Jesus and Mary Chain – ‘Upside Down’ | Record of the Day

The Jesus and Mary Chain Upside Down sleeve

Back in 1984 the Jesus and Mary Chain’s first single Upside Down introduced the world to the feedback-drenched pop melodies of Jim and William Reid. The following year saw them utilising this template on their massively influential debut album Psychocandy, setting them on the path to becoming one of the biggest underground acts of the 1980s.

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In his autobiography, Creation Stories, Jesus and Mary Chain manager Alan McGee explains the unlikely way that he got to hear the band in the first place. Back then the Reid brothers would send their demo tapes out to record labels and influencers from their bedroom in East Kilbride and never hear anything back.

One of these demos ended up with a Glasgow DJ who didn’t like the band – then called the Poppy Seeds – but passed the tape on to his friend Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream because it was recorded on the back of a Syd Barrett bootleg that he knew Bobby would appreciate. Bobby did, and he loved the Poppy Seeds too, so he put them in touch with his childhood friend McGee who was promoting a low-key but popular club night in London at the time called The Living Room. This led to the Mary Chain’s first London gig, to McGee becoming their manager and to the release of their first single Upside Down – backed with a cover of Syd Barrett’s Vegetable Man – on McGee’s fledgling Creation Records.

Mary Chain live 1984

Initially, the freshness of band’s sound snuck Upside Down into the UK indie charts. But their notoriety grew around their violent, visceral, antagonistic early live shows, in which they’d scream insults at the audience, fight one another and finish the gig after 15 minutes, without having played their only hit record, regularly provoking genuine riots. On the back of this, the mischievous Alan McGee carefully cultivated a reputation for the Mary Chain as ‘the new Sex Pistols’ and demand for Upside Down went through the roof, leading to eventual sales of over 50,000 copies.

Sales at this level were more than a small indie label could handle and the Jesus and Mary Chain signed with Blanco y Negro an offshoot of Warner Brothers. Alan McGee remained as their manager but the Reid brothers’ first single for Creation was also their last.

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Nick Perry

Nick writes fact, fiction and opinion in various places including
his music blog His musical tastes cover indie, grunge, golden-era hip hop, punk, funk, psychedelia and a big portion of distortion. You can and should follow him on Twitter @NoiseCrumbs.

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