Music has always been a big part of my life. When my Dad wasn’t listening to The Beatles or Chuck Berry on the local oldies station, he was playing them on guitar. My Mom isn’t a musician but I have vivid memories of riding with her to the store, while she sang along to late 80s/early 90s pop. I can remember listening to my FM radio in my room and oddly enough, the only station I could get to come in, was the same local oldies station Dad listened to, but it didn’t bother me at all, I loved the songs they played. Something about the simplicity of songs like “Be My Baby” or “It’s My Party” just appealed to me. Maybe because they were embedded in my memory and I found some sort of comfort, or perhaps it was those same simple yet charming chord changed and melodies made me think “Hey! That’s so easy, I could do it!”
I imagine that was the train of thought behind a lot of some of the punk groups of the early 80s. They had enough of the “Oi Oi!” mohawks and spikes when pop stars like Billy Idol started donning them, but still weren’t satisfied when it came to expression. The Jesus And Mary Chain felt that way when they formed. Growing up in East Kilbride Scotland, there wasn’t much to do but listen to whatever the radio was forcing upon young audiences. While they listened to the records of the punk scene London and New York had to offer, the scene itself felt alien as if it may as well been from another planet. They were dissatisfied with what the pop scene had become. Long gone were the simple magic of jangly three-chord jams of pre-Beatles pop music. Replacing them were cold, corporate sterile vanilla tracks from the likes of Hall & Oates. No edge, yet no soul.
Their debut album Psychocandy successfully fuses the snot and angst of punk with it’s feedback laden guitars, reverb soaked vocals and grinding bass, with the simple, melodic structure of early 1960s girl groups such as The Ronettes. Songs like Never Understand or You Trip Me Up could fit in perfectly with anything a sleazy underground club in England plays at 2am, but there is a certain sense of nostalgic charm hidden behind the wall of noisy guitars and white noise. Something so inviting, it makes The Jesus And Mary Chain much more inviting than threatening. Despite their live performances sometimes ending in bloody fits of violence and riots, I get the same sense of familiarity of listening to the local oldies station as an 8 year old when I play this record.
Even though this record was released in November or 1985, it sounds just as fresh and interesting today as it did the first time I had heard it sometime in the early 90s. I recently picked up the reissue on vinyl and it blows my mind how well it holds up! While I admit that the white noise and feedback may be off putting to fans of general pop music, and the harmless nature of songs like Just Like Honey or The Hardest Walk will seem gentle and weak to punk rock fans, but I tend to look at this album as an alternative to what was being considered alternative at the time of it’s release. In 1985 if you listened to punk, The Clash was probably your go-to band for angst and commentary, and if pop was your thing, Michael Jackson and Madonna were the greatest thing since sliced bread. While there is nothing wrong with The Clash or Madonna, sometimes one must take a walk off the beaten path and sample something a bit more authentic and a little more unsung.
The Jesus and Mary Chain have seen their share of success and along with My Bloody Valentine, they nearly single handedly ushered in the sound and appeal of what people called the Shoegazing sub-genre, so it’s not to say they are so underground you’d be hard pressed to find a current band influenced by them. There are plenty out there and to be quite honest, I think the genre is probably bigger now that it has ever been. Kids these days are getting bored with what mainstream radio and streaming outlets are shoving down their throats, and I think they are looking for the same alternative Jim and William Reid were trying to perfect when they were demoing their home-brewed songs that would become Psychocandy.
This record is a great place to start if you haven’t checked this band out as well as the shoegaze genre. Most of the songs clock in at a lean runtime of under three minutes, and feature plenty of melodic hooks despite being lethally noisy. The yin and yang nature is the heart and soul of what makes the record special. It’s just as much The Stooges as it is The Shangri-Las. It’s as ugly as it is beautiful, living up to it’s title. It’s one of my all time favorite records by one of my all time favorite bands.