Ah, Spacemen 3; neo-psychedelic, proto-shoegazing, effects pedal-piling experimentalists from the beautiful British Midlands that Noisecrumbs calls home. And Mudhoney; Seattle’s favourite, shaggy-haired, hedonistic, hard-drinkin’, garage-grunge, party band. Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney might not seem to have a lot in common, other than an audible Stooges influence – what worthwhile band hasn’t go that? – but these are two of my all-time favourite bands. This is in the large part down to their respective guitar sounds.
For me, guitar sound is absolutely crucial – often more important than melody, lyrics or performance. A powerful, roaring, throaty, chord sequence can elevate an otherwise unremarkable song into something sublime. Over the years it’s been my only reason for listening to songs by Metallica and Pantera, it’s why Territorial Pissings is a personal highlight on Nevermind and it’s the main factor that’s sent me back repeatedly to play tunes by wonderful but forgotten bands like Bullet Lavolta, Lovecup, Starfish and Worms. In different ways, both Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney consistently sound like they’re joyously driving their Fenders and Marshalls to breaking point, and in Spacemen 3’s case, never more so than on their cover of Mudhoney’s When Tomorrow Hits.
Mudhoney’s original When Tomorrow Hits comes limping out of the heat-haze like a sinister desert drifter, with a loose, bluesy drone. You can hardly discern the lyrics Mark Arms drawls until the chorus, which consists of nine words – the title repeated three times. It builds over the course of the second verse to a fairly noisy climax – like tomorrow hitting – then it’s done, having clearly made its point. It’s low-key, by peak Mudhoney standards, but it’s a great song and you can see why the simple construction and repetitive elements appealed to Jason and Sonic Boom.
The Spacemen 3 version keeps the same structure, starting quiet with a simple drum beat, two chords and an insistent slide guitar. The vocals are just as impenetrable as on the original, with wobbly, echo effects obscuring the lyrics and, as with the original, there’s a foreshadowing of the climax in the chorus, before the crescendo, heralded by a squall of feedback at the end of verse two. This is where the song explodes. It erupts in a molten cacophony of shrieking feedback, wah-wah and pummelling overdrive, layered into a sound that’s absolutely gigantic. So much so, that the band struggle to bring the racket back under control and the cover runs nearly twice as long as the original while they tackle the chaos. When tomorrow hits in Jason and Sonic’s world, it hits on a fucking spectacular scale.
Spacemen 3’s cover of When Tomorrow Hits was meant to be half of a split single for Sub Pop, with the other side being Mudhoney’s cover of Spacemen 3’s Revolution. The project never happened though, because Sonic was pissed off when he heard Mudhoney’s cover and discovered that they’d changed the lyrics. So the collaboration was cancelled and Revolution came out on various bootlegs and the March To Fuzz retrospective, while When Tomorrow Hits became an album track and stunning highlight on Spacemen 3’s final studio album, Recurring.
Spacemen 3 had effectively dissolved before Recurring was even released, with Sonic and Jason unable to resolve the acrimony that had long existed between them, even with the prospect of a lucrative record deal and American tour to tempt them. They kept the split quiet until after the release then officially went their separate ways, with Jason going on to form Spiritualized and Sonic Boom going solo and recording and performing as Spectrum and E.A.R.
Sonic and Jason had always been incredibly productive – particularly for such dedicated stoners – working on side-projects during their Spacemen 3 days and getting their new ventures off the ground without a pause following that band’s sad demise. They’re both still active today and have released some fantastic music in the intervening years. But despite the acrimony that apparently existed between the two creative forces for much of the time that they collaborated, the material they produced as the seminal, psychedelic, Spacemen 3 remains their best work. It’s not all down to their guitar sound, but shit, as this cover demonstrates, they could really make some noise when they wanted to.
‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds, covered by Husker Du – Magnificent Cover Version No.21
‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana – Magnificent Cover Version No.11
The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ covered by Dinosaur Jr – Magnificent Cover Version No. 10
Really enjoyed both versions to be honest haha! If you’re on Facebook would love for you to share this in our Facebook group of music fans, I think they’d dig it 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/groups/musicmoguls/
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Thanks, julianarde, I like them both too! Thanks for the FB link too – will take a look. NC
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Thank you for following my blog! Hope you will check out my youtube playlists as I get more created in the future. The first one leans toward industrial and electronic, but I listen to about anything, so who knows what might make a list! Appreciate your blog and will be back to visit!
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In my opinion Spacemen 3 are mistakenly lumped in with the shoegaze bands. Maybe because they sat down and looked down. But they really sound nothing like the other bands under shoegaze moniker. The sound is more grounded in blues and gospel than many if not all other bands considered shoegaze. SM3 can definitely get you into a trance but I hear something more raw and honest. The other thing think is misunderstood is they did not have very many effects pedals. The effects they used were used heavily but in comparison to, say, My Bloody Valentine Where MBVs Kevin Shields uses dozens of pedals and fx to get a huge layering of sound SM3 had very minimal amt in comparison. And you can’t compare the 2 bands. Both great but not alike. SM3 had a few pedals but some effects were built into the amps and even the guitar in some instances, and were very analogy and retro. I mostly hear tremelo, phaser, wah way and sheer volume, playing 1 or 2 notes to build up overtones and drones. I am not defending more or less pedals, but SM3 relied on very few effects actually to achieve their sound.
Excellent article, just stumbled cross it (5 years later!) Worth noting that spacemen 3 had quite a following in the early Seattle scene, Screaming trees, Earth, Melvin’s etc were all big fans, Cobain was a fan too (all stoners). In an old interview Mark Arm said that “mudride” (their best song imho) was directly influenced by Spacemen 3. They were perceived differently in the American guitar underground to how they were seen in the UK.
Thanks a lot @foxgirl for your comment. I didn’t know about the Sub Pop/Seattle bands’ love for S3 and I thought I’d read everything about that scene! Mudhoney connection obviously makes sense – Mudride is very S3 – and Earth too with their heavy, psych drone. Plus, they were just a great band, weren’t they? To listen to them is to love them!