The Jesus and Mary Chain were one of the pioneers of the shoegaze genre who first formed in Glasgow in 1983. They have been primarily been based around the writing partnership of brothers Jim and William Reid. They signed to Creation Records in 1984 after which they released their first single “Upside Down” soon afterwards. A year later they released their debut album Psycho Candy.
The brothers were inspired to form a band after the punk explosion on 1977. They had been writing songs for five years before the band’s formation during which they were living on unemployment benefits. After settling on the name, they started recording and sending demos to record companies and soon recruited bass player Douglas Hart and drummer Murray Dalglish. Initial influences were bands such as The Velvet Underground and The Stooges.
They struggled to get gigs in their early days and often turned up to other band’ concerts claiming to be the support band. They eventually got signed by after being forwarded to them by future Primal Scream vocalist Bobby Gillespie who ended up doing a stint as the band’s drummer. Their early performances were known for being loud and anarchic, often being as short as twenty minutes and fueled by their heavy psychedelic drug use.
After releasing their debut Psycho Candy in 1985, they released two more albums in the late 1980’s. They continued into the 1990s before disbanding in 1998. They reformed in 2007 and have been back together since.
# 10 – Cracking Up
Kicking off the list is the lead single from the band’s final album of their original tenure together titled Munkie released in 1998. It reached number thirty-five on the UK singles charts. It is easy to see why the band decided to call it quits after this album. It saw them return to Creation after being dropped by their label and as a band they were generally considered to be somewhat irrelevant by this point. However, this is an underrated album and this track shows that the band still had the ability to produce quality music.
# 9 – Just Like Honey
This track is an early classic track taken from Psycho Candy. It was the third single to be taken from the album and was written by the Reid brothers together. The song has appeared in several films over the years including Lost in Translation. It charted at number forty-five on the Uk singles chart. It is a song that shows the band’s ability to write an emotional song in the midst of all of the drug taking and reckless behavior.
# 8 – Side Walking
This track was released as a standalone single in 1988, although it was included on the compilation album Barbed Wire Kisses released that year. It was also included on the 21 Singles compilation released in 2002. It is a track that was influenced by the band’s interest in hip hop that the band had at the time, as it features a loop of the drumbeat from the song “Roxane’s Revenge” by Roxanne Shante. It charted at number thirty on the UK singles chart.
# 7 – Happy When It Rains
This next entry was the second single to be taken from the band’s third album Dark Lands released in 1987. It reached number twenty-five on the UK Singles chart. As far as Mary Chain tracks go, it is fairly standard of their formula but nevertheless is still a classic within their discography. Slightly less distorted sounding than the material of their first album, it is still a delightfully melancholy track that manages to have an upbeat feel at the same time.
# 6 – Head On
This song was a single taken from the band’s third album Automatic released in 1989. It was released in several different formats and although charted at the rather low position of fifty-seven in the Uk it got to number two on the US Alternative Chart. The Pixies notably covered it for their Trompe Le Monde album. Musically, it is somewhat reminiscent of New Order with its electronic sounding bass line and drumbeat.
# 5 – Reverence
Here we move into the nineties period of the band with this track taken from 1992’s Honey’s Dead. It was one of the highest charting singles reaching number ten on the UK charts. Musically, it is more hard sounding than a lot of their eighties output, featuring a buzzing guitar sound and its lyrics are more forthright in nature, seemingly being critical of religion with the line “I Wanna Die just like Jesus Christ.”
# 4 – April Skies
Here is another track from Dark lands that was their highest charting single in the Uk, reaching number eight. As a result of this, the song got them their biggest moment of mainstream popularity as they even performed it on flagship British mainstream chart show Top of the Pops. It is certainly the band at their most commercially accessible. However, with that said it still contains that sad element that makes up the band’s core sound.
# 3 – Sometimes Always
This was the first single to be taken from the band’s 1994 album Stoned and Dethroned. It is a duet between Jim Reid and Hope Sandoval, known for her work with Massive Attack amongst others. It reached number twenty-two on the UK singles chart. In the US, it reached number four on the Alternative Chart, making it one their highest positions stateside. The song is a standout on an album which is not their best.
# 2 – Snakedriver
Here is a song that was not featured on any of the band’s albums but instead was recorded for the 1994 film The Crow. It is often regarded as one of the best movie soundtracks, featuring classic from the likes of The Cure and Nine Inch Nails (there cover of Joy Divisions “Dead Souls” nonetheless). However, amongst that, the Mary Chain made their own fantastic contribution with this track. It is classic JAMC, featuring their signature use of distortion which had not been seen since the early days.
# 1 – Upside Down
At number one we go all the way back to the beginning with the band’s debut single. It was their only early release on Creation Records. It was their first success selling 50,000 copies. The sound of it is extremely raw, particularly with the intense use of feedback which proved to be an almost deafening aspect of their early live shows. As far as debut singles go it is one of the best, demonstrating that this was a band who were going to make their mark on music.