Oct 282011

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

In 1984 a band from Glasgow released a song that sounded like the inside of a jet engine factory, only you could hum it. The song was “Upside Down,” and it stayed on the UK indie charts for almost a year and a half. The band was The Jesus and Mary Chain, less content to push the envelope than to blow a hole through it with feedback and distortion. With their first album, Psychocandy, they made it official: here was a group that combined the squall of The Velvet Underground and the tunefulness of The Beach Boys to make torture chamber pop, producing a wall of sound that surely had Phil Spector nodding approvingly.

The JAMC continued to evolve as a band, never making a Psychocandy Part II. Once they’d made the world safe for the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine, they lit out for other sonic territories. They released five more studio albums and three B-sides and outtakes collections before calling it a day, content in the knowledge that they’d altered the indie musical landscape like few others.

The band’s B-sides reveal that Jim and William Reid – brothers, guitarists, the heart of the Chain – had a deeper well of influences to draw from than a casual listener may have expected. They could turn a song from any genre – garage rock, country, Motown – into a Jesus and Mary Chain song, with only the barest hints that it had ever been anything else. Here are five perfect examples.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Vegetable Man (Pink Floyd cover)

For their very first B-side, The Chain backed “Upside Down” with a cover of an unreleased Pink Floyd song. The tune dates from the days when Syd Barrett’s hold on both group membership and sanity was tenuous at best. The JAMC convey the chaos of a mind losing its way perfectly here with the lyrical confusion and the all-around noise.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Surfin’ USA (The Beach Boys cover)

The Reids make plain their allegiance to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys’ world of sun and sand in this cover. Bookended by proselytizing, their version makes you look forward to hearing just how other songs would sound “in the name of Jesus.”

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Little Red Rooster (Willie Dixon cover)

Howlin’ Wolf, Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones, and many others have covered this Willie Dixon song with success, but nobody has crushed it the way the Jesus and Mary Chain do here. The song never loses its grinding blues sound, even as the band blasts it with wave after wave of dissonance.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Guitar Man (Jerry Reed cover)

Elvis Presley may have gotten the hit out of Jerry Reed’s “Guitar Man,” but the Reids latch onto this song like it was meant for them – when Reid sneers, “Show ’em, sonnnn,” it sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime knocking (albeit with a drum machine). Trivia time: that’s Janet Leigh in the movie Harper at the end of the song.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – My Girl (The Temptations cover)

Even when they took out all the loud distortion… even when they performed a cheery Motown song… even when they later disowned the performance and claimed they were so drunk they could barely hold their instruments… the Jesus and Mary Chain could take a famous song and make it all their own. All of the above happen with their cover of “My Girl,” which manages to suck out all The Temptations’ joy and still sound precious as can be.

Recently remastered and expanded editions of the Jesus and Mary Chain catalog are available on Amazon. Learn more about them on thejesusandmarychain.co.uk.

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  4 Responses to “In the Spotlight: The Jesus and Mary Chain”

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  1. The “Guitar Man” cover is from “The Last Temptation of Elvis”, which deserves its own post all by itself. Great compilation.

    I’d also recommend their 13th Floor Elevators cover “Reverberation (Doubt)”, which rather smokes.

  2. Thumbs up to both those observations, Noah! I may have to do a Primitives feature someday just to get their “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)” further into the public eye. And Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, the home for “Reverberation,” is one of the better tribute albums ever made. Too bad about Thin White Rope’s “Burn the Flames”…

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