Before the Smiths came … the Smiths, a 60s garage band with a penchant for emotional song titles. And they aren’t the only ones whose name was reused by a more successful act
Oh, the melodrama. Picture the scene: in a star-studded ceremony held a stone’s throw from Morrissey’s former home in LA, the Smiths are finally ushered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, beating fellow nominees Janet Jackson, NWA, and Nine Inch Nails to a place at the music industry’s top table. The induction speech is full of the usual pleasantries, singing the praises of the band who revolutionised British indie music, and the night is just about to draw to a close when there’s a pause. “Does anyone know of any just cause or impediment,” asks the master of ceremonies, “why the Smiths should not be admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” At which point a hand goes up at the back of the room …
Meet the Smiths, the 1968 group who released a solitary 7in single when Johnny Marr was just starting primary school. The band would later find fame as Smith, adding a female vocalist called Gayle McCormick and scoring a top 5 hit in the US with a cover of Burt Bacharach’s Baby It’s You. But, for their first release, they were a male-fronted garage rock band with a love of emotional song titles. Quite how Morrissey avoided writing a heartbreak anthem called Now I Taste the Tears is a mystery, but thankfully his American forebears did the job perfectly, marrying a brooding psych melody with a vocal that progresses from anguished to brilliantly overwrought.
The flip is even better: an unlikely synthesis of country-tinged garage rock, spaced out horns and a vocal delivery reminiscent of the tougher mod bands such as the Small Faces. And placed next to each other, the two tracks form the dream Morrissey song title: I Can’t Stop Now I Taste the Tears. No hope, no harm indeed.
The Smiths aren’t the only indie outfit to have adopted a band name with previous form, of course. When Johnny Marr wanted to make a protest against David Cameron and the Tory conference at his Manchester show on Wednesday, he chose to play a cover of Crash by the Primitives. “I’ve had enough, enough of you,” he took great delight in sneering in the direction of the ring of steel. “Enough to last a lifetime.” But the Primitives weren’t the first band to be so called. Back when he was a budding Brill Building-style songwriter, Lou Reed wrote a song called The Ostrich, released by the Primitives in 1964, which parodied a craze for songs about dances (such as the glorious “The Gorilla” by the Ideals). Reed being Reed, the ostrich is also now the name for his favourite way of tuning a guitar, with all the strings set to D – a tuning that would go on to underpin many Velvet Underground classics.
There’s more. Think you’re a fan of Felt, the peerless indie-pop band fronted by the reclusive genius Lawrence, who released 10 albums in the 1980s? Well before them came Felt, a US five-piece who released a single album of psychedelic rock in 1971. Is that a Pastels badge on your anorak? Before Stephen McRobbie invented C86 culture in the early 80s, there was a doo-wop band of the same name, formed by four members of the US air force stationed in Greenland, who topped the R&B charts in 1958 with a song called Been So Long. Lead singer Big Dee Irwin would go on to greater solo success, duetting with Little Eva. And might you be a fan of the Orchids, the Sarah records five-piece who recorded two albums of magnificent jangle pop for the Bristol label? Their 60s counterparts were a girl group from Coventry whose debut single, Gonna Make Him Mine, was released when they were 14 years old. The song was played on Ready Steady Go but the band themselves didn’t appear and the single wasn’t a hit. Today, though, it’s regarded as a girl group classic.
All of which prompts the question: who else is hiding in the murkier reaches of music history? If there was a 60s garage rock band called the Smiths, anything is possible. Was there a 10-piece funk outfit from Detroit called Bogshed? A country-soul act from Finland called Aztec Camera? A heavy metal band from Argentina called Camera Obscura? All tips, leads and suggestions gratefully received.
Via the Guardian