I’m writing about eighties indie for my book at the moment, and last night it was the turn of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
It reminded me about the incendiary impact that their classic album, “Psychocandy”, had when it came out in 1985. My favourite music paper, the NME, got very excited about it. It was the Beach Boys meets the Velvet Underground, but with a whole load of guitar feedback screeching over half the tracks. I’d certainly never heard anything like it before. I wasn’t even sure I really liked it at first. The feedback thing almost made the tracks unlistenable – at least in 1985, when pop was at its height. It was like an artist painting a picture and then wiping a squeegie across it…. unthinkable. Er, that’s exactly what Gerhard Richter did at one point. (See my blog on GR!). This was music as abstract art. Or just anti-music. The band were associated with violent gigs, “art-terrorism”, and the usual drink and drugs stuff. It wasn’t easy listening.
The band’s had a huge impact in indie world, but their moment didn’t last that long. They didn’t stick with the radical approach, and became instead a pretty good rock’n’roll band in the style of the Velvets, The Stooges and all the usual suspects. You could probably throw in the Sex Pistols and Joy Division too. Good, but not great.
But that one album, “Psychocandy” is iconic. And hugely influential. I doubt we would have had My Bloody Valentine without it. And a band like the Horrors now must surely have been influenced by it.
The drummer on some of the “Psychocandy”sessions was Billy Gillespie. The front man for Primal Scream. And look what happened to them!
My favourite slurred surf vs feedback track is “Never Understand”. Here’s a video of it. With 80’s haircuts in full evidence!
Over time though, the song that has emerged as the band’s best is “Just Like Honey”. And I have to admit that a big part of that is down to the song featuring at the end of one of my very favourite films, “Lost In Translation”. Set in Tokyo, the story of the jaded actor played by Bill Murray and the student, deserted by her photographer husband, played by Scarlett Johansson. It’s a wonderful film where nothing much really happens, but the imagery is entrancing. The relationship between the two develops slowly, but never gets to where you want it to get. Oh, it’s so poignant, frustrating, beautiful, funny, sad. And “Just Like Honey”, right at the end, is perfect for the mood. Here’s a clip. The first 1.50 is the film’s denouemont (which is tremendously moving if you’ve loved the rest of the film) then the song finishes it all off beautifully.
If if you haven’t heard “Psychocandy”, it’s worth giving it a try. You might hate it. Or you might just fall in love with it.
Jimi Hendrix proclaimed, in one of his greatest tunes, “Third Stone From The Sun”, You’ll never hear surf music again…
Once you’ve heard The Jesus and Mary Chain, surf music will never sound the same again.