Once upon a time, Irish-born Johnny Marr wrote songs and performed the guitar for the British-based rock group, the Smiths, from 1982 until 1987. Since then, he’s moved on to perform and record music as a solo artist. He’s also worked with several other musicians, including Beck, Bryan Ferry, and Pet Shop Boys. Some of the top songs from Johnny Marr didn’t just come from his time as a member of the Smiths. They also came before he was with the group and after. There are at least ten that come to mind that stood out as the best in Marr’s career.
Born as John Maher in Manchester, England, on October 31, 1963, he and his Irish parents moved to Wythenshawe when he was about eight years old. While there, the exposure he had to musicians that lived there at the time influenced the course of his life. One of his neighbors was Billy Duffy, the same man who eventually earned a name for himself as The Cult’s guitarist. By the time he was thirteen years old, young Johnny was already in a rock band. He, along with Andy Rourke and Kevin Williams (aka Kevin Kennedy), each played together, first in high school, then shortly after graduation. As his popularity grew, Johnny Maher changed his last name to Marr in order to avoid confusion with John Maher, a man who played drums for the Buzzards. It was during this time Johnny Marr was playing for a group known as White Dice. He, along with Andy Rourke, played for that band until it broke up in 1981. After that, the two founded Freak Party, a funk band that included Simon Wolstencroft as the drummer.
In 1982, the members of Freak Party met with Steven Morrissey with the hope he would take on the role of the band’s lead singer. Instead of carrying on as Freak Party, the group became The Smiths as a new identity. This first lineup featured Marr as a lead guitarist while Rourke performed on bass. By this time, Mike Joyce became the drummer with Morrissey as the lead singer. After releasing their debut single, “Hand in Glove,” in 1983, it was time for The Smiths to record and release its first studio album. After its 1984 release came Meat Is Murder, which had The Smiths perform more boldly as political activists since their debut. This was then followed by what fans and music critics agree was The Smiths‘ best album yet, The Queen Is Dead. That was released in 1986, not long before Marr decided he had enough. Between the recording sessions and lengthy tours, the pressure of this schedule was taking its toll on Marr. It was also doing a number on the rest ofThe Smiths as well. By the time 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come was released as the group’s fourth studio album, The Smiths were already disbanded.
When Smiths’ former drummer Mike Joyce decided to file a lawsuit against John Marr and Steven Morrissey over royalty issues while they were together as The Smiths. Joyce’s complaint was neither he nor Andy Rourke received enough credit for their work as composers while with the band. By the time the argument was over, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff. As awkward as this situation was, it wasn’t enough to diminish the relations, at least between Marr, Morrissey, and Rourke. There were rumors and attempts to reunite The Smiths but this consistently met with failure as each man was busy with his own projects for the time being.
Now on his own, the creative freedom of Johnny Marr as a musical artist allowed him to blossom. This was a talent that was capable of so much more than serving as an iconic guitarist who influenced the direction of rock and roll since the mid-1980s. Although the 2003 album, Boomslang, didn’t seem to show it, John Marr was already a busy musician, singer, and songwriter as he worked with an impressive list of recording artists and superstars. That particular recording was released as Johnny Marr and the Healers, ten years before he would release his debut solo album, The Messenger. A year later he produced Playland, then Call the Comet in 2018. In between these recordings, Marr also had time to write and publish his own autobiography, Set the Boy Free.
In 2013, the same year The Messenger was released, John Marr was recognized by New Musical Express (NME) with a Godlike Genius award. Since the 1980s, Marr has made his mark as one of the music industry’s greatest guitarists. Scores of recording artists, including other god-like guitarists, often credit Marr as the man behind the music that influenced each of them to follow in his footsteps. John Marr credited Pete Townshend, James Williamson, and Neil Young as the key influencers that played a factor in his style as a musician. That, plus growing up in a neighborhood that seemed to have a star guitarist on every block.
Top 10 Johnny Marr Songs
#10 – Ariel
“Ariel” was an amazing gem of a song recorded and released in 2021 by Johnny Marr. This first appeared on his 2021 EP, Fever Dreams Pt 1 before it was included in his fourth studio album, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4. Already known for his empathic nature, Marr’s “Ariel” was inspired by the ups and downs that plagued poet Sylvia Plath and Pink Floyd’s first singer-songwriter, Syd Barrett. “Ariel” was the title Marr came up with from Plath’s 1965 collection. This was a song about the power of friendship. As a fan of Plath and Barrett, Johnny Marr observed how these two geniuses met unkind fates due to issues that seemed beyond their control. This also came at a time when all the events revolving around COVID-19 had put so many people in the world in a similar situation.
During the global lockdown, people were held as prisoners in their own homes. This imprisonment did more than physically trap a person against their own will. It also toyed with their state of mind. To this day, society has yet to fully recover from what seems like a nightmare that refuses to go away. While some have chosen to put faith above fear and move forward, too many refuse to come out of a bubble that continues to hold them as prisoners. As a song, “Ariel” perfectly executed the need for friendly support in a world that seems to have forgotten how to do such a thing. Speaking as a fan, it’s often difficult to hear “Ariel” without thinking about greats like Syd Barrett and Marilyn Monroe, just to name a few.
#9 – Lightning People
When the world seemed like it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnny Marr was determined to do the opposite. Instead of riding the global lockdown out, he opted to write and record music instead. Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 was the result of that effort, which was released during the summer of 2021. “Lightning People” was one of two singles that was released from it that peaked at the Official UK Vinyl Singles Chart at number one. This was Marr’s musical tribute to his fans, music critics, and peers.
With the intent to perform as a soulful artist, this was one of his many gospel-like performances that flowed through the fourth of his studio albums as a recording artist. Even after parting ways with The Smiths in 1987, Marr underwent extensive soul-searching of his own. Because of that, he’s become who he is today. In the process, he has earned a new wave of fans that once upon a time never gave him the time of day. “Lightning People” paid homage to men and women who serve as shining beacons of hope in a world that continues to drown in pits of darkness.
#8 – New Town Velocity
Released from the album, The Messenger, 2013’s “New Town Velocity” was a single Johnny Marr released that became a fan favorite. Although it didn’t appear on any official music charts, it was a popular song with a popular video that was shared on YouTube. This was a song that peered into what life was like for Marr as someone who had yet to make it big with The Smiths. After dropping out as a student to embark on a musical career at fifteen years old, Marr already knew at that time he was destined for something no educational facility at that time was able to provide. While The Messenger’s tracklist carried the same trademark sounds that made Marr famous, “New Town Velocity” revealed a hint of vulnerability about a man who took a chance to carve his own path according to how he saw fit.
#7 – I Feel You
Originally recorded and released by Depeche Mode in 1993, “I Feel You” was a hit single Johnny Marr covered in 2015. What was a huge hit for his fellow UK musicians was also a hit for him. On the UK Vinyl Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number three. Marr covered this as his contribution to Record Store Day 2015, a benefit that’s been around since 2007. Long before digital downloads, there were record stores that became more than just some shops on the street or in the mall. It was a hangout, especially among music-loving fans who’d rush to these stores whenever their favorite bands released brand-new recordings. Although Depeche Mode’s version of “I Feel You” is incomparable, Johnny Marr’s performance gave it a hint of nostalgia that gave this song the level of recognition it deserved as a cult classic. What made “I Feel You” fun was Marr’s performance had George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” come to mind. It was as if a little rebel in Marr decided to come out and say hello.
#6 – Upstarts
“Upstarts” was a single released from the 2013 album, The Messenger. Although John Marr’s song failed to make an impression on any official music charts at the time, it became a standout favorite among his fan base. For fifteen years after parting ways as the lead guitarist for The Smiths, Marr either worked as a collaborator, featured artist, or session musician for other recording artists. The beauty behind “Upstarts” was seeing a piece of Marr’s past when he was an upstarting musician, looking to make a name for himself.
#5 – The Right Thing Right
When Johnny Marr was at the peak of his career as a member ofThe Smiths, there was a need to slow things down for the sake of personal sanity. In 1987, the British-based group disbanded and each man went his own way. For Marr, that way included some soul searching that took him abroad. After spending fifteen years doing so, he finally came full circle with The Messenger. “The Right Thing Right” was his musical way of letting his fans know that his big comeback meant he was now his own man, doing his own thing. Already a legendary guitarist at this point, Marr further expanded his presence as a performer with a song that focused more on a person’s roots rather than where they took their last step. If you’re looking for a motivational tune engineered to get you moving in a better direction, “The Right Thing Right” may be just the song for you.
#4 – Spirit, Power & Soul
When the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to put the world at a standstill, Johnny Marr chose to make a musical statement. On August 31, 2021, Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 was released as Marr’s attempt to give music fans a much-needed wake-up call to reality. That reality included putting faith above fear during what was clearly one of the darkest moments in global history. Focusing just on today’s problems instead of remembering the lessons from the past so we can carve out a better tomorrow was not sitting well with Marr.
“Spirit, Power & Soul” was Marr’s gospel-like approach that fused in some electrified disco to hammer home his musical message. Simply put, today doesn’t mean a thing without remembering past mistakes and triumphs in order to move forward so we can enjoy a brighter future. Speaking as a fan, this was a tremendously encouraging song that still deserves to be heard by as many music lovers as possible. It became a number-one hit on the UK’s Official Vinyl Singles Chart in 2021 and is far from done as a spiritually uplifting song as it maintains steady streaming from sites like Spotify and YouTube.
#3 – European Me
From The Messenger, 2013’s “European Me” was a song written and performed by Johnny Marr as a means to celebrate the lifestyle of Europeans. When it comes to crossing borders between nations, the realm in Europe is much different than what’s seen in America’s melting pot society. As a man who’s traveled the world, Marr observed the personality differences between people in the United States and people who live in Europe.
When it came to true diversity that also sticks to their true ancestral nature at the same time, the Europeans have this down to a science. At least this was according to the observation made in the song. Meanwhile, as big as the United States of America is, the song suggested no other place on Earth was able to share the same romantic ambiance many of the Brits and the Europeans are known for. It was clear in “European Me” that Johnny Marr was proud to be a British citizen whose love for his country didn’t give way to the global trends and all the expectations that came with it.
#2 – Hi Hello
Released as a single in 2018, “Hi Hello” was a song that peaked at the number one spot on the UK Official Vinyl Singles chart. As an album, Call the Comet, was deemed one of Johnny Marr’s best works as a solo artist. Speaking as a fan, I wholeheartedly agree. “Hi Hello” was simply incredible as an empathic tune that almost sounded as if Marr was back with The Smiths. This was a song about unconditional love, something Marr is familiar with. He’s been married to his high school sweetheart, Angie, since 1979. The natural flow of “Hi Hello” was beautifully met with a music video that served as a powerful visual to what truly is an incredible love song. The biggest appeal was even after a couple spent so much time together, they were still able to keep the romance alive.
#1 – Easy Money
Released as a single from 2014’s Playland, “Easy Money” became a minor hit in Belgium at number ninety-four. Throughout his career, Marr wasn’t the least bit shy to express his political views in the songs he wrote. Although this song wasn’t a big hit on music charts worldwide, its music video became Marr’s most popular, at least on YouTube. Shot at London’s Promenade, the video enhanced the message Marr delivered with “Easy Money.” This was a song that had Marr lyrically raging on about greed and how it continually influences the direction of aspiring musicians to follow commercial expectations instead of simply sticking to their true roots as an artist. Oddly enough, while this was a song that voiced against the commercialism of music, it was also Marr’s attempt to see if he could write it as commercially favorable.
It was catchy enough to achieve this but not in the same manner that typically came with the mainstream music charts. What’s great about this song was the reality there’s no such thing as “Easy Money.” Prices are always paid, one way or the other, long before the almighty dollar finds its way into your own hands. Marr’s somewhat humorous performance of “Easy Money” pointed out how sometimes people forget the real prize doesn’t come with how much we own. It comes from what we earn and learn as human beings.
Top 10 Johnny Marr Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Album Cover Photos are affiliate links and the property of Amazon and are stored on the Amazon server. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites.