The Jesus and Mary Chain

  • Biography:

    With pretty pop melodies buried deep in feedback and grindingly distorted guitars, the Jesus and Mary Chain became darlings of the mid-'80s British press and a college-radio cult hit in the United States. Their melancholy noise made them one of the most distinctive of the Velvet Underground's many musical progeny and paved the way for critically acclaimed early-'90s noise-guitar bands such as My Bloody Valentine.

    Shortly after forming the band just outside Glasgow, Scotland, the Reid brothers moved the Jesus and Mary Chain to London to record their first single, "Upside Down." In late 1984 came the first in an ongoing series of drummer changes (after 1986, the drummers were mostly used for live shows only, not for the albums). Bobby Gillespie, vocalist with another Scottish band, Primal Scream, replaced Dalglish on drums —which consisted of banging out simple time on a snare drum and one tom-tom, much like the Velvet Underground's Maureen Tucker. The Jesus and Mary Chain's early work was sneering, thrashing postpunk, delivered in furious 20-minute sets that sometimes ended with audiences violently annoyed by the brevity of the set, the loud feedback, and/or the Reids' singing with their backs to the crowd. The band accepted the obvious comparison to punk rock but then turned around in fall 1985 and recorded the first of its slow, throbbing noise-pop classics, "Just Like Honey," which was built on the classic Phil Spector drumbeat from "Be My Baby." Gillespie returned to Primal Scream a month before Psychocandy was released to enormous critical acclaim in both En¬gland and America.

    The Darklands album was followed by a North American tour during which Jim Reid was arrested for assaulting a male heckler. (Reid was later acquitted by a Toronto court.) In early 1992 the group was banned from the British television show Top of the Pops over the lyrics to its single "Reverence," which included such lines as "I wanna die just like Jesus Christ / I wanna die just like J.F.K." That summer the band played the U.S. on the second annual Lollapalooza Tour. Stoned & Dethroned (1994) proved a departure for the Reid brothers, with its soft, acoustic sound; the album's first single, "Sometimes Always," featured Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. Though the song hinted at a commercial breakthrough, it was four years before another U.S. release. Munki, released by Seattle's Sub Pop label, was a flop. William Reid quit the same year, and the group disbanded in 1999. William recorded solo; Jim formed the band Freeheat. On April 27, 2007 the Jesus and Mary Chain regrouped and were joined on stage by Scarlett Johansson for a performance at Coachella Music Festival.

    Portions of this biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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