Johnny Marr's best ever guitar riffs: from The Smiths to Electronic

25 February 2023, 18:00

Johnny Marr in 2011
Johnny Marr in 2011. Picture: Joby Sessions/Guitarist Magazine/Future via Getty Images

It's a decade since the Manchester guitar legend began his solo career in earnest with the release of The Messenger. Let's take a look at Johnny Marr's impeccable back catalogue.

  1. Johnny Marr - Night And Day

    Marr's last album Fever Dreams Parts 1-4 saw the musician dig deeper into atmospheric soundscapes, but there was still room for a classic riff, as the single Night And Day proves.

    Johnny Marr - Night and Day (Official Video)

  2. The Smiths- How Soon Is Now? (1984)

    Johnny took inspiration from 50s rocker Bo Diddley for the hypnotic tremelo guitar riff that powers this classic Smiths track, combined with the funk beat of Hamilton Bohannon's 70s classic Disco Stomp. The shimmering wash of sound was given extra sparkle by a slide guitar part and some chiming harmonics after each verse. Despite all this, record label Rough Trade would only initially release this awesome song as a b-side.

    The Smiths - How Soon Is Now? (Official Music Video)

    Hear how Johnny Marr came up with the How Soon Is Now riff:

  3. Electronic - Getting Away With It (1989)

    Putting the former guitarist with The Smiths together with the former guitarist in Joy Division would mean only one thing, right? Not necessarily. Electronic bore the fruits of both Marr and Bernard Sumner’s interest in synths, but there was still plenty of axe-play to be found. Their first single together opens with an excellently funky Johnny Marr riff.

    Electronic - Getting Away With It

  4. The Smiths - This Charming Man (1983)

    The Smiths’ second single opens with one of Marr’s most distinctive riffs, heralding one of the band’s greatest tracks. The cycling guitar part - played on a 1954 Telecaster - is both strident and delicate at the same time.

    The Smiths - This Charming Man (Official Music Video)

  5. Johnny Marr - New Town Velocity (2013)

    Marr didn’t record a solo album proper until 2013’s The Messenger, where he performed frontman duties admirably. This love letter to his Manchester upbringing boasts a wistful acoustic riff and a trademark Johnny Marr solo.

    Johnny Marr - New Town Velocity [Official Music Video]

  6. The Smiths - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (1985)

    Other Smiths songs may have had more impact, but take another listen to what’s going on in this 1985 single, which later wound up on the classic album The Queen Is Dead. On a solid base of acoustic guitar, Marr delivers peals of plaintive notes, given extra emotional weight by some (fake) strings. The outro is just gorgeous.

    The Smiths - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (Original Promo Video - HQ)

  7. Johnny Marr - Hi Hello

    This beautifully wistful ballad from Marr's third solo album Call The Comet is a homage to the musician's Smiths days. Just gorgeous.

    Johnny Marr - Hi Hello - Official Music Video [HD]

  8. Electronic - Get The Message

    Marr's guitar sounds as bright as the sunshine in the video to this 1991 single from the first Electronic album. This collaboration with New Order's Bernard Sumner still features in Johnny's live set, it's that good.

    Electronic - Get The Message (Official Music Video) [HD Upgrade]

  9. The The - The Beat(en) Generation

    One of Marr's first post-Smiths projects was to join Matt Johnson for The The's 1989 album Mind Bomb. Johnny's trademark jangle appears on this single, alongside his harmonica playing, which was a key part of early Smiths tunes like Still Ill.

    The The - The Beat(en) Generation (Official Video)

  10. The Cribs - We Share The Same Skies

    Marr joined the Jarman clan for their fourth album, Ignore The Ignorant and added his distinctive sound to tracks like Cheat On Me and the excellent We Share The Same Skies.

    The Cribs - We Share The Same Skies

  11. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Pretty Boy

    Johnny guests on Noel's new album Council Skies, adding some texture to one of the lead singles, Pretty Boy. Gallagher thinks this track sounds like The Cure and Marr has shared his admiration for Robert Smith's guitar playing in the past.

    Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Pretty Boy (Official Lyric Video)

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