The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982. The band consisted of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce. Critics have called them the most important alternative rock band to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s. Q magazine’s Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that the Smiths were “the one truly vital voice of the ’80s”, “the most influential British guitar group of the decade” and the “first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms”. The NME named the Smiths the “most influential artist ever” in a 2002 poll.
Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr, the group signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, on which they released four studio albums, The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987). Four of their albums (including three studio albums) appeared on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-LP singles.
The Smiths had several singles reach the UK top twenty and all four of their studio albums reached the UK top five, including one which topped the charts. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites, although they had limited commercial success outside the UK while they were still together. The band broke up in 1987 and have turned down several offers to reunite.
The band’s focus on a guitar, bass, and drum sound, and their fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk, were a repudiation of synthesizer-based contemporary dance-pop – the style popular in the early 1980s. Marr’s guitar-playing on his Rickenbacker often had a jangly sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Marr’s guitar-playing influenced later Manchester bands, including the Stone Roses and Oasis. Morrissey and Marr’s songs combined themes about ordinary people with complex, literate lyrics delivered by Morrissey with a mordant sense of humour. In 2014 and 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat Is Murder. This album was more strident and political than its predecessor, including the pro-vegetarian title track (Morrissey forbade the rest of the group from being photographed eating meat), the light-hearted republicanism of “Nowhere Fast”, and the anti-corporal punishment “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Barbarism Begins at Home”. The band had also grown more diverse musically, with Marr adding rockabilly riffs to “Rusholme Ruffians” and Rourke playing a funk bass solo on “Barbarism Begins at Home”. The album was preceded by the re-release of the B-side “How Soon Is Now?” as a single, and although that song was not on the original LP, it has been added to subsequent releases. Meat Is Murder was the band’s only album (barring compilations) to reach number one in the UK charts. In 2003, the album was ranked number 295 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The Headmaster Ritual—-This was really the album that began my life long love affair with The Smiths and Morrissey. While not one to peer to closely into the pseudo-political meanings of songs, this track touched me more for the music and the voice. The remarkable rock-a-billy approach to the song…..the incredible drumming and the innate ability of Morrissey to fit so many words in a bar of music just astounded me. The wonderful jangly guitar of Marr is just incredible….listen to the layered sound while the drums pound away I the back drop….but never taking the spot light from Moz……this is incredible.
Rusholme Ruffians—-I just love the added effects that the band lent to certain songs….the bass line of the guitar is incredible…while Morrissey bangs on the tambourine to keep everything intact. The laid back and lazy vocal is never without inflection and certain emphasis on words that make you perk up and pay attention. Morrissey……back in those days had the remarkable falsetto warble that took you into paradise. I love this man…this band…and the message.
I Won’t The One I Can’t Have—-Always having a special place in my heart, how many burgeoning gay men can’t relate to the sentiment of the song. God….I was always falling in love with straight guys….I felt like the song was written just for me….I was naive in many ways. The music is fantastic…at the time, there was nothing like this being played in the US…thanks to my constant pursuing of NME and Melody Maker……I always kept up. Marr is an extraordinary guitar player….I wonder what kind of music they could make today?
What She Said—- Coming out of the quiet with an aggressive sound, it is remarkable that Moz managed to make his vocals match the pace of the song….but damn he did. And the result is nothing less than masterful. The layers of guitar sounds that Marr creates is just incredible…while the drums just pound away in the backdrop. Morrissey swoons and leans his lithe body to the music…I can see him in all his glory…celebrating the post-punk sound of the music he warbles to. Just phenomenal.
That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore—-Marr matches the intense and often unhappy lyrics of Morrissey as he ponders his fate and his presumed lack of love for life. Now approaching 60…..I’m sure Moz is appalled…but he is still here none the less. For a depressed closeted teenager, this music seemed to be my own….I found myself rather pissed that anyone else would love MY BAND……The Smiths still speak to me….even at 52.
How Soon Is Now—-Released as a B-side, this track has become a Smiths classic and most referred to song in the catalog. The guitar effects from Marr are just incredible…layered and played back over top of each other, the voice tells a tale that anyone can relate to. Now that I’m happy in my life….I struggle to find a place for this masterpiece…but it is always nice to revisit such a masterpiece of creativity. The tale and the feeling is familiar and relevant…..the music incredible….and the talent excruciatingly good.
Nowhere Fast—-Returning to the full on rock-a-billy feel of the band combined with the pseudo political ravings of Morrissey, this track plays very well today….think of our current condition. Morrissey phrases his songs incredibly well…every important word landing on the right note to create a painting. When Marr plays at the center point of the song….I can almost envision Morrissey rolling around on the stage in utter abandon.
Well I Wonder—- Slowing things down a bit and allowing the rhythm section to be showcased, the vocal enters…delivered with a slight echo and backdrop overlays that paint a very somber and sedate portrait. Morrissey has always had such a way with his vocal inflections that FORCE you to feel what he feels…..I love and adore this man.
Barbarism Begins At Home—-Marr displays his technical guitar playing again on this track…delivering a downshifting guitar that still manages to stay in the same place. The landscape the music paints is incredible….Morrissey enters and ruins everything…lol. Delivering words of school torture and discipline I somehow he might be very familiar with. I love the music to this sound more than the musings of Moz.
Meat Is Murder—-The song that single evenhandedly began me on my almost 20 year vegetarian lifestyle, the remarkable thing about the song is not just the content…but the effects as well. Pretty advanced for the time and era it was produced. You hear the cows….the chickens….the pigs all feigning torture….combined with the ugly lyrical pictures of meat processing and manufacturing. Morrissey is so damn heartfelt in his words…you can’t help but pay attention and fall in with the crowd. Magnificent.
***** out of 5