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, over the Beatles.
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-album singles. The Smiths had several singles reach the UK top 20 and all four of their studio albums reached the UK top 5, including one which hit #1. 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 due to internal tensions 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 synthesiser-based contemporary dance-pop – the style popular in the 1980s. Marr’s guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, often had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, and influenced later Manchester bands including the Stone Roses and Oasis. Morrissey’s complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour. In 2014 and 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording their next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single “Bigmouth Strikes Again“. The single again featured Marr’s strident acoustic guitar rhythms and lead melody guitar lines with wide leaps. The Queen Is Dead reached number two in the UK charts, and consisted of a mixture of mordant bleakness (e.g. “Never Had No One Ever”, which seemed to play up to stereotypes of the band), dry humour (e.g. “Frankly, Mr. Shankly”, allegedly a message to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis disguised as a letter of resignation from a worker to his superior), and synthesis of both, such as in “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Cemetry Gates”.
Disc One: The Remaster
The Queen Is Dead—-Beginning with the trademark refrain of Dear Ole Blighty, I question what new I can add to the remarkable reviews of this record over numerous years. I have been a life-long fan of this band…reveling in the British humor, the disdain for the Monarchy and he subtle jabs at Prince Charles. Marr delivers such a fantastic melodic guitar on this track…the drums are a standout…all seeming to wrap around Morrissey’s golden throat…a pure masterpiece.
Frankly Mr. Shankly—-A classic track wrought in a subtle sense of British humor much like Girlfriend In A Coma, this has a tendency to land in your brain and stay there…even when you want to dismiss the beat that drives the song. Short, sweet and full of humor…I never tire of this.
I Know It’s Over—-From the very moment i heard this song, it became a favorite of mine on this release. It is sad..intense…described my feelings at the time perfectly and had a magical subtle 50’s feel to the entire thing. This was magical and I was so pleased to see it preformed live on what was to be the band’s last outing together. This song…huge and masterful, has left an indelible mark on my soul. Morrissey delivers a vocal that is heartbreaking and magical. My God….that voice is like velvet.
Never Had No One Ever—-Morrissey treads familiar ground on this track…full of self pity and the wrath of loneliness, any one is able to wrap themselves around the feel of the song. The sharp tones from Marr’s guitar are incredible…the slow plodding drums add to almost funeral feel of the song. This is magical.
Cemetery Gates—-The British accent really shines on this track does it not? I was pleased when Morrissey began to preform this song again on occasion during his live shows. The music is jaunty and brings to mind the mood of some of the material from Meat Is Murder. Morrissey calls to mind his heroes….Keats, Yates and of course Oscar Wilde. The sardonic and very dark humor of the song is exquisite. It hold the test of time very well.
Bigmouth Strikes Again—-The first proper single released from this record. This is full of a humor that is always underlying the bands songs. The masterful guitar sounds Marr produces are just incredible. You actually feel a bit of bass line on this track…and the drums although pushed to the back of the mix are so important to the feel of the song. Johnny literally makes his guitar sing as well as Morrissey. This is fantastic.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side—-I would suppose Morrissey would fancy himself as the boy he warmly sings about on this track. The music that Marr produces conjures up a certain warmth and comfort…the song swells with a subtle beauty that is still wonderful in sound today. Another magical moment from the band that wanted to rule the world.
Vicar In A Tutu—-This song still conjures up in my brain some kind of silly clip from a black and white B-movie comedy. I’m sure the true meaning of the song probably sailed right over my head…I’m not much for British humor and entendres….it is still a wonderful snippet of hilarity in the history of the band.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out—-Legend has it that this was a last minute addition to the record and really was not planned. The fact that it is still one of the most beloved Smiths compositions speaks to the genius of the band. This is so nice to hear now that Morrissey preforms it regularly in his solo outings. The music and the voice….manage to come together and create this magical moment that spoke to the kinship of these two genius minds. A beautiful, poignant moment in musical history.
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others—-Another of those tracks I’m not sure whether to take seriously or not. The instrumentation of the song is what does it for me though. Marr delivers a shin, jangly guitar that drives the song. The lazy but important drum line is masterful…matching perfectly with the bass line. This is magical.
Disc Two: Demos and B-Sides
The Queen Is Dead/Full Version—-Omitting the intro of Dear Old Blighty, the classic huge drum intro opens the song and delivers a fairly true to form rendition of the actual recorded track. The guitars from Marr goes on a bit longer…giving a slight psychedelic feel to the song…but for the most part this what we got in the end.
Frankly Mr. Shankly/Demo—-Not really sure the purpose of the inclusion of these so called demos…..there is very little here that is different…it is just a redux of the material we all have. This seems wasteful and a rip-off when so man other things could have been included.
I Know It’s Over/Demo—-No blaring differences on this demo…there are some subtle word differences and it seems like the phrasing from Morrissey is a bit different than on the final cut. Still haunting and beautiful…amazing how good the demos actually were.
Never Had No One Ever/Demo—-Not much variance here..although the song does seem to move at a bit of a slower pace than the final version. The subtle differences are not worthy an entire disc…just my opinion. I do rather love the horns at the end of the song…competing with Morrissey for the spotlight. Very odd ending….I take back the need for necessity of inclusion here….I was surprised.
Cemetery Gates—-Crisp and clean despite being a demo…I notice the heavier bass line right at the onset. Marr seems to have a sound that was pushed back a bit…that would later change. It is an alternate version…that I quite like a bit.
Bigmouth Strikes Again/Demo—-This version sounds very muted and lacking of the crisp clean version that would become the single. Morrissey phrases a bit differently and the music has a darker tone….Marr would brighten up the final cut a bit. There are longer interludes between verses….it is interesting to hear.
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others/Demo—-Offering a really crisp and alternative view into this track, I can’t ignore that bright and jangly guitar introduction that Marr delivers. This is a brilliant piece of music…crashing cymbals and a good minute before Morrissey is even present. Brilliant!
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side/Demo Mix—-Brilliant…but offering very little in variance from the original…..sounds like a redux of the same song.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out/Take 1—-Again, this pretty much sounds like the track that landed on the original. This just all seems like unnecessary filler to me….are there no unreleased tracks from this band?
Rubber Ring/Single B-Side—-Jaunty and fun, this track really never got the attention that it deserved. I love the vocal delivery from Morrissey…when she delivers that lazy refrain as the chorus…it still brings a smile to my face. Again, I notice the drums and the crisp high notes from Marr…this is a masterpiece.
Asleep/Single B-Side—-Perhaps one of my favorite tracks from this band…it came at a time when my depression and desire to not be here anymore were at a peak..it was like Morrissey was speaking to me directly. This is a romantic look at leaving…but it is delivered with beauty and expertise.
Money Changes Everything/Single B-Side—-Bright and incredibly shiny, this showcases every element of the band in a well defined way. Of course you have Marr…who never made a misstep….but the bass line is huge on this instrumental….and you realize how important the drums were to the entire feel of the band. No wonder they wanted their 25%!!! This is fantastic.
Unloveable/Single B-Side—-Another under-rated track to spoke to the Morrissey persona in a magical way…this should have been front and center on a proper release. This is beautiful in feel…true to the direction of the band…and an important part of the Morrissey mystique. This is a classic and wonderful track.
Disc Three: Live In Boston
How Soon Is Now—-For me personally, this is the most important song The Smiths ever recorded. Meant to be a B-Side, who could imagine it would become a cornerstone in the band’s career. The layers and layers of emotional guitar are just as important as the pleading vocal from Morrissey. This is a moment in history…a perfect snapshot for many who instantly fell in love with the enigmatic Morrissey.
Hand In Glove—-Travelling back to the early days of the band and the magical almost rock-a-billy feel that greeted us with this very first single from the band. This was such a magical time for me as I discovered British bands and the alternative to Hair Metal that was so prevalent. This is triumphant.
I Want The One I Can’t Have—-There was a true part of my immature self that convinced me Morrissey sang this song just for me. Adolescence and young adulthood is full of wanton feelings that are never returned and this song spoke directly to me. Fuckin Brilliant!
Never Had No One Ever—-Playing very well live, the audience seems to lack a bit of a response…but at the time this was all brand new. Morrissey is able to perfectly reproduce record to live….a true plus for the band.
Stretch Out And Wait—-Besides the title track, this is perhaps my favorite track from Meat Is Murder. Again, considering the time and place the song ha a unique meaning to me…calling all of the loneliness and wanton lust from my very soul and making me feel like someone really understood.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side—-Again. lacking a bit of audience response, the song plays very well live….Morrissey delivers a spot on vocal that is the best I have ever heard. This is brilliant.
Cemetery Gates—-Brilliant….Marr brings his jangle to the live setting with pure perfection. The drums in this live setting are perfect…maturity makes you pay attention to what is going on onstage…the band is playing so tight and masterful. This was a golden time.
Rubber Ring/What She Said/Rubber Ring—-With a slight lazy pace to the music, everything seems so relaxed and fun as the song begins…the bass guitar really standing out then the barrage of drums as What She Said begins to take shape. Delivered with a vocal urgency that makes me break out in goosebumps, this is perfect.
Is It Really So Strange?—-Never a favorite track of mine, it seems like these little tracks that were emerging were beginning to show the weather taking place inside of the band. This is an acceptable rendition…it still stands up well…I have always felt it was a bit uninspired.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out—-Morrissey sounds literally pitch perfect as he delivers this track that would become so important to the legions of fans that embraced the band to this day. This is perfection in every way….Marr….the drums….the emotional voice….it’s truly a perfect storm.
That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore—-Another classic track from the Meat Is Murder sessions, this plays so well live…the sentiment of the song..plays perfectly into the ‘Morrissey World’…..this live version is a bit different…slower and with a few different chords…but still masterful and as meaningful as ever.
The Queen Is Dead—-The huge drum intro gets a fantastic crowd response. Live this song travels much faster than the recorded version…Morrissey seems almost exhausted trying to keep up with the blistering pace. This is so much more muscular and powerful…I love this live rendition.
I Know It’s Over—-Ending this live performance in the best way possible, this allows for a gentle cool down for the audience and reminds us why we love the band so. I could not possibly conjure up a better ending for this show…masterful…beautiful and haunting.
*****out of 5