meta-script'The Smiths' At 40: How The Self-Titled Debut Fired An Opening Shot For Indie Rock |
The Smiths
The Smiths performing in 1984

Photo: Pete Cronin/Redferns/Getty Images


'The Smiths' At 40: How The Self-Titled Debut Fired An Opening Shot For Indie Rock

Released in 1984, the Smiths' self-titled debut showed that morose-yet-melodic Mancunians arrived fully formed — and laid the blueprint for decades of jangly, left-of-center visionaries.

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 02:54 pm

In the annals of rock history, how many artists seem to foreshadow all of indie, in some way? One was Buddy Holly; from the glasses to the Strat to the attitude, his short career was like a split atom that produced nuclear fission. And, arguably, there was one other: the Smiths.

Their fey, idiosyncratic and devastatingly witty frontman, Morrissey — born Steven Patrick Morrissey — was fully himself right out of the box. From his baritone voice to his ambiguous sexuality, Moz set the prototype of unconventional, underdog frontmen for good.

His foil, Johnny Marr, played resplendent jangle guitar, with harmonic shades of light and shadow that played off Morrissey's sweet-and-sour musings. Their perennially underrated bassist, Andy Rourke, was supple and tensile. And rock-solid drummer Mike Joyce provided the tasteful foundation, with anthemic flourishes in his fills that made the tunes pop.

The world was introduced to the Smiths via, well, The Smiths — their debut album, released on Feb. 20, 1984 via Rough Trade Records.

Across their four-album discography — plus some must-have compilations, like Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs — the Manchester-based group would develop in a very short time — and split apart in short order, in 1987. But if, on Feb. 21, 1984, a double-decker bus crashed into the foursome, their role in rock history would still be ironclad.

From the gorgeous, sprawling "Reel Around the Fountain" to the sexually palpitating "This Charming Man" to the stony-yet-sparkling "What Difference Does It Make?", The Smiths paved the way for the Stone Roses, Radiohead, Oasis, and so many more Brits with a way with melody and a screw loose.

And their literary inspirations, melancholia and navel gazing also inspired a generation of emo and goth groups — including acts on the other side of the pond, like the National, Ryan Adams, Billie Eilish, and Low.

How did they accomplish this? Partly due to their visual aesthetic — simple, striking typography, against grayscale photography of anonymous figures, typically men. (Take a spin through Belle and Sebastian's discography, and you tell us whether they were influenced.)

The cover of The Smiths depicts gay sex symbol Joe Dallesandro; he's topless and a curtain of hair obscuring his face; his extremities are cut off by the camera, Venus de Milo-style. The image speaks to both the play with sex and gender in the lyrics, and the band's quotidian personae.

Despite its subject, the cover of The Smiths doesn't scream starpower; it looks ripped out of a moldering magazine. Which completely jibes with the music — glimmering yet murky, seemingly anti-produced in places. That vibe was the point from the beginning — hence their band name.

"It was the most ordinary name," Morrissey once said, "and I thought it was time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces." And throughout The Smiths, Moz sings about those ordinary folk — their traumas, their abuses, their sexual hangups.

The Smiths being the Smiths, well, it got dark. The gently unspooling opener "Reel Around the Fountain" is about a sexual experience with an older partner; tabloids wondered aloud if it was about pedophilia. "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" connotes child murder. To say nothing of the knife-twisting closer "Suffer Little Children."

But despite their critical reputation as "miserablists," it's not all pitch-black. "Still Ill" addresses the decriminalization of gay sex in the United Kingdom — an early glimmer of political consciousness for the band that would go on to make Meat is Murder. And the gorgeous "Hand in Glove" — with haunting harmonica blowing through it — is about love slipping away, with a queer tint.

What also makes The Smiths resonate? Partly what they didn't do. In the most synth-choked era of pop/rock, at the tail end of the UK's new romantic movement, The Smiths' guitar-bass-drums starkness was like bare brick against gaudy wallpaper.

Unincumbered by overwrought sonic trappings, the Smiths'  hilarious, harrowing vignettes stick with you from the first listen. Clearly, that unadorned aural aesthetic stuck for decades, with numberless acts — and to a great degree, you can thank Moz and company.

So many terrific artists take a few records to become themselves, but not the Smiths. No, with their classic debut, you get everything now — including the ocean of indie in its wake.

Remembering Andy Rourke With 11 Amazing Smiths Basslines, From "You've Got Everything Now" To "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish"

Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr

Photo: Andrew Cotterill


Six Strings & Feeling: Inside Johnny Marr’s Famous Riffs & Guitar Legacy

Guitar legend and Smiths co-founder Johnny Marr has a new book, 'Marr's Guitars,' and greatest hits album out — but the ink is far from dry on his storied career.

GRAMMYs/Nov 3, 2023 - 01:34 pm

Every great guitarist has their musical signature. Something that lets the listener know, beyond a reasonable doubt, who is working the strings and frets. Eddie Van Halen had his rapid-fire tapping; Jack White has his stuttering squeal. Succinct and unforgettable, Johnny Marr's distinctive guitar riffs have colored rock and pop for the last four decades.

"As a musician, I'm definitely searching for something," Marr tells over Zoom from a hotel room in Los Angeles. "There are riffs I want to find. And then those riffs lead to songs. And then those songs need decent lyrics and decent vocal. Just working at my craft, it makes me happy just thinking about it."

Many of Marr’s famous riffs were heard in the music of the Smiths, for which Marr was the co-founder and guitarist, with his bright and lively fretwork appearing on classics including "This Charming Man," "Back to the Old House," and "Bigmouth Strikes Again."

Marr's guitar-driven legacy is also driven by his time with Modest Mouse, Electronic, the Pretenders, The The and the Cribs, as well as session work for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, Pet Shop Boys, and Talking Heads. The go-to guitarist for Hans Zimmer, Marr has contributed to soundtracks for Inception, Freeheld, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the 2021 James Bond entry, No Time To Die where Marr’s guitar work was featured on Billie Eilish’s GRAMMY-winning theme of the same name.

All of this comes on top of leading his own solo project, with which he released four albums between 2013 and 2022. The most recent was Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, wherein Marr matches his electric prowess with other soundscapes like big synthesizer effects like on "Receiver" and adept acoustic picking on "Lightning People."

Marr’s legacy even has a physical form: a signature Fender Jaguar guitar. "Every single [Jaguar] is exactly the same as mine. Right down to the last screw," Marr says. "The idea was that I then give them what I think is the perfect instrument, and they duplicate it. So every one that anyone buys is the one that I play."

Marr has recently added two new additions to his long list of accomplishments. The first is Marr’s Guitars, a photography anthology of various guitars that have played a role in his career —  from his first-ever guitar (a Gibson Les Paul), to guitars he purchased from the late bass player of the Who —  alongside insights from the titular narrator.

The second is Spirit Power, a greatest hits compilation featuring 21 tracks from Marr’s solo project. The album includes hits "Easy Money" and "Spirit Power and Soul," as well as covers, outtakes, and even two brand new songs: "Somewhere" and "The Answer."

Yet Marr is no "greatest hits" artist. After 40 years, his story is nowhere near complete. "I think I'm 60 percent of the way through my journey. I certainly don't feel like I'm 100 percent of the way there," Marr says. "Hopefully, when I croak I will have got up to 95 percent."

On the eve of the compilation’s release, Marr shared stories from his legendary career — from the guitars he loaned Radiohead to write In Rainbows, to recording "Easy Money" on a tour bus, and how guitars communicate with him (and vice versa).

Two of the most well known songs on the new compilation are "Easy Money," and "Spirit Power and Soul," both of which have the strong, upbeat feel of many of your records. Does the guitar have a unique ability to enhance these kinds of danceable songs?

Well, first off, it's a challenge of source to be able to put a lot of guitars on electro music. 

When I formed Electronic with Bernard Sumner in the late '80s, early '90s, I learned that it's much more difficult to not mess with the integrity of the machines and the direction of the music by putting too many guitars on it.

With rock music, I'm able to find spaces for acoustic guitars and slides, and all these different kinds of textures. It's a bit more straightforward with electro music. But I think over the years I've found a place for it. 

"Spirit Power and Soul" is built on the [bassline] and that was a concept that I had months before I actually wrote the song. When we were on tour with the Call The Comet album, I got the idea that the next album, if I can pull it off, the first single should be an electro pop song.

The idea was that it would be a good thing for the band to surprise the audiences and to really write an electro banger. When it came out I had quite a few musicians contact me. To say how much they like it, which is for me is the highest compliment.

"Easy Money" was one that I came up with when I was on tour in the United States. I heard the whole tune in my head, and it was one of those songs where I thought, This song is either the most annoying thing I've ever heard or it's brilliant.

The record was actually made on the tour bus. When we got back to Manchester we put a real drum kit on it. But I wrote the vocal at the back of the bus. I would write a verse, we'd have to stop the bus, and then I’d record it with James, my co-producer, who's in the band.

I've been around so long now, and a couple of the bands I’ve been in, especially the Smiths, are so revered over the years. But there are quite a lot of people who come to see me now, who got into me because of "Easy Money." 

The comp has one cover on it: "I Feel You," by Depeche Mode. This song's opening riff has a swing-blues feel, which is outside of the dancier style across the comp. How did you make that riff your own?

I was playing that riff in the dressing room in Philadelphia in 2015-16, and Ewan, who's the bass player in my band, said to me, "Oh, cool riff. Is that a new one?" and for a split second I considered lying to him, or stealing the riff and writing a song from it. [Laughs]

I started singing "I Feel You," and he's like, "Wow! Really suits your voice," So we worked it up and we sang it that night. The audience liked it. It was a bit of a moment. Conceptually I liked the idea of doing a cover version of one of my contemporaries. I think Martin Gore is a really class musician.

But the thing about the riff and the bluesy aspect to it is that the band I was in from '89-'92, The The, they're coming from the same place as Depeche Mode. Like a techno blues kind of thing. 

**A couple stories in Marr’s Guitars are about your loaning and/or giving away guitars. You lent two to Noel Gallagher and eventually let him keep them, and you lended three to Radiohead for when they were recording In Rainbows. How do you know which guitar is right for a certain person or band when you’re loaning them out?**

Well with Radiohead it was a no-brainer. They didn't have a Les Paul; they didn't have an SG. I knew Ed had a Rickenbacker and obviously Johnny's got his Telecaster. I can't remember what Thom was playing at the time, but I knew what they didn't have.

I've given guitars to people who aren’t in the book. People like PJ Harvey, Alex Turner. This is just because I could do it. It's a sign of respect, and it might seem extra extravagant, but it's not. I've been very, very fortunate and over the years and it's come back to me. Nile Rodgers gave me one of his Stratocasters. The Edge gave me a Stratocaster.

With Noel, that story's been told in all these different ways, but I can honestly say as soon as I saw a picture of him with it, I thought, Oh, it's his! He just looked right with it.

No one had any idea at that point that Oasis were going to be even playing to more than 100 people, or even 100 people. They were only playing literally to 14. He was just a kid that I liked.

In the book there is a strong theme about how these guitars communicate with you. You write that you took the Gibson ES355 out of the case, and "Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now" arrived under your fingers complete. How would you describe that communication that happens between you and these instruments? 

In some ways it's not esoteric or cosmic, and in some ways it is. The ways that it isn't esoteric or cosmic is that it felt quite like a jazz guitar under my left hand the way the neck is shaped. And it's from 1960, so it's essentially a 1950’s kind of instrument, and it feels expensive because it is expensive. It's beautifully made. 

All of these things are quite tactile under your fingers. It doesn't make you want to shred. It feels sophisticated. So the chords in "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" are very sophisticated, particularly for a 20-year-old boy from Manchester. So maybe subconsciously the idea of this expensive, sophisticated, well made, beautiful luxury instrument made me play those expensive, sophisticated chord changes.

On a more esoteric and cosmic take, it may be just as simple as that the guitar had been used to be playing those kind of chords. Whichever musician had it from all the way through the 1960s, someone else in the 1970s, had maybe put a lot of good feeling into that guitar.

On the rare occasions when I've loaned my guitars to people who don't take care of them, they definitely come back with the wrong feeling. Now that might be flipped back again away from the cosmic. That might be because the guitar’s a machine.

When it's been loved and cared for, and nice music's been played on it, it gets used to it. I should say it's a machine that vibrates and resonates. That's the nature of it. It's wood and wire.

There's many musicians who will tell you that if they're lucky enough to own a few different instruments, they inspire you to find that moment and come up with a song or they just, as I say, they deliver it to you right under your fingers.

In this same regard, with the Fender Jaguar that has your name on it, what sort of energy do you want to pass on?

Well, when that guitar was developed I was doing a lot of running. I was like Forrest Gump with a Jaguar [laughs]. So it's a real daytime, healthy, awake, high tempo energy.

It's there in "Easy Money." That's a real riff that came out of that. It's pretty much there in the whole compilation album. All the songs started being written in 2011 when I was getting that guitar released, and that was what I was using all the time. 

Although I gave one to Nile Rodgers and he thinks it's a really good jazz guitar, which it is. That's got to do with the sound of it. It is very, very versatile. I know one of the first known musicians to get one was Al Jardine from the Beach Boys, which was amazing. Taylor Swift has got one.

So it's right across the board pretty versatile. But the energy from it is a real kind of positive, wide-awake energy.

What was it like in the studio with Billie Eilish and Finneas for "No Time To Die"?

There was a hell of a lot at stake because it's the Bond theme. Hans [Zimmer] is orchestrating it,  trying to make it sound like a Bond movie. But then Billie, quite rightly, is keeping her eye on it because her prerogative is that it keeps the same feeling that she intended when she wrote it. And that's very smart. 

I know that environment really well. That's my world. Hans knows that environment. That's his world. Billie knows it. It's her world. So you get a feeling for someone real quick because I know that environment. That's my oxygen. 

Billie Eilish is young and yes, she's a pop star, but she's not like some kid who just won a lottery ticket to go in and try and sing. It's very obvious she is a very accomplished and gifted artist, and the vibe I got from Billie and Finneas was they’re musicians that could have been around in the '50s, '60s, could've been around in the eighties. 

She was kind of the boss, really, without having to say very much. She didn't need to impose on anybody. She reminds me of Pharrell, although her personality is different. Pharrell buzzes around quite a lot, but he's still pretty zen. These are people who have a vision. They let you express yourself. They let you make constructive changes, but ultimately you know that they've got this vision for how it should be.

In the case of the Bond theme, Billie wrote a really dead cool song, but she also knew that what was going to keep it powerful was making it sound like a Billie Eilish song.

You mentioned this idea of different worlds in the studio. Your world. Hans Zimmer’s world. Billie Eilish’s world. When writing a film score that’s not in a pop structure like "No Time To Die," what is it like for these multiple worlds to come together?

Inception is the best example because before we did Inception, guitars in movies were a complete no-no. They'd been overused in the '80s in a way that had really dated quite badly. 

At a point when composers brought ideas to a director, they could suggest Himalayan flutes, they could suggest Aeolian harps, they could suggest synthesizers. But one thing they couldn't suggest on a movie soundtrack was the electric guitar. The electric guitars were out and because of what we did on Inception, guitars are now back in. 

I like synthesizers and I like electronics. Over the last 10,15 years, getting to work on movies with Hans, I'm involved with the top sound designers and synthesizer players in the world. Hans being one of them. But sonically, there are things that you could do on the guitar that you just simply cannot do on keyboards. No matter how clever you are.

There's a whole world that you can live in with the guitar, and I'm very, very, very pleased and privileged to be in it.

Remembering Andy Rourke With 11 Amazing Smiths Basslines, From "You’ve Got Everything Now" To "I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish"

Andy Rourke The Smiths
Andy Rourke performing in 2011

Photo: Andy Kropa/WireImage for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino


Remembering Andy Rourke With 11 Amazing Smiths Basslines, From "You’ve Got Everything Now" To "I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish"

Here’s a rundown of 11 superb Smiths basslines by Andy Rourke, who died May 19 at age 58.

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2023 - 08:33 pm

Arguably, in the rock pantheon, the Smiths sit most snugly next to the Byrds and R.E.M.with jangling guitars, a downcast vocalist, profound mystery, thick melancholy. But there's another key element: Despite being overshadowed in public by their bandmates, all three had bassists that were crucial to their operations.

Enter Andy Rourke, the only bassist the Smiths ever had in their five-year, three-album run. (Like both the Byrds and R.E.M., they  never reunited.) Yes, feuding singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr have sucked up the majority of the oxygen. 

But a Smiths without Rourke's supple, tensile playing — where he acts as the central pillar between Marr and drummer Mike Joyce, and still manages to play with Morrissey — would be no Smiths at all. Perhaps Morrissey said it best: "Nothing that he played had been played by someone else."

That Morrissey message arrived today due to heartbreaking news: Rourke died on May 19 in New York after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 59.

"Watching him play those dazzling baselines [sic] was an absolute privilege and genuinely something to behold," Marr wrote on social media. Stated Joyce: "Not only the most talented bass player I've ever had the privilege to play with but the sweetest, funniest lad I've ever met."

"I suppose, at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued," Morrissey continued in his heartfelt note. "Andy need not worry about that." That sentiment has been echoed by Smiths fans, and the music community, the world over — whose loss of Rourke comes as a blow.

Read on for a lightning round of 11 great basslines by Rourke — a tough list to narrow down, as every track Rourke ever laid down for the band benefited from his touch.

"You've Got Everything Now" (The Smiths, 1984)

On this cut from their now-classic self-titled debut, Rourke demonstrates how he can both anchor the groove and percolate along with Marr — all while studiously avoiding bass clichés.

"What Difference Does It Make?" (The Smiths, 1984)

In this key Smiths track, hear Rourke walk the bass while animating the music with a dark, roiling energy. (The Peel Session version of "What Difference Does It Make?" from that year's Hatful of Hollow compilation is essential too.)

"Hand in Glove" (The Smiths, 1984)

Few bassists can play four strings as a lead instrument and pull it off. Rourke was one of them, and on "Hand in Glove," he inhabits the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic spheres with equal facility.

"This Charming Man" (Hatful of Hollow, 1984)

Few Smiths songs commensurately occupy the sunshine and shadows like "This Charming Man" — and there's certainly competition by the dozens.

Dig Rourke on "This Charming Man," right in the pocket, laying down that bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-ba-bum rhythm also heard in Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life."

"Handsome Devil" (Hatful of Hollow, 1984)

Another great one from the aforementioned Peel Sessiont features a bass-walking Rourke pushing the rhythm forward with authority while never stepping on any of his bandmates' toes.

"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (Hatful of Hollow, 1984)

Another Smiths desert-island cut, with Rourke at his most effervescent and pointillistic; his bassline not only adds rhythmic and melodic shape, but texture.

"Well I Wonder" (Meat is Murder, 1985)

The Smiths' second album, Meat is Murder, boils over with indignation. On "Well I Wonder," Rourke plays roiling chords on the bass and provides a great deal of the song's emotional tension.

"Frankly, Mr. Shankly" (The Queen is Dead, 1986)

Arguably the Smiths' zenith, The Queen is Dead captures the band at their most majestic and downcast, as well as lighthearted and satirical. Rourke's stuffed-shirt bassline to the finger-wagging "Frankly, Mr. Shankly" recalls the Kinks, but also slouches toward reggae.

"Cemetry Gates" (The Queen is Dead, 1986)

It's difficult to imagine "Cemetry Gates" without Rourke's burbling bassline; his part practically captures the song in totality, and certainly helps define it.

"There is a Light That Never Goes Out" (The Queen is Dead, 1986)

Everything great about Rourke as a bassist is on full display on drop-dead Smiths classic "There is a Light That Never Goes Out." He supplies a massive part of the song's emotional architecture, and his fills on the verse practically put him in question-and-answer dialogue with Morrissey.

"I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

By keeping it simple when he needed to, Rourke also elevated the Smiths. The hard-rocking "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" benefits from his wit and terseness on the bass.

While Strangeways, Here We Come ended up being the last-ever Smiths album, the title of this song belies that the album was, indeed, the most logical and satisfying finish anyone could hope for. And Rourke played a crucial role in taking their sound and vision to the finish line. 

As Marr put it in his goodbye note to Rourke: "Well done Andy."

Songbook: A Guide To The Smashing Pumpkins In Three Eras, From Gish To Atum

A girl looks at a photograph of Ewan McGregor who played Renton in the film 'Trainspotting' before the Private view for ?Look At Me - A Retrospective?

Photo of Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting


Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images


How The 'Trainspotting' Soundtrack Turned A Dispatch From The Fringes Into A Cult Classic

Twenty-five years after 'Trainspotting' first thrilled and scandalized moviegoers, the film's soundtrack remains an iconic collision of Britpop, rock and dance music

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2021 - 04:43 am

From its opening shot, Trainspotting is a movie in motion. As sneakers hit the sidewalk of Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, we hear the raucous drumbeat of Iggy Pop's 1977 barnstormer "Lust For Life." Renton—played by Ewan McGregor—and Spud—by Ewen Bremner—sprint away from two security guards, their shoplifting spoils flying out of their pockets. 

"Choose life," Renton's narration begins, introducing an instantly classic monologue about the emptiness of middle-class aspirations. The action then zips to a soccer match that introduces Renton's ragtag mates: Spud, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Tommy (Kevin McKidd). The scene is all propulsion and attitude, with Iggy Pop dropping the match on the trail of fuel. In just 60 exhilarating seconds, Trainspotting tells us precisely what it's going to be.

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Trainspotting burst into U.K. cinemas in February 1996, followed immediately by a debate on whether its fizzing depiction of junkie life glorified drug use. Audiences staggered out, scandalized and delighted in equal measure by "The Worst Toilet In Scotland," Spud's soiled sheets and a ceiling-crawling baby. By the time it opened in the US in May, the movie was already a critical and box office hit at home. Its credentials were undeniable, including a compelling young cast led by newcomer McGregor, a visually daring director in Danny Boyle and a script adapted from Irvine Welsh's cult book of the same name. 

In a year dominated by slick Hollywood blockbusters like Independence Day, Twister and Mission: Impossible, Trainspotting was the scrappy, no-kids-allowed outsider that could. One of the movie's most significant talking points, and a key reason for its enduring legacy, was its use of "needle drops" in lieu of a traditional composerly film score. The soundtrack reaches back to the '70s and '80s, while also showcasing of-the-moment Britpop and dance music. The music of Trainspotting endures because it's intrinsic to the movie, with each song meant to elevate a particular scene or moment. 

Read: How 1995 Became The Year Dance Music Albums Came Of Age

Welsh's 1993 novel frames Renton's misadventures as a heroin addict against the dismal backdrop of Leith, just north of Edinburgh's city center. Trainspotting was first adapted as a stage play, with Ewen Bremner (perfectly cast as Spud in the movie) playing Renton. Before long, the movie offers rolled in. "There was loads of interest," Welsh told Vice in 2016. "Everybody seemed to want to make a film of Trainspotting."

Most directors wanted to ground the adaptation in social realism, but Welsh knew Trainspotting needed a wilder take. In 1994, a promising young director called Danny Boyle had made his feature debut with the pitch-black comedy Shallow Grave, starring Ewan McGregor. Impressed by the movie's visual flair, Welsh gave Boyle the keys to Trainspotting

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The making of the movie was a thrill for all involved. Fresh from writing Shallow Grave, screenwriter John Hodge relished the opportunity to adapt Welsh's book for the screen. (Hodge was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 1997 Academy Awards - the movie's only Oscar nod.) Before filming, Boyle sent his actors to spend time with Calton Athletic, a real-life recovery group for addicts. The shoot began in June 1995 and lasted 35 days (a step up from the 30 allocated for Shallow Grave), with Glasgow mostly standing in for Edinburgh. 

Alongside cinematographer Brian Tufano, Boyle brought a bold, kinetic style to every shot. "We'd set out to make as pleasurable a film as possible about subject matter that is almost unwatchable," Boyle told HiBrow in 2018. 

While Shallow Grave gave an early glimpse of Boyle's tastes, including his fondness for electronic duo Leftfield, the music in Trainspotting demanded a bigger role. Welsh's book is peppered with references to The Smiths, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowie, so the call went out to a select list of musical icons. Bowie was a no, but others who'd loved the novel happily offered up their music to the project. 

Welsh and Boyle were both clued-in to acid house and rave culture (represented on the soundtrack by the likes of Underworld, Leftfield and John Digweed and Nick Muir's Bedrock project), but it was the director's idea to bring in the likes of Blur and Pulp. That decision was a "masterstroke", Welsh told Vice, because "Britpop was kind of the last strand of British youth culture, and it helped position the film as being the last movie of British youth culture."

Several of the best scenes in Trainspotting are soundtracked by songs made before 1990. Following "Lust For Life", the sleazy strut of Iggy Pop's 1977 track "Nightclubbing" lurks behind a sequence of Renton's relapse into heroin. (Both songs were co-written by David Bowie, giving him an honorary spot on the soundtrack.) New Order's 1981 song "Temptation" is a motif for Renton's taboo relationship with high schooler Diane (Kelly Macdonald in her first film role), while Heaven 17's 1983 pop hit "Temptation" plays at the club where they first meet. 

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Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" lands the hardest punch. In a dazzling sequence, Renton visits his dealer Mother Superior (Peter Mullan) for a hit of heroin. As Renton's body sinks almost romantically into the floor, we hear Lou Reed softly singing about a perfect day drinking sangria in the park. The romance ends there. Knowing an overdose on sight, Mother Superior drags his sort-of friend to the street, then heaves him into a taxi, tucking the fare in his shirt pocket. (In a brilliant small detail, we see an ambulance rush past, headed for someone else.) 

"Perfect Day" keeps on at its languid pace as Renton is ejected at the hospital, hauled onto a stretcher and revived by a nurse with a needle to his arm. "You're going to reap just what you sow," Lou Reed sings as Renton gasps wildly for air. 

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Boyle pushed for Britpop on the soundtrack, but he didn't want obvious hits. Britpop, a genre coined in the '90s to describe a new wave of British bands influenced by everything from the Beatles to the late '80s "Madchester" scene, was at its peak during the Trainspotting shoot in the summer of 1995. Pulp had just released the Britpop anthem "Common People," Elastica and Supergrass were flying high from their debut albums, and genre superstars Oasis and Blur were locked in a media-fueled battle for chart supremacy. 

In the heat of all that hype, Boyle reached back to 1991 and took "Sing" from Blur's debut album, Leisure. The song's stirring piano melody picks up after the "Nightclubbing" sequence, as Renton and his fellow addicts hit a harrowing rock bottom. Later, when Begbie busts in on Renton's new life in London, Pulp's "Mile End" underlines the mood of big city ennui. Along with contributions from Elastica and Blur frontman Damon Albarn, Trainspotting draws on just enough Britpop to keep its cool. 

If Trainspotting has a signature song, it's Underworld's "Born Slippy .NUXX". The duo of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde already had three albums behind them when Boyle reached out to use their 1995 B-side in his movie's climax. The duo was wary—as Smith later put it to Noisey, their music was often sought out to accompany "a scene of mayhem"—but Boyle convinced them with a snippet of the film. Underworld also contributed the propulsive "Dark & Long" to the indelible scene of Renton detoxing inside his childhood bedroom. After Trainspotting, "Born Slippy .NUXX" became the defining song of Underworld's career and a constant euphoric peak in their live sets. 

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Just as Trainspotting caught the Britpop zeitgeist, it also immortalized a high point for dance music. A rush of trailblazing dance albums came out in 1995, including Leftfield's Leftism, The Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust and Goldie's Timeless. In a time of rave culture colliding with chart hits, the movie finds room for both the dark electronics of Leftfield's "A Final Hit" and the goofy Eurodance of Ice MC's "Think About The Way"

In one scene, Renton sits grinning between the speakers at a London nightclub that's going off to Bedrock and KYO's 1993 classic "For What You Dream Of." "Diane was right," he narrates, recalling a conversation from before he left Edinburgh. "The world is changing, music is changing, drugs are changing, even men and women are changing." For the briefest moment, we see the thrill of '90s dance music as it really was. 

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The Trainspotting soundtrack album hit shelves in July of 1996. The cover played on the movie's iconic poster design, framing the characters in vivid orange. The soundtrack sold so well that a second volume followed in 1997, featuring other songs from the movie and a few that missed the cut. (The same year, the hugely popular Romeo + Juliet soundtrack also inspired a "Vol. 2.") 

Boyle continued to use music as a key character in his movies, following up Trainspotting with the madcap Americana of A Life Less Ordinary and the pop-meets-electronica of The Beach. After 20 years, Boyle got the gang back together for 2017's T2 Trainspotting. In contrast to the original's wall-to-wall needle drops, the sequel weaved a score by Underworld's Rick Smith around songs by High Contrast, Wolf Alice and Young Fathers. 

Many impressive, star-studded soundtracks followed in the wake of Trainspotting. What makes this one rare, though, is how deeply its unholy union of rock, Britpop and dance music belongs to the movie. Remove any needle drop from a scene in Trainspotting, however fleeting, and it'd lose something vital—that's how you know it's built to last.

How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks


Photo: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic via Getty Images


Morrissey, Bauhaus, Blondie, Devo & More To Play Cruel World Fest

The new Los Angeles music festival will also feature Echo & The Bunnymen, the Violent Femmes, The Psychedelic Furs and Gary Newman

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2020 - 01:02 am

A new Los Angeles festival has been announced and the lineup is an '80s music lover's dream. The Cruel World Festival will feature Morrissey, Blondie, Bauhaus, Devo and others.

The one-day fest will take place at the Grounds at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 2.

Other acts include Echo & The Bunnymen, the Violent Femmes, the newly reunited Psychedelic Furs and Gary Newman.  

Presale starts Thursday, Feb. 13. For more information, visit the Cruel World Fest website

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