoned Jamaican harmonies. At 5 and a half minutes long, it kinda outstays its welcome, but it’s beautiful all the same.

Louie LouieToots & The Maytals

oj zeke

And here, with eyebrow permanently arched, is the typographically mischievous Louise Louise by Orange Juice. Shimmering, jangling and all the way fae fey Bearsden, it‘s a totally different song. Methinks the band had the title before the song.

Louise LouiseOrange Juice


Turn On Those Sad Songs

September 23, 2015

Way back in 1992 I wrote a song. Normally, ‘songs’ in our band came about through half-arsed jamming, with the ‘musicians’ supplying a loud ‘n loose back-beat ripped off from whoever we were listening to that week for the ‘singer’ to shout over while he shuffled the wee hand-scrawled bits of paper that he kept in his pocket into some sort of lyrical order. Sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn’t. In a rare fit of McCartney-esque creativity, I decided I was going to bring a fully-formed track to one rehearsal. It would have verses and choruses and a middle eight, the backing vocals would all be worked out and there’d be a bridge with a brass section (we’d add that part later in the stoodio) before the whole thing fizzed to a finish with grand guitar fireworks. 

I sat in my room, chewing on a pencil and bashing out chords on my acoustic guitar. This was what songwriters did, was it not? When it was done I was fairly happy with what I’d come up with, but it was plainly obvious that it didn’t fit in with the (cough) sound of the band I was in. We (liked to think we) played a frantic ramalama somewhere between the clatter of The Wedding Present and the more controlled energetic outpourings of the Pixies, even if (as I listen with the hindsight of 20+ years of experience) most of our stuff should have been consigned straight to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and set on fire, along with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. 

My untitled song was a funny sort of waltz time dirge that meandered nowhere for 3 or so minutes. It was a metaphor for a doomed relationship that featured the titles and occasionally the lyrics of the saddest Bob Dylan songs I knew. Yes, it sounded as awful as that appears. The opening couplet went like this:

What ever happened to Lay Lady Lay and The Girl From The North Country we always played?

There’s A Sad Eyed Lady, and I Threw It All Away

Ivor Novello would hardly raise an eyebrow at such an opener. Actually, on second thoughts, he most definitely would raise an eyebrow at such an opener, but with a bit of editing a total re-write my lyrics might’ve sounded presentable rather than plain old rubbish. 

I can’t remember many other words. Which is just as well. I doubt I’d be sharing many more of them if I did. Doomed relationship!?! What the fuckdiddlyuck did I know about doomed relationships at my age?!? When I think about it now, I’m absolutely thrilled I never shared it with the band. I would’ve been laughed out of the room and back up the road. It would still be mentioned whenever we met up in the present. In short, it would have been a right riddy. I thought it was quite the trick though, name-checking other songs in my own song. I’m sure it had been done before me, although I was genuinely unaware of any such instance.

suede v.2Bert from Suede and the poor man’s Bernard

Imagine then, my total jaw-dropping disbelief and mild rage in 1997, when Suede brought out their ‘Lazy‘ single. This was Suede v.2, the line-up that featured the Stars In Their Eyes Richard Oakes on doppleganger guitar in place of the departed Bernard Butler. Stuck on the b-side was a track called ‘These Are The Sad Songs‘, a mid-paced arty rocker that, get this! – name-checked other songs! The first line mentioned Lay Lady Lay! Come on! Not only were they carbon copying shit-hot guitar players from 5 years ago, they were carbon copying shit ideas from my head 5 years previously as well.

SuedeThese Are The Sad Songs

I suffered in silence. I wanted to tell anyone who’d listen that I’d written a song just like this. Except I hadn’t. Suede’s track wasn’t exactly a set-the-heather-on-fire chart smash, but it was, not surprisingly, a million times better than mine, even if it was hidden on the b-side of a 3rd-off-the-album single from the arse end of the band’s career. It mentioned cool songs though, like Venus In Furs and Lazyitis and Band Of Gold as well as a good half a dozen or so other tracks that if I’m being honest I’d still need to Google in order to find out who did the original. So perhaps not such a great idea after all.  



Rods & Mockers

September 13, 2015

I Wish You Would by The Yardbirds is a nagging, insistent blast of garage blues from 1964.

The YardbirdsI Wish You Would

yardbirds 64

It was their debut single, lifted hook, line and sinker from Billy Boy Arnold‘s 1955 track of the same name and re-sold as the hot new thing. It’s the sort of track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nuggets or Pebbles compilation.

When David Bowie heard it and/or saw The Yardbirds at the Ricky Tick or Marquee or whatever venue was most hip and most happening that week, something stuck with him. In 1973, pre-dating Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets theme by a good few years, he put together Pin Ups, a fine fine album of parochial r’n’ b stompers from his formative years; The Kinks, The Who, The Pretty Things…. all corners of the Brit beat group movement were covered, including The Yardbird’s Chelsea-booted stomper.

David BowieI Wish You Would

bowie 73

In typical Bowie fashion, his version sounds less like the original and more like a wired, paranoid blues from outer space.

Just a few short months on from the Ziggy album and tour, The Spiders From Mars band are all over it like a glam-slamming racket, Mick Ronson’s Gold Top set to boogie before wigging out in a brief Eastern ragga towards the end. I used to think it was the definitive version until I heard this…

glittery rod

Rod StewartI Wish You Would

He’s an easy target, is Rod. He’s certainly had his knockers (arf) but believe me, this is terrific from start to finish! Mock Rod at your peril.

Rod’s version is a full-on mic swinging, hip swiveling, spandex clad romp. It‘s proof that, despite the nickname he was always more rocker than mod. It recalls a prime-time loose ‘n lairy Faces. Listen to him bark out the commands in that voice that’s equal parts sandpaper and sawdust; “First verse!” “Second verse!” “Bridge!” “Sow-low!” You can picture him, strutting across some Mid-Western balloon-filled stage or other, chest puffed, leaning back into the mic the way he does.

Rod’s voice is superb, all mock cockney and nary a hint of the Scots blood that he’s so proud of. He carries the track from start to finish, his band doing the best bar-room blues that can be coaxed out of them. “And away we go! Whatever happens happens! Let’s just do it!” he instructs, his band hanging on in there right until the end, dive-bombing bass runs, runaway harmonica solo, 3-note riff and all. It’s crackin’!

What’s all the more amazing is that Rod’s take on I Wish You Would is from a long-forgotten studio session sometime in the mid 80s, when he really had no right at all to be recording stuff as thrillingly essential as this. See when he was jumping about in his videos wearing a pink tracksuit and a yellow sun visor on his head? He coulda been filing the charts with dumb rock ‘n roll like this instead. What a wasted opportunity.


Callin’ All, Radio Transmit!

September 8, 2015

REM‘s output falls into two camps – the hard jangling college rock of the IRS years and the radio-friendly unit shifting Warners years. Fans are often divided over which era constitutes the band’s ‘best era’, which is a bit like arguing over whether tomato soup or tangerines are better. Both are magic, both are different. Me? Despite the dramatic tail-off in quality towards the end of the Warners era, I like ’em both equally.

rem 81

REM were born into the world on the back of Radio Free Europe,  first released on their own promotional ‘Cassette Set’, of which only 400 were made. The track was pretty much fully formed from the word go. Counted in on a pistol crack snare and carried in the verses by a tightly coiled spring of a guitar riff, it explodes in a colourful burst of glassy 12 strings and up-the-frets bass.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set version)

There’s also an extremely rare ‘Radio Dub’ version which has novelty appeal, interesting for the treated vocals and rudimentary special effects.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set ‘Radio Dub’)

*credit where it’s due – these tracks came a few years ago via The Power Of Independent Trucking blog. I think at the time they were almost shut down over the inclusion of them, so shhh!

Local label Hib-Tone were suitably impressed by the demo cassette to offer the band a one single deal, and Radio Free Europe was committed to 7″.

 rem hibtone

REMRadio Free Europe (Hib-Tone Single)

The band themselves weren’t overly impressed by the finished results, but Radio Free Europe is the perfect defining introduction to the band – great musicianship fighting for earspace with the sandpaper vocals of Michael Stipe. Stipe is clearly a passionate vocalist, but you’d need a degree in WWII code cracking to work out what he’s on about here. Even when you can make out the words and phrases, many of them make little sense.

The silent silver radio’s gonna stay,

Reason it could polish up the grey

Put that! Put that! Put that! In you wha

Badness isn’t country at all


That’s not right, of course (Taking my cue from the chorus, I don’t even think I’ve got the right title for this piece), but that’s what I’m hearing. The first time I heard it, I actually stopped the record after a minute to check I hadn’t a build-up of fluff on my Grundig ‘music centre’ stylus.  A quick Google of the lyrics just now (there was none of that in 1989) doesn’t help either. There are many websites offering you their definitive take on the lyrics and, like much of the internet, the information is only as good as the person who put it there. I’m not convinced any of the lyric sites have the words 100%. Just as you most certainly shouldn’t be convinced by my ham fisted attempt above. Not for nothing was REM’s first LP called ‘Murmur‘.

rem 83

Radio Free Europe and the band was picked up by IRS. Re-recorded and re-released, the track also kicked off side 1 on Murmur. 

REMRadio Free Europe (Murmur version)

rem irs

It was slower and less murky, perhaps on the instructions of producer Mitch Easter, but Michael’s mumblings were all over the record like the fuzz on a Georgia peach. There’s also an annoying hi-hat ‘tick tick tick’ all the way through the verses that, once heard, can never be dislodged.  The best bit is still towards the end when, on one of the final choruses, all instruments bar the beat-keeping drum drop out before returning a second later.

rem stipe

The band played it live less and less as the years grew. In fact, you can probably chart it’s appearance in set lists in direct proportion to the introduction of the mandolin in their sound. It was something of a surprise to this audience (venue unknown) in 1992 when REM played a rare version. No doubt inspired by Nirvana and their ilk who were all the rage at the time, this version is a somewhat muscled up, balls-dropped shitkicker when compared to its original form. It brings to mind the harder sound of future LP Monster. Mike Mills plays like a demon possessed on this. Thankfully Peter Buck hadn’t yet discovered the tremelo pedal that would spoil much of the upcoming LP.

REMRadio Free Europe (Live 1992)





The Blond Waltz

August 27, 2015

Bob Dylan‘s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is one of his very best. And with a canon of songs as rich and impressive as the one that he has casually amassed over the last 50 years, that’s really saying something. Bob Bob Shoobeedoo Wob.

Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (Mono version)

dylan blonde outtake

It’s a love song, of course, waltzing in on a breeze of liquid organ, trademark wheezing harmonica and that thin, wild mercury sound that the Zim was eager to perfect around this time. A musical onion, it’s multi-layered, shrouded in mystery and code and jam-packed full of words and phrases I won’t even begin to pretend I understand.

It’s a straightforward paen to Sara Lowndes (Lowndes/Lowlands look quite similar, dontchathink?) who, at the time of writing it was Dylan’s wife of 6 months. If you listen to the self-explanatory ‘Sara‘ on the decade later Desire, Dylan admits that much;

Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel

Writin’ ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ for you.”

Even this is coated in very Dylanesque ambiguities and contradictions though.

Some accounts have Bob writing the song in the studio in Nashville while his crack team of expensive sessioneers played cards and twiddled their thumbs in an adjacent room, patiently waiting for their boss to tell them the song was complete and ready to be committed to tape.

Others have insisted that the song arrived fully formed in the Chelsea Hotel and ripe for recording by the time of the Blonde On Blonde sessions.

Gonzoid speed freak Lester Bangs claims to have it on good authority that Dylan wrote the song whilst wired out of his nut on some cocktail of amphetamines or other, but then, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Two or three half-truths don’t make the whole truth, but I’d wager the real story is an amalgamation of those accounts. What can’t be denied though is that the finished track is sprawling, majestic and epic (it fills the entire 4th side of Blonde On Blonde) and is the result of a one-take recording at 4 in the morning, Dylan’s dawn chorus for the dreamers and the doomed.

dylan sad eyed lyrics

Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands has that late night/early morning feel, understated and creeping around on tip toe, as if the band are scared to hit the strings too hard and are playing quietly so as not to disturb the neighbours, with some of the chord changes coming in slightly behind the beat a result of the band listening carefully to Dylan or watching him for their cue to change.

The musicians (including Al Kooper on keys and Charlie McCoy on guitar) didn’t really know what they were in for. They hadn’t actually heard the finished song and so were understandably rather surprised to find the song clocking in at over 11 and a half minutes. With the unspoken telepathy that comes from playing with the very best of musicians, they joined the song on its journey, climaxing when the chorus came in, only to find themselves faced with verse after verse of meandering beat prose and harmonica breaks. By the 6 minute mark most were assuming the song was nearly over, which is why it builds to a crescendo on more than one occasion. Dylan must’ve had a right laugh at their expense.

dylan saraBob ‘n Sara, 1966-ish


George Harrison was a big fan of Sad Eyed Lady… Its lilting waltz was a defining influence on The Beatles‘ under-apppreciated but eternally groovy I Me Mine……


Sound Affects

August 11, 2015

The Small Faces were the perfect group; a pint-sized pocket dynamo of r’n’b and soul, windmilling guitars and swirling Hammond. They dressed the same, sported the same haircuts and were a walking, talking, living and breathing advert for Carnaby Street and Swinging London. None of the four of them stood taller than 5′ 6″ (it was the 60s, therefore imperial units of measurement counted) and were mod to the core. In the street parlance of the day, a ‘face’ was the most respected, sharpest looking mod about town. The band name wrote itself. 

small faces

With disparate roots in American blues and soul and cockney music hall (thanks in part to Steve Marriott’s training at the Italia Conti stage school), The Small Faces cooked up an original brew of heady mod pop.

As the sixties progressed and trouser legs widened, The Small Faces’ sound drifted away from the cor blimey Pearly stomp of the mid phase Faces to a more pastoral, whimsical and expansive psychedelic sound, but by 1968 the band were brought back to terra firma when Marriott penned Tin Soldier.

tin soldier 7

Small Faces  – Tin Soldier

Tin Soldier was a no quibbles return to their r’n’b roots – an off-mic count-in gives way to piano and Hammond before Marriott’s stinging electric guitar and rallying cry of “Come on!” lead into the verses. It builds and drops before building again into a wonderful crescendo of tumbling toms, grinding riffs, gritty soul adlibs and a hysterical female (PP Arnold) hell bent on raising the roof. If The Small Faces are the perfect group, this is the perfect record. If you listen really carefully, you’ll hear a little scratching noise in the background – that’s Paul Weller writing his crib notes.

Sound affects, indeed.

Jenny RylanceJenny Rylance. Whatever did Rod Stewart see in her?

Steve Marriott wrote Tin Soldier for the beautiful yet unattainable Jenny Rylance, a leggy model who was at the time Rod Stewart’s girlfriend. He intended to give the song to his current beau PP Arnold, but on completion, realising he’d created such a brilliant track, he gave Arnold If You Think You’re Groovy instead and kept Tin Soldier for The Small Faces. A wise move, as it turned out. When Randy Rod finished with Rylance, Marriott ended up wooing her and married her a year later. Like the Artful Dodger he once played on stage,  Marriott ended up with both the song and the girl. The perfect ending.

I usually steer clear of sticking YouTube clips in posts, but this is fantastic – a top of their game Small Faces on French telly, live vocals, mimed instruments and with a little help from a somewhat sparkled PP Arnold. Check the eyes! Oh to have seen them in concert.


* Bonus Track 1!

Here‘s a live version of Tin Soldier from Newcastle City Hall in November 1968.

I get the impression the screaming and incidental crowd noise has been mixed in afterwards to create a more ‘live’ sound, though I may be wrong. Either way it sounds like The Small Faces are playing in a cave to 20,000 appreciative ace faces, and not the sweaty box bedroom-sized r’n’b club you might’ve expected. (Newcastle City Hall being neither, as it turns out.)

* Bonus Track 2!

Here‘s PP Arnold doing If You Think You’re Groovy

pp arnold nme


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