Johnny Marr Is the Quintessential 1980s Guitarist
The excess that characterized the 1980s has since been, decried, extolled, and examined ad nauseam. The musical landscape that developed during that decade was one of the most compelling in history, not necessarily based on the content that flowed through the mainstream (which was unique in its own right), but for the alternative art and music made in objection to the over-the-top schtick and fodder that had become the standard. Post-rock, post-punk, art-pop, shoegaze, and the lion's share of styles that now inform and cue the sounds and aesthetics of today's hype-makers emerged in the '80s.
Of all the bands that spawned amid the chaos and hair product of the era, few have gained the sort of following of the Smiths. And their fans are rarely the casual type. While Morrissey's inimitable voice and personality quirks cannot be minimized in any way when discussing the success of the Smiths, Johnny Marr's guitar work and compositional sense were a defining feature that was entirely necessary to the Smith's sound, making Marr a quintessential guitarist of that era.
While the archetype of the '80s guitarist was defined in the minds of most by Eddie Van Halen -- who fought to progress technique and athleticism with mind-boggling licks and tricks that humbled even the most respected of the period's shredders -- Marr's understated arrangements and style choices were the reset button many musicians were looking for.
Armed with vintage gear that defied the trends of the time, Marr built a foundation for Morrissey's soaring croons and melodies with the jangle and clang of 12-string Rickenbackers, classic Fender and Gibson guitars, and buxom '60s Fender amps. While those choices might appear quite normal to the layman, most guitarists at the time were knee-deep in the muck of locking whammy bars and pointy headstocks, and running amps with as much distortion possible to match the feeling provided by the cocaine flowing through their veins.