Feedback, riots, drink and drugs, Getintothis’ Andy Von Pip explores the legacy of the Jesus and Mary Chain ahead of the 25th anniversary of their seminal debut LP.
There were those that latched onto the feedback and then there were others that understood that there were songs, but very few people seemed to get it that we brought these two things together and this was really what it was all about, and that kind of pissed us off. So said Jim Reid of The Jesus And Mary Chain when this writer interviewed him back in 2010 and discussed the possibility of the band performing again to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Psychocandy, the band’s seminal, game changing debut album. And really if you are discovering the Mary Chain’s back catalogue for the first time you should forget the feedback, the riots, the fights, the drink and drugs – the “this is truly art as terrorism“sound-bites from Alan McGee, because these became distractions which too often got in the way of what the Mary Chain were all about – which was quite simply making fucking glorious music.
The Reid brothers rammed influences as diverse as the Ramones, The Beach Boys, The Shangri-las, The Velvets, Johnny Cash, The Stones, Bo-Diddley, and The Stooges into their own unique musical blender, to create a Molotov cocktail of explosive new sound. With Jim’s laconic vocals spitting venom and tenderness in equal measure combining with the distorted, unhinged magnificence of his older brother William’s frenzied unrestrained guitar playing, two introverted musical obsessives from East Kilbride emerged from their bedrooms and onto the world stage armed with songs of soul shredding power and beauty.
However, as so often happens the innovators and trailblazers can be shunted to the sidelines by myopic musical revisionists. And oddly a band that followed in the Mary Chain’s wake, My Bloody Valentine have over the last few years become broadsheet darlings, their legend being forever elevated to absurdly mythical and hysterical new heights. It must be said the hyperbole is something even MBV find baffling – “It’s quite weird in a way that we became seminal for doing nothing. We never got that much press at the time.” Perhaps the Mary Chain may have attracted this sort of veneration had they split-up way before their infamous House Of Blues punch up; but if they had, the world would have missed out on some truly wonderful music. Moreover, whilst MBV as great as they could be, always had a vague whiff of the egghead in the lab-coat about them, the Mary Chain were visceral, dangerous, and instinctive. They lived and breathed rock n roll.
And so as the Reid brothers reunite once more to celebrate Psychocandy’s 30th Anniversary with a series of gigs overseen by original label manager Alan McGee, (what could go wrong!) here are just ten reasons why the JAMC remain one of the most important and influential bands in recent history and are more than deserving of the sort deification afforded to their contemporaries.
Just Like Honey (1985)
A song that demonstrates there was always so much more to Pyschocandy era JAMC then feedback and riots. A song of shimmering beauty and emotional depth. Apparently, William had originally planned to record the song at a much faster tempo, but Jim implored him “No, bring that down a bit,” and William relented and admitted Jim was right. New fans rediscovered the Mary Chain when Just Like Honey was used in the poignant closing scenes of Lost In Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. And Scarlett was to join the band on stage during their comeback gig at Coachella in 2007 to sing the female vocal on the track. In typical Mary Chain fashion, they didn’t bother introducing her when she arrived on stage.
Never Understand (1985)
Initially the frenzied squalling wall of screeching feedback sounds not unlike a psychopath in a hockey mask let loose in a car crushing plant armed with a chainsaw. But open your ears and you’ll appreciate it’s a beautiful tender layered noise, not a petulant empty thrash. And it’s the juxtaposition of that noise and the Ramones meet Phil Spector style melody that make Never Understand such a slice of twisted genius. And yeah that is young Bobby Gillespie on “drums.”
Blues From A Gun (1989)
This was the first tune this writer heard from the band’s vastly understated third album Automatic. A driving explosion of sound, a cacophonous riff allied to the warped pop culture poetry that the Reid boys were so adept at. Whereas critics got hung-up on feedback with Pyschocandy and then the lack of it on Darklands, this time around they focused their attention on the use of drum machines and the simulated bass. Yet all that mattered was the quality of the song writing; which remains timeless.
April Skies (1987)
We still remember seeing the JAMC perform this on TOTP and it felt like a victory, that the outsiders had got one over on the pop establishment. This time around, it’s John Moore on drums who went on to form John Moore & the Expressway, and perhaps more notably Black Box Recorder alongside Luke Haines (The Auteurs) and Sarah Nixey and is currently writing his first novel.
The Hardest Walk (1985)
Behind the swagger, the notoriety, there was vulnerability at the heart of many of the Reid brothers’ songs. This shows perfectly what a fine ear for melody they had and was probably the song that really made this writer fall in love with them.
Sometimes Always (1994)
Sometimes Always, a duet with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and the lyrics I gave you all I had/ I gave you good and bad/ I gave but you just threw it back could well have summed up William Reid’s tempestuous relationship with Hope. Later he was to comment he was in love with Hope but that he’d never been so miserable. The track is from the bands Stoned And Dethroned album that was mooted to be their long talked about acoustic album. Except it wasn’t acoustic.
Contrary to popular belief one of the Mary Chain’s early hits Some Candy Talking wasn’t banned outright by the BBC, although the late squeaky clean new puritan Mike Smith expressed prissy rage at the lyrics which he deemed to be promoting the use of drugs (gasp!) and refused to play it. Reverence on the other hand was banned by the BBC and Top Of The Pops, primarily for the song beginning I wanna die just like Jesus Christ/ I wanna die on a bed of spikes. Now that’s an opening line.
Mixing surf rock and trash can americana with hip hop beats, the Reids sampled and looped a drumbeat from Roxanne Shante’s 1984 single Roxanne’s Revenge and Sidewalking hit the top 30. It was a non-album single although it would later appear on their Barbed Wire Kisses compilation of B sides and more. When played live it was impossible to keep your feet on the ground due to the crowd quite literally surging sideways in the venue.
I Hate Rock’n’Roll (1995)
Two songs, two brothers, two perspectives. The Mary Chain’s sixth studio album Munki was written and recorded at a time when the Reid’s relationship seemed to have crumbled to an all time low. It starts with Jim’s I Love Rock n Roll and finishes with William’s I Hate Rock n’roll. These differing perspectives added to the sense that this vastly underrated album had a divided sound. Such was the tension between the brothers that William would go into the studio with the rest of the band and record when Jim wasn’t there and vice versa. Although Jim claimed in an interview I Hate Rock n’Roll is the most positive thing they had ever said, he’s since admitted it was written by William out of sheer frustration at the kind of bullshit they had to deal with within the music business. He went on to say ‘It sounds like moaning and griping and we should be grateful, but there are a lot of things which you don’t think about beforehand that you have to deal with.’ He wrote I love Rock n Roll’ as a kind a counterbalance because. I never stopped loving rock ‘n’roll but the business side of it I could certainly leave behind… I have left behind.’
Upside Down (1984)
The song that started it all – for the Mary Chain and Creation Records. Upside Down is an insane wall of psychotic claustrophobic white noise, narcotic vocals, and a relentless repetitive drumbeat… and was unlike anything this writer had ever heard before; it just grabs you by the throat and keeps squeezing. It was possibly not quite the realisation of Jim Reid’s vision of “Einsturzende Neubaten with Shangri-Las songs” but it certainly laid down the template for Psychocandy which expanded on this sound, and paved the way for one of the most important and influential guitar bands of the last 30 years.