The things you remember, right? Here’s one: at some point in the early 1980s, probably after listening to one of the first two Psychedelic Furs albums, I remember thinking that it would cool if somebody could somehow get the drone of a blow dryer in a song. Not as some kind of art noise like Einstürzende Neubauten were doing, but in tune, as a quintessential part of a pop song.
Well, apparently William & Jim Reid had the same kind of idea, and they used it to create a debut album that ranks in my top 5 all-time favorite albums by anyone, Psychocandy.
And while Psychocandy famously with the Phil-Spector-in-hell of “Just Like Honey” (which we will get to on Wednesday), “Never Understand” was the first thing I ever heard by The Jesus and Mary Chain. I’m not exactly sure when, but I’m going to pinpoint it to the late summer of 1985, and I’m going to assume that I bought it because I read somewhere — CREEM? Rolling Stone? NME? Melody Maker? The Village Voice? — about this standoffish Scottish band that had successfully combined the melodies of the surf-era Beach Boys with the white light/heat of the Velvets.
Thirty years later, of course, ho-hum, right? We’ve now had load and loads and loads of bands doing this exact thing, and who cares?
But in the summer of 1985, that sounded intriguing, and I found the 12″ import of “Never Understand” at some damn place — either Tower in Fresno or Rasputin’s in Berkeley — and took it home and put it on.
And everything changed.
Everything doesn’t always change. It isn’t always love at first listen. In fact, for plenty of my favorites — Dylan or the Stones or even The Who — they’ve always been there, so there wasn’t a single “aha!” moment. And even contemporary 80s / 90s bands that became my favorites, like The Smiths or Hüsker Dü or U2 or Nirvana or Pavement or The Hold Steady, etc, it took a little bit time for me to realize how I loved them.
But as was the case with “Safe European Home” or “Wolves, Lower,” the first time I heard “Never Understand,” it was so totally on my frequency, I was instantly smitten.
And why not: first there’s the introductory feedback, and with Douglas Hart’s bass & Bobby Gillespie’s barely heard drums playing a speeding approximation of a surf rhythm section and William Reid’s guitars screaming like banshees, Jim Reid sang a pure pop melody that I’d simultaneously heard my whole life and yet was utterly new:
The sun comes up another day begins
And I don’t even worry about the state I’m in
Head so heavy and I’m looking thin
But when the sun goes down I want to start again
I was enthralled. I needed to play this again straight away.
And, of course, those repeated listens revealed glories throughout: the little extra swell of notes that introduced the choruses, the way that it always felt like it was speeding up even as it never got any faster, the long wordless screams at the end, and most importantly, the total and utter lack of irony.
This was the point that I got almost instantly: The Jesus and Mary Chain weren’t welding metal machine noise to bubble gum melodies because they thought it was funny to juxtapose these seemingly polar opposites — like when a hardcore band covered “Having My Baby” or some shit — no, they were doing it because this was the version of pop music they heard in their heads, the next step down the trail that people like the Ramones or Buzzcocks had started clearing.
I played the absolute fuck out of “Never Understand” for everybody I could, in person and on KFSR, where I’m pretty sure I ended up leaving that single, because I wanted as many people to hear this amazing thing as was humanly possible.
And I couldn’t wait for what was coming next.
“Never Understand” official video
“Never Understand” performed (not live) on Belgian TV, 1985
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