The Smiths’ guitar riff inspired by Mott the Hoople

Glam rock was an essential part of the Smiths’ DNA. Morrissey was an acknowledged fan of proto-punks The New York Dolls, while Johnny Marr’s brand of guitar rock more than occasionally showed signs of Mick Ronson’s iconic work with David Bowie. While generally more downtrodden and moody than the traditionally uplifting sounds of classic glam rock bands, the Smiths still built their foundation on bands like T.Rex and Mott the Hoople.

This last group turned out to be a direct source of inspiration for Johnny Marr while the band were recording one of their last singles. “Shelia Take a Bow” finds the Smiths in a more energetic and punchy mode, thanks mainly to Marr’s fuzzy guitar hits. The arpeggio king was diversifying his style at the end of the Smiths’ too-brief career, clinging to more traditional rock sounds on songs like “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Panic.”

“Shelia Take a Bow” was a logical extension of those sounds, and Marr was quick to hide where he got the inspiration from. “I wanted a Mott the Hoople sound, but it ended up being Mott the Hoople as performed by the Salvation Army Band. Which is very Smiths,” Marr observed in the book. Songs that saved your life.

The Army Band sound was then bolstered by a legitimate horn section, a relative rarity in the Smiths’ catalog. “We were excited to bring that to Smiths records, whether it was ‘Sheila Take A Bow’, starting with the marching band playing, starting a pop single with that. It was a subversive act,” Marr explained in an interview with MusicRadar in 2022.

Fittingly, “Shelia Take a Bow” would be one of the last songs the Smiths ever performed live. Although not featured at their final gig in late 1986, “Shelia Take a Bow” was performed live by the band when they appeared on the UK Music Programme. A tube in April 1987, with ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’. Just two months later, Marr officially left the band ahead of the release of their latest album. Strange here we come.

Check out the glam-inspired riff from “Shelia Take a Bow” below.

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