Happy Birthday: Johnny Marr

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Friday, October 31, 2014
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Happy Birthday: Johnny Marr

If the Smiths were, as Simon Goddard once wrote, “the most influential British guitar group of the (1980s),” then today is a day for celebration, as it’s the 51st birthday of the guy whose guitar enabled the group to provide that influence.

Born on Halloween 1963 in Manchester, England under the later-to-be-tweaked name of John Martin Maher, Johnny Marr formed his first band – the Paris Valentinos – just after entering his teens, doing so with another lad whose name would soon become almost as familiar to NME and Melody Maker readers as his own: Andy Rourke. The two would stick together beyond the dissolution of the Paris Valentinos, first as members of White Dice, then as members of Freak Party, but when the latter group fell apart as a result of failing to find a proper singer, former White Dice frontman Rob Allman suggested that it might be worth his time to meet an intriguing young fellow by the name of Steven Morrissey, and…well, we all know how that worked out.

Not that the Morrissey / Marr collaboration can be said to have lasted for the long haul – all told, it only existed for just over five years, starting in May 1982 and effectively concluding when Marr left the Smiths in August 1987 – but the material that they wrote together continues to stand the test of time almost 30 years after their parting of the ways.

Mind you, it’s not as though Marr retired after leaving the Smiths: he might not have actively pursued the spotlight after stepping out on his own, but heaven knows he’s kept busy, spending various amounts of time as a member of The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, 7 Worlds College, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs while also contributing to songs by Beck, Billy Bragg, the Charlatans (U.K.), Bryan Ferry, Robyn Hitchcock, Tom Jones, Kirsty MacColl, Oasis, Pet Shop Boys, Talking Heads, and a bunch of other folks we won’t take the time to list here because this sentence is way too long as it is.

Oh, and please please please don’t forget that Mr. Marr has been slowly but surely building a nice little solo catalog as well, having released his most recent album, Playland, only a few short weeks ago. If you’d like a little sample, here’s the video for the first single, “Easy Money,” which shows our man Johnny in full-on rock mode…and, boy, does he know how to rock.

To celebrate Mr. Marr hitting the big 5-1, we’ve put together a playlist that starts off with the Smiths, wraps up with a sampling of his solo career, and features a creamy filling featuring some of those other folks we mentioned a few moments ago. All told, it paints a picture of a guy who really knows his way around a guitar and a good tune, which is something you didn’t need us to tell you, but just in case you feel like you could use a reminder, hopefully you’ll agree with us that this is a damned good one.