Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before…
Initially, I rather disliked The Smiths. It wasn’t untill I really listened to the music attentively that I began to pick up on the subtlety of Marr’s writing. Morrissey is another one you really have pay close attention to. The words are simple enough but to the passive listener they might not make all that much sense. Many consider them to have fathered the Indie movement and to some extent this is true. However this quality is somewhat coincidental, that is to say, it’s more an inevitability of the time than a conscious effort on their end to become an inspirational focal point for thousands of bands to come. Beyond the moniker of Indie Godfathers, The Smiths have a sound as unique as the people who make up the band. Morrissey sings about life and love but not quite in the way that had become the norm in the 1980’s. His pessimistic views could not have been more juxtaposed by the happy, jangle of Johnny Marr’s melodies and riffs. I believe that any music fan can find something about The Smiths that they like, and so I invite you to search for it among the lyrics and tracks laid out below.
The Smiths – 1984 (Rough Trade)
The very first line on the album is about the death of innocence. This sentiment surrounds The Smiths and would come to play a major role in later albums. This debut serves as a perfect introduction to the band. Morrissey with lyricism beyond his years and Marr’s unique melodies.
- Reel Around The Fountain
- You’ve Got Everything Now
- This Charming Man
- Still Ill
- What Difference Does It Make?*
“It’s time the story was told, of how you took a child and you made him old” – Reel Around The Fountain
“People said that you were virtually dead and they were so wrong” – Reel Around The Fountain
“I’ve seen you smile but I’ve never really heard you laugh” – You’ve Got Everything Now
“I would go out tonight but I haven’t got a stitch to wear. This man said it’s gruesome that someone handsome should care” – This Charming Man
“I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine, and it owes me a living” – Still Ill
“The devil will find work for idle hands to do” – What Difference Does It Make?
The Smiths is one of the strongest debuts I’ve come across. Morrissey manages to capture the despair and isolation that comes with growing up a societal outcast. The pairing of Marr and Morrissey is truly one of a kind. Morrissey’s literary background is on full display on tracks like What Difference Does It Make? and You’ve Got Everything Now where he conveys a striking image of the desperate youth that is slipping away from him. On the other hand, Marr cobbles together some of the most intricate yet catchy melodies within a combination of complex and simple chords. The Smiths lay emotional and meaningful lyrics over groovy dance tracks which to no surprise at all grants them a large following after their first album.
Meat Is Murder – 1985 (Rough Trade)
In their sophomore album, The Smiths begin to diversify their sound by adding elements of Blues/Rockabilly, their fist use of a guitar solo and a growing affinity for the acoustic guitar. Morrissey explores themes of mortality, purpose and what it means to be alive.
- What She Said
- That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
- How Soon Is Now*
- Nowhere Fast
- Well I Wonder
“Give up education/life as a bad dream” – The Headmaster Ritual
“An engagement ring doesn’t mean a thing to a mid consumed by brass (money)” – Rusholme Ruffians
“How come someone hasn’t noticed that I’m dead” – What She Said
“It was dark as I drove the point home and on cold leather seats well it suddenly struck me. I might just die with a smile on my face after all” – That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
“I am a human and I need to be loved. Just like anybody else does” – How Soon Is Now
“When I’m lying in my bed, I think about life and I think about death and neither one particularly appeals to me” – Nowhere Fast
“Gasping – Dying – but somehow still alive” – Well I Wonder
“A crack on the head is what you get. Why? Because of who you are” – Barbarianism Begins At Home
For those born after The Smiths broke up the song How Soon Is Now was likely the first song they heard. I remember first stumbling upon the a 7-inch single that my father had from when he was young. While it is not typical of their sound, the song’s emotion is as Smiths as it gets. This album moves past the despair from their debut to explore mortality and the impatience that comes with youth. The juxtaposition of melody and lyrics only grows with this record, and so did their popularity.
The Queen Is Dead – 1986 (Rough Trade)
The Queen Is Dead begins with a recording of “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty”. Setting up the sad impression of England that is to be painted on The Smiths latest record. The band wrestles with the notion that England has abandoned some of its history, connecting himself to the great British authors from the English canon.
- Frankly, Mr. Shankly
- I Know It’s Over
- Cemetery Gates
- The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out*
“Passed the pub that saps your body and the church who’ll snatch your money ” – The Queen Is Dead
“Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held. It pays my way, and it corrodes my soul” – Frankly, Mr. Shankly
“I had a really bad dream it lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days. I never, I’m alone, and I never, ever had no one ever” – Never Had No One Ever
“I never never want to go home because I haven’t got one, anymore” – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
“To die by your side, well , the pleasure, the privilege is mine” – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
This album brings to light many of the issues the band was having with the their label. Like many “anti-pop” bands they struggle to come to terms with the responsibility and obligations that come with stardom. Themes of loneliness, Adolescence, and death are once again at the forefront of the album. Marr starts experimenting with more technology to get different sounds. He uses a Wah pedal in the title track and infusing elements of funk music with the timbre of folk music in Bigmouth Strikes Again. Personally, I think the vocals could have been cut from Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others and it would have been an improvement. To me the song seems a little out of place and almost lost or placed there by accident.
Strangeways Here We Come – 1987 (Rough Trade)
The final release from The Smiths bears little resemblance to their first. Gone is the jangle and intricate melodies replaced my strong chord structures and a variety of added instruments. The lyrics still revolve around sadness and a rejection of the world while the songs sound happy.
- Death Of A Disco Dancer
- Girlfriend In A Coma
- Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me*
- Paint A Vulgar Picture
- I Won’t Share You
“Love, Peace and Harmony? Oh very nice… But maybe in the next world ” – Death Of A Disco Dancer
“If you think peace is a common goal that shows how little you know” – Death Of A Disco Dancer
“I was delayed, I was way-laid. An emergency stop. I smelt the last ten seconds of life ” – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
“Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me. No hope, no harm, just another false alarm” – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
“In my heart I begged ‘Take me with you. I don’t really care where you’re going” – Paint A Vulgar Picture
“Has the Perrier gone straight to my head or is life sick and cruel, instead?” – I Won’t Share You
This record is different from anything the band has done. From the overdriven tones on I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish to the maturation of characters in songs like A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours. Marr continues to experiment more with solo sections in the songs in this album, something that would have been too mainstream for a band making its name as an indie band.
For me, The Smiths capture perfectly the feelings, thoughts, fears, and anxieties of growing up. To come to grips with your reality, your mortality, and question your place in the world. Growing up is never easy, no matter where you live or when. This is the key to The Smiths continued relevance. There will always be people who will identify with The Smiths. They were one of the most consistent bands, not in the sense that they are singular in their sound, but they were able to deliver great songs on every album. They show a fair amount of growth across their discography both in their sound and lyrics. As such I find it hard to pick a favourite album or song. So I’m going to cheat a little and say if there was a single smiths record I could give to someone to turn them into a Smiths fan, I would hand them a copy of “Hatful Of Hollow”, which is a compilation album and as such would provide them with a good variety of Smiths sounds but stays within the early days of the band which were, in my opinion, better.