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Riff Trade

July 4, 2012

Di’-di’-di’-di’    (pause)      duh-di’-di’-di’   (half pause)    di’-di’

I’ll name that tune in 4, Lionel!”

Go on then, Name That Tune!”

Obviously, it’s Hitch-Hike, the number 30 in ’63 hit for Marvin Gaye, released on the Tamla Motown label…”

Indeed it is. (Show off). Hitch-Hike was one of Marvin’s early hits and, in best Motown tradition was a family affair, featuring the singing secretaries, Martha Reeves and her Vandellas, on backing vocals. A practically perfect 2 minutes-odd ode to finding his runaway girlfriend, it‘s signature stuttering guitar riff briefly lead to a short-lived but groovy (baby) Hitch-Hike dance craze, where participants looked like demented second prize winners in a Paul McCartney impressions contest….

I like the fact that the girl at the end is dancing in her pants on live telly. Nowadays she’d probably just whip them off for shock value and hardly anyone would bat an eyelid.

A couple of short years later, The Rolling Stones put out their version of Hitch-Hike on Out Of Our Heads.  The current issue of Mojo magazine has a good feature on early Stones and listening to it made a good accompaniment to reading the article. Out Of Our Heads is the Stones as garage band; rough, feral, fast and frantic. The guitar interplay between Keith and Brian is brilliant. Who plays what at any given time is hard to work out. Riffs, power chords and super-distorted slashing freak-out leads are all in the mix. Never heard it? It’s never too late…

High on industrial strength drugs (possibly) in his Chelsea loft appartment (maybe) and with a mono copy of Out Of Our Heads spinning on the old Dansette (very likely), Lou Reed suddenly had a thought. An inspiration. A bloody cheek. “A-ha!” he shouted, Archimedes-like, and right there and then pinched the Hitch-Hike riff lock, stock and barrel for his and the Velvet Underground‘s own There She Goes Again.

Di’-di’-di’-di’    (pause)      duh-di’-di’-di’   (half pause)    di’-di’

Can you tell what it is yet?

Fast forward 18 years and we find Johnny Marr in his Kensington flat (probably), mono copy of Out Of Our Heads spinning on the old Dansette (certainly). The Hitch-Hike riff kicks in and Johnny, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, takes the feel of it and applies it to the set of chords he’s been fiddling around with. A bit more subtle than Lou Reed, but listen to the start of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Ah! D’you see what he did there? Johnny was hoping he could fool the know-it-all journalists who’d no doubt point out that he nicked the riff from The Velvet Underground, the band that anyone who was anyone in a mid 80s guitar band could pilfer and steal their image or an idea or two from. That’ll be you I’m looking at, William and Jim Reid. And Ian McCulloch. And the rest of you. You know who you are.

As Johnny himself said in 1993, “There’s a little in-joke in there just to illustrate how intellectual I was getting. At the time everyone was into the Velvet Underground and they stole the intro to ‘There She Goes Again’ – da da da-da, da da-da-da, Dah Dah! – from the Rolling Stones version of ‘Hitch-Hike,’ the Marvin Gaye song. I just wanted to put that in to see whether the press would say, Oh it’s the Velvet Underground! Cos I knew that I was smarter than that. I was listening to what The Velvet Underground was listening to.”

“If we needed some songs fast, then Morrissey would come round to my place and I’d sit there with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was done that way.”

Morrissey was sat on a coffee table, perched on the edge. I was sat with my guitar on a chair directly in front of him. He had A Sony Walkman recording, waiting to hear what I was gonna pull out. So I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this one’ and I started playing these chords. He just looked at me as I was playing. It was as if he daren’t speak, in case the spell was broke.”

“We recorded ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ in 10 minutes. I went on to add some flute overdub and strings and a couple of extra guitars, but really, the essence and the spirit of it was captured straight away, and that normally means that something’s gone really, really right. I have a version (get it! get it!) of that take with just the three instruments and the voice on it – it absolutely holds up as a beautiful moment in time. The Smiths were all in love with the sound that we were making. We loved it as much as everyone else, but we were lucky enough to be the ones playing it.”

I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.”

Andy Rourke also loved There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. He calls it the indie Candle In The Wind. Make of that what you will.

Johnny Marr onstage with The Smiths when they played The Magnum Leisure Centre in my hometown of Irvine, September 1985. It still kills me that I never went. Stupid boy.

*Bonus Track!

Get this – one of those studio outtake thingies that caused Plain Or Pan to go into meltdown a couple of years ago. It’s the vocal-only version of Marvin Gaye‘s Hitch-Hike, every broken high note, breathless fade-out, ‘hmm‘ and ‘yeah‘. Pure soul, man. Pure soul!

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2 comments

  1. […] The Smiths There Is A Light That Never Goes Out explained […]


  2. […] more than great lyrics, of course. I’ve written about the Johnny’s contribution to it before. Below is the shortened […]



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