It seems almost redundant to write an introduction about The Smiths-in many ways, it might seem redundant to write about the band in any way! Anything we have to offer would only add to the puddles of opinions about a band that represent something greater than the decade they single-handedly dominated.
And yet, that’s precisely the reason to continue writing about The Smiths: To celebrate their ambition, to query their brevity and to enjoy the many tunes that makes up the Morrissey-Marr catalogue, in spite of what their personal lives may have revealed to us.
Here are four men of Irish descent lambasting the England that has placed them in their stations, giving the land back the insults that had long been customary and conditioned.
For many the greatest songwriting duo since Lennon and McCartney, Morrissey and Johnny Marr showed that it is possible to curate a rich delivery of rock tunes, bolstered by youth and an almost maniacal level to achieve that perfect sound.
The band released four albums, and with so much furore surrounding their lead singer, there’s a good chance that few of them have been recommended to you. Below, however, we’ve done the hard work and provided you with the records to give the most attention.
Ranking The Smiths albums from worst to best
4. The Smiths (1984)
As a standalone album, no, the band’s debut doesn’t hold up with what came after it. It lacks contradiction, timbre-even dynamism. Nor does it stand out as peculiarly lo-fi like the first U2 album was. The fact that it still merits four stars just goes to show how high the bar was for the band.
Leading the charge from the off, guitarist Johnny Marr chimes in with the punchy arpeggio to ‘This Charming Man’, setting the table for the indie template to follow. He is flashy, but tastefully so, building up the confidence to close ‘Suffer Little Children’ with a splashily inventive instrumental. Beside him, comes Morrissey’s soaring voice, curating pictures of children caught in the darkness of their bed-laden fantasies.
Mindful of the band’s trajectory, The Smiths (1984) acts as a handy go-to guide, mirroring the wistfulness of Meat Is Murder, the introspection of The Queen Is Dead, and salutes the tidily named Strangeways, Here We Come in its choppy delivery. Individual highlights include ‘Miserable Lie’ – complete with Mike Joyce’s galloping drum display – and the strangely moving ‘Still Ill’. American audiences could enjoy a helping of ‘This Charming Man’, although it was curiously left off the British vinyl.
3. The Queen Is Dead (1986)
Yes, we hear you now! No, this isn’t in third place for shock value, but although it holds the greatest tune the band committed to record, it does hold quite a large amount of filler. The middle certainly lacks that added punch, and ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ suffers from holding one of Morrissey’s least sincere vocal lines.
There are one too many comedy numbers with ‘Vicar In A Tutu’, and really the album could do without the faintly misogynistic ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ (mercifully, the lyrics are kept to a minimum on the track, and the focus is on the shimmering guitars.)
More happily, the album boasts not one, two, but three classics by anyone’s definition of the term. There’s the drum-heavy title track, a braggadocious live favourite that remains a mainstay in Morrissey’s post-Smiths work; there´s ‘Never Had No One Ever’, Morrissey’s most nakedly confessional work on an album of glib cutaways and literary references; and then there’s ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, an astonishingly confident melody from a band who had prided bravado over baroque, gumption over precision.
Indeed, the song holds up more prominently in the forty-plus years since the band unveiled it, giving the English and Irish working classes their very own valedictorian anthem. Who needed wealth and influence, when the sight of a double-decker bus was there to remind them of the treasures in their own pockets?
Scintillatingly produced, and sung with tremendous restraint from Morrissey, the song holds up with the best of the 1980s, and if The Smiths can claim a masterpiece, then ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is it.
2. Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
By the time the band had finished their fourth album, their future was very much in doubt. Determined to steer the quartet from the cliches indie bands were associating with his work, Marr opted to push for an album of greater colour, contrast and texture to the first three albums.
The result is exhilarating, although, by the end of it, Marr had quit, leaving the band’s future in doubt, and their fourth album to become a codicil for a myth that was only beginning to weave itself together.
As it happens, Strangeways, Here We Come rivals Abbey Road as an exemplary farewell from one pop outfit to their successors. The drums slot in tightly behind the vocals; the bass plays freely, confidently spinning across the cylinders; and finally, there’s Marr, flitting from one instrument to the next.
In what can only be described as his acme as a sound artist, Strangeways, Here We Come offers the young musician the chance to veer from the desolately quiet (‘I Won’t Share You’, ‘Death Of a Disco Dancer’) to the proto-industrial grooves of ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’.
More interestingly, he sounds most comfortable on the piano, as evinced by the yearning keys on ‘Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me’. In many ways, Marr was right to call time on the band- it would be hard to top Strangeways, Here We Come.
1. Meat Is Murder (1985)
The truth is, they had already topped it, with their second, and best, album. Completing the band’s apotheosis, Meat Is Murder stands as one of the finest records from the eighties counterculture.
From the off, they mean business, and ‘The Headmaster Rituals’ dives headward into the abyss of discomfort, complete with Morrissey’s dynamic opening lyric: “Belligerent ghouls, run Manchester schools”, as the drums slow down, a more pastoral guitar emerges, and ‘Rusholme Ruffians’ laces listeners in the type of shuffle of the fifties.
From that point on, the album jumps from the past to the present, culminating in a record that could be classed as a study in rock history. There’s Beatlesque pop (‘I Want The One I Can’t Have,’) psychedelic funk (‘Barbarism Begins At Home,’) and the typically Byrd-like staccatos Marr could whip up in his sleep (‘Nowhere Fast.’)
And then there’s ‘Well I Wonder’ a deeply hypnotic piece the band were reluctant to perform live, in case they couldn’t do justice to the atmosphere. Gorgeous.