Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Almost Gold 

The Jesus and Mary Chain: From required records to artificial rip-offs

Wednesday, Oct 24 2007

When the Jesus and Mary Chain played its first show in London in 1984, the band wasn't exactly proficient. Douglas Hart had to remove two strings of his bass so he could actually play his instrument. William Reid was so shy that he stood with his back to the audience and his guitar up against his amp, causing a caterwauling feedback that scared away most listeners. His brother Jim Reid was chosen as de facto lead singer, merely because he couldn't play guitar as well as William. As for drummer Murray Dalglish, who'd been found via an advert days before the show, he played so poorly that the rest of the group ended the set by trashing him and his kit.

Creation Records honcho Alan McGee, who would go on to sign My Bloody Valentine, Oasis, and Teenage Fanclub, was one of a dozen people to witness the band's messianic show that night. He offered the Jesus and Mary Chain a deal on the spot, calling its mixture of Velvet Underground noise and Shangri-La's strut "utterly extreme."

Thus began one of the more infamous careers in rock, full of drug scarfing, audience abusing, Hope Sandoval shtupping, and cacophonous music-making, all of which continues to spawn soundalike acts to this day. On the eve of the Scottish band's semi-reunion shows — the current group features the Reid brothers, plus ex-members of fellow Britpop acts Ride and Lush — we celebrate the Reid boys' version of rock 'n' roll.

The Essential Albums:

Psychocandy (1985). After four singles, the band — which at this point included drummer Bobby Gillespie, who would eventually leave to concentrate on Primal Scream — delivered one of the most monumental albums of the '80s. The twisted pop songs offer indelible hooks buried under layers of ear-splitting feedback (leavened by the occasional pretty ballad like "Cut Dead"). On par with Never Mind the Bollocks in impact and influence, Psychocandy sounds as fresh today as it did then.

Darklands (1987). Stripped down to a two-piece and dispensing with their trademark feedback blitzkrieg, the brothers Reid changed course on their second disc. Stripping the songs down to the bare minimum, the pair revealed real talent beneath all the chaos, delivering Lee Hazlewood–esque tunes like "Deep One Perfect Morning."

Honey's Dead (1992). After 1989's weak Automatic, the Mary Chain returned to form, inspired by the rise of Madchester bands like the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Replete with dance rhythms and churning synthesizers, Honey's Dead also featured some of the group's most upbeat riffage — as well as lyrics ("I wanna die just like Jesus Christ") that got the group banned on Top of the Pops.

The Essential (and Awful) Followers:

Just how influential was the Jesus and Mary Chain? Here are the artists, clowns, and trends that couldn't exist without the band, for better or worse.

A Place to Bury Strangers Currently touted as the "loudest band in New York City," this trio is the Spinal Tap of assaultive noise-pop, both laughingly derivative and endearingly fun.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Like a bad photocopy of the Mary Chain's whole career, BRMC released a debut CD of squalling noise, then stripped down to acoustic blues, and finally devolved into boring, pedestrian rawk.

Henry's Dress Precursor to local legends Aislers Set offered a perfect storm of fuzzy riffs and Phil Spector-ian drums.

My Bloody Valentine Listen to the mid-'80s EPs like Sunny Sundae Smile and you'll hear all the sculpted feedback and girl-group-pop jonesing.

The Pixies While being peers of the Mary Chain, the Pixies borrowed from its sound, commercializing it to a degree. At least Frank Black and co. weren't coy about their reverence: The band covered "Head On" for Trompe le Monde.

Raveonettes Danish boy/girl duo making noise and simple drum beats deliriously romantic all over again.

Shoegazing Yes, musicians stared at their laces before the JAMC came along, but never had so many performers stood so implacably still for so many riffs.

Shop Assistants Scottish female-led band from the late '80s that swiped the Mary Chain's noisy pop and sped it up to giddy Ramones-esque tempos.

Sideshow Bob Bob's floppy mop top looks suspiciously similar to the Reids' massively poofed-out hairdos. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is a huge music fan, after all.

Singapore Sling Proof that owning Psychocandy and wearing all black isn't enough to make you interesting, even if you're from Iceland.

Sofia Coppola The Lost in Translation director used "Just Like Honey" in the closing sequence of her film, giving a romantic sheen to the tale of a dirty old man lusting after a much younger woman.

About The Author

Dan Strachota

Related Locations


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"