Front page


The sons and the heirs

31 Jan 18 | Re: A hidden musical lineage | Link-U-Post

As I understand it, the hip hop and RnB A-listers of today (Beyonce, Drake, Kanye, Kendrick) work as follows: they get dozens of interesting producers from all over the world to send them beats, and then they get lyrics they’ve been working on (or sometimes maybe just their diary) and sing them over the top. This results in popular, acclaimed albums that share several features:

With that in mind, I’ve just been reading Johnny Marr’s autobiography, and it’s impossible not to notice that the hip hop and RnB A-listers of today work in just about the exact same way The Smiths used to. Morrissey didn’t have dozens of interesting producers from all over the world - he had Johnny Marr, who distilled the essence of dozens if not hundreds of musicians into his own original and multi-faceted style. But that apart, the method is the same: Johnny would bring the guitar part fully formed, then Morrissey would choose a page from his big book of lyric ideas and put the song on top of them. That’s why people hearing The Smiths for the first time tend to ask why that guy keeps singing the same three notes: while the song is credited music: Marr / lyrics: Morrissey, the melody goes along with the lyrics and not with the music; it isn’t written by the primary musician.

So it’s no surprise that the three bullet points above apply as much to The Smiths as they do to the hip hop and RnB A-listers of today. Since the music is made in basically the same way, it would be mildly surprising if they didn’t. Listen again to One Dance by Drake. It’s so easy to imagine Morrissey singing that song - the topline is so Smiths-like it’s unreal. Or imagine Drake singing Reel Around The Fountain. They are musical cousins.

In a world where the casual listener wouldn’t discern much Smiths influence, or much of any of the canonical bands, in the top 75 most weeks, it’s nice to have noticed that some of their spirit lives on, whether as a direct influence or not. The next question is, did anyone work that way before The Smiths? Did any previous band or artiste take busy, intricate backing tracks and plonk non-melodies over the top of them without much regard for their details? Or was that the key to The Smiths’ originality?

Posted by nbeauman at 20:56

[Back to main blog]

[Or dive into the blarchive...]

Take me home