Revisit The Smiths’ iconic appearance on ‘The Tube’, 1984
We are digging through the Far Out Magazine vault and revisiting one of The Smiths’ career-defining performances as well as a dance off between Johnny Marr and Morrissey.
There is always one moment in a band’s historic rise to the top that you can pinpoint when they went from rock stars to something entirely different. For Bowie it was the death of Ziggy Stardust, for The Beatles it was Sgt. Pepper—for The Smiths, one of Britain’s finest bands, it was this performance on the youth TV show, The Tube back in 1984.
Now, it may seem a bit flippant to put an appearance on a music TV show alongside such iconographic moments mentioned for David Bowie and The Beatles—legendary as they were—but the truth is, that in 1984 The Tube was more than just a TV show. It was a big deal for swathes of the nation sitting in their homes, bathed in the blue glow of late-night television.
In 1984, if you were of a certain age then the only show you really cared about was The Tube. Starting in 1982, the show had become the only place for new bands to be seen and worked as a showcase of the best contemporary music around. It meant that the show, along with hosts Paula Yates and Jools Holland, became hot property as they welcomed everyone from Wham! to The Cramps on their stage with varying degrees of effect.
The 45-minute magazine show saw comics and personalities conduct skits and sketches in typically chaotic ways while hosts Yates and Holland interviewed bands before their performances. With Yates’ interviews, in particular, becoming famed for their flirtatious nature—she even once made Sting take his trousers off live on air. The show’s opening night brought about its first landmark moment as The Jam would perform on the show together as a band for the very last time in 1982.
The show also saw some firsts, including the introduction of Manchester’s bright new things, The Smiths, as Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce made their TV debut. The show also provided the video for the band’s second single ‘This Charming Man’. But it is the band’s return to the studio in 1984, which is arguably the moment they ascended as indie kings.
While a bubble of hype was continuing to inflate with every release following their debut single ‘Hand In Glove’ and having been widely touted by Top of the Pops, it was on the stage of The Tube that the band really let their personality shine and became rock stars rather than The Smiths.
During the performance on March 16th, Morrissey is sensational as he commands the stage with a playfulness that would provide the perfect antidote to the brash laddishness of punk which had been dominating the alternative charts for years. Meanwhile, Johnny Marr’s starry-eyed gaze belies his expertise on guitar as he meanders across the driving rhythm section.
The band begins the onslaught with their debut single and deliver an impeccable performance with Marr’s riff reigning supreme. Next up on the performance was Morrissey’s lyrics taking the centre stage as he leads the emphatic anthem, ‘Still Ill’, writhing on the floor, making a mess of his gladioli and gathering fans at every awkward movement.
The final track the band play is one of the standout songs from Meat Is Murder and has a piece of Smiths-fan gold at the end. The song is ‘Barbarism Begins At Home’ and while the subject matter of the track is grim to say the least, Rourke’s bassline at the end of the song does provide us with some unbridled joy and is a welcomed moment of reprieve on the record.
As a feature of some of their live performances, when Rourke reached this stage of the six-minute track, Marr would pull his riff from the track, put down his guitar and join in with Morrissey’s soul-shaking dancing to give the audience a little treat. It makes for a joyful moment between not only a band who shared such dark and deep emotions through their songs but a partnership that would soon breakdown within a few years.
It’s the moment that The Smiths permanently embedded themselves on the British psyche and became landmarks in their own right.
From this moment on, the nation paid attention to the band and everything they did. Swathes of a generation who felt alienated and awkward in this new high-neon low-moral decade now had a new light to follow. They not only had a fresh new sound, deeply personal lyrics, and an authentic ethos, they were human. This was the new rock and roll.
The Smiths were one of those bands that changed everything for those who saw them—and most people saw them sat in front of the telly, watching The Tube.