A Look Back at Scottish Rock Band The Jesus and Mary Chain

imagesLL2QYR25 In the mid-1980s there came a band out of East Kilbride, Scotland who sounded so fresh, so full of something new, that there has never been a sound anywhere near the same before or since in the world of rock music.  The Jesus and Mary Chain (TJAMC) arrived on the music scene when rock and roll was in trouble……electronic pop had taken over the direction that music seemed to be following and the rock guitar was essentially on life-support. In a time when Billboard No. 1s were made up of such forgettable songs such as “Like a Virgin,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Sussudio,” and “Everytime You Go Away,” it was beyond a breath of fresh air to hear a back-to-the-basics rock band with an emphasis on the written song and blistering guitars.

William Reid

William Reid

Jim Reid

Jim Reid

The Jesus and Mary Chain was founded by songwriting brothers Jim and William Reid.  They stood out in an era where all things music seemed so according to formula, so contrived, and so utterly predictable that if one longed for something new and cutting edge, it was not to be found on radio stations or in the Top 20 album section of your local record store.  It was music you heard from friends or sought out at record stores in larger cities, but once you heard it, seek it out you did.  It had a draw that had not been heard of for some time and was so refreshing and vibrant that you knew intrinsically you had stumbled upon something very special.  They were an amphetamine-laced violent whirl that barnstormed stages wherever they played with sonically loud sets that rarely lasted for more than a half an hour.  They left their audiences with their ears bleeding and wondering aloud what the band members actually looked like, seeing as they almost exclusively played with their backs facing the crowd.

Although some maintain that the music of TJAMC has not held up well, I am not of that camp.  When listening to it recently, although not exactly sounding fresh, it still had enough beat and sexually driven lyrics to hold its own and let’s face it, these lads did what few were willing to do, to take back rock music from the a post punk, pre-gangsta-rap era that was the mid-80s.  If for nothing else, a tip of the hat must be extended to them for the sheer balls it required to play spine-melting guitar feedback filled music with a somewhat sweet pop song lyric in front………..very brave indeed.  An example of this is the menacingly lovely “Upside Down.”   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnO41-rKUsc    This song has a  sound so foreign and hard-as-marble that even as the listener is almost assuredly repulsed by William Reid’s chain saw-mimicking guitar, the lyrics, and the story it tells, will not let you leave the track.  You find yourself drawn to its morbidity and, as much as you wish you could, you are helpless to turn the volume down as an escape.

That being said, I shall leave you with one of TJAMC’s more commercially successful numbers.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1AL2oTiTU0     The beatbox rhythm that accompanies the uncannily catchy “Sidewalking” lays proof before us that this was not just a band  that outlived its usefulness with any kind of rapidity…….they were a band who we should all thank going forward for clawing its way out of the abyss that was the world of music in the mid 1980s.  A world filled with disco, gag-inducing pop ballads, bands and artists who were so driven towards commercial success that they forgot the most important thing……..staying true to the music……staying true to the giants on whose shoulders they stood.

Keith