The Smiths in 1985. Left to right: Andy Rourke, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce
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 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- 1 History
- 2 Later controversies
- 3 Musical style
- 4 Visual imagery
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Discography
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Formation and early singles
The Smiths were formed in early 1982 by Steven Patrick Morrissey, a writer who had briefly fronted punk rock band The Nosebleeds (which included guitarist Billy Duffy, who later joined The Cult); and John Maher, a guitarist and songwriter who had been in bands called The Rhythm Method and Freak Party with his schoolmate bassist friend Andy Rourke. Maher changed his name to Johnny Marr to avoid confusion with Buzzcocks drummer John Maher, and Morrissey performed under his surname alone. After recording several demo tapes with Simon Wolstencroft (later of The Fall) on drums, Morrissey and Marr recruited drummer Mike Joyce in the autumn of 1982. Joyce had formerly been a member of punk bands The Hoax and Victim. They also added bass player Dale Hibbert, who provided the group with demo recording facilities at Decibelle Studios where he worked as a recording engineer. After just one gig, Hibbert was replaced by Marr's friend Andy Rourke, because Marr felt that neither Hibbert's bass playing nor his personality fitted the group.
The band picked their name in part as a reaction against those used by synthpop bands of the early 1980s, such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Spandau Ballet, which they considered pretentious. In a 1984 interview Morrissey said that he chose The Smiths "because it was the most ordinary name" and because he thought that it was "time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces." Signing to indie label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove", in May 1983 which was the result of the Decibel Studios demo. The record was championed by DJ John Peel, as were all of their later singles, but failed to chart. The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart.
In February 1984, the group released their debut album The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart. Both "Reel Around the Fountain" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" met with controversy, with some tabloid newspapers alleging the songs were suggestive of paedophilia, a claim strongly denied by the group.
The album was followed the same year by the non-album singles "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "William, It Was Really Nothing", which featured "How Soon Is Now?" on its B-side. Securing the band's first top ten placing, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" was also significant for marking the beginning of engineer and producer Stephen Street's long-term working relationship with the band.
More controversy followed when "Suffer Little Children", the B-side to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", touched on the theme of the Moors murders. This caused an uproar after the grandfather of one of the murdered children heard the song on a pub jukebox and felt the band was trying to commercialise the murders. After meeting with Morrissey, he accepted that the song was a sincere exploration of the impact of the murders. Morrissey subsequently established a friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, who is mentioned by name in the song.
The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows.
Meat Is Murder
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.
Morrissey brought a political stance to many of his interviews, courting further controversy. Among his targets were the Thatcher government, the British monarchy, and the famine relief project Band Aid. Morrissey famously quipped of the last, "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England" ("torture" being a reference to the music that resulted from the project). The subsequent single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, although the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", was less successful, barely making the top 50.
The Queen Is Dead
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".
However, all was not well within the group. A legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. He later told NME, "'Worse for wear' wasn't the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit ... dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle." Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to his use of heroin. He allegedly received notice of his dismissal via a Post-it note stuck to the windscreen of his car. It read, "Andy – you have left The Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey." Morrissey himself, however, denies this.
Rourke was replaced on bass by Craig Gannon (formerly a member of Scottish new wave band Aztec Camera), but was reinstated two weeks later. Gannon stayed in the band, switching to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles "Panic" and "Ask" (the latter with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals) which reached numbers 11 and 14 respectively on the UK Singles Chart, and toured the UK. After the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon left the band, having played on six studio tracks and was thereafter regularly referred to as 'The Fifth Smith'.
The group had become frustrated with Rough Trade and sought a record deal with a major label. Marr told NME in early 1987, "Every single label came to see us. It was small-talk, bribes, the whole number. I really enjoyed it." The band ultimately signed with EMI, which drew criticism from their fanbase and from elements of the music press.
Strangeways, Here We Come and break-up
In early 1987 the single "Shoplifters of the World Unite" was released and reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. It was followed by a second compilation, The World Won't Listen – the title was Morrissey's comment on his frustration with the band's lack of mainstream recognition, although the album reached number two in the charts – and the single "Sheila Take a Bow", the band's second (and last during the band's lifetime) UK top-10 hit. Another compilation, Louder Than Bombs, was intended for the overseas market and covered much the same material as The World Won't Listen, with the addition of "Sheila Take a Bow" and material from Hatful of Hollow, as that compilation was yet to be released in the US
Despite their continued success, a variety of tensions emerged within the band to threaten their split. Johnny Marr was exhausted and took a break from the band in June 1987, which he felt was negatively perceived by the other Smiths. In July 1987, Marr left the group permanently because he thought an NME article entitled "Smiths to Split" was planted by Morrissey, when in fact it was not. That article, written by Danny Kelly, alleged that Morrissey disliked Marr working with other musicians, and that Marr and Morrissey's personal relationship had reached breaking point. Marr contacted NME to explain that he did not leave the band due to personal tensions but because he wanted wider musical scope.
Former Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry was brought in to replace Marr, and the band recorded some new material with him which was never completed, including an early version of "Bengali in Platforms" that was originally intended as the B-side of "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before". Perry was uncomfortable with the situation, stating "it was like they wanted another Johnny Marr", and the sessions ended with (according to Perry) "Morrissey running out of the studio". By the time the group's fourth album Strangeways, Here We Come was released in September, the band had split up.
The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey becoming annoyed by Marr's work with other artists and Marr growing frustrated by Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Marr particularly hated Morrissey's obsession with covering 1960s pop artists such as Twinkle and Cilla Black. Marr recalled in 1992, "That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs." In a 1989 interview, Morrissey cited the lack of a managerial figure and business problems as reasons for the band's split.
Strangeways, Here We Come peaked at number two in the UK and was their most successful album in the US, reaching number 55 on the Billboard 200. It received a lukewarm reception from critics, but both Morrissey and Marr name it as their favourite Smiths album. A couple of further singles from Strangeways were released with earlier live, session and demo tracks as B-sides, and the following year the live recording Rank (recorded in 1986 while Gannon was in the band) repeated the UK chart success of previous albums.
The Smiths were the subject of a South Bank Show documentary produced by LWT and broadcast by ITV on 18 October 1987, four months after their break-up and three weeks after the release of Strangeways.
Following the group's demise, Morrissey began work on a solo recording, collaborating with producer Stephen Street and fellow Mancunian Vini Reilly, guitarist for The Durutti Column. The resulting album, Viva Hate (a reference to the end of the Smiths), was released in March 1988, reaching number one in the UK charts. Morrissey continues to perform and record as a solo artist.
Johnny Marr returned to the music scene in 1989 with New Order's Bernard Sumner and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant in the supergroup Electronic. Electronic released three albums over the next decade. Marr was also a member of The The, recording two albums with the group between 1989 and 1993. He has worked as a session musician and writing collaborator with artists including The Pretenders, Bryan Ferry, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Black Grape, Talking Heads, Crowded House, and Beck.
In 2000 he started another band, Johnny Marr and the Healers, which enjoyed moderate success, and later worked as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry (2002). In 2006 he began work with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock on songs that eventually featured on the band's 2007 release, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Modest Mouse subsequently announced that Marr was a fully fledged member, and the reformed line-up toured extensively in 2006–07. Marr also recorded with Liam Gallagher of Oasis. In January 2008, it was reported that Marr had taken part in a week-long songwriting session at Moolah Rouge recording studio in Stockport with Wakefield indie group The Cribs. Marr's association with the band lasted three years and included an appearance on its fourth album, Ignore the Ignorant (2009). His departure from the group was announced in April 2011. He subsequently embarked on a solo career and recorded two solo albums, The Messenger (2013) and Playland (2014). In addition to his activities as a musician and songwriter, Marr produced Haven's debut album, Between the Senses (2002).
Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have continued working together. They toured with Sinéad O'Connor in the first half of 1988 (Rourke also appeared on her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got). Still in 1988, they were recruited (with Craig Gannon) to Adult Net, but left the band soon afterwards. In 1988 and 1989, they recorded singles with Morrissey. In 1998 they toured and recorded with Aziz Ibrahim (ex-The Stone Roses). In 2001 they formed Specter with Jason Specter and others. The band played in the United Kingdom and the United States, but did not prosper. Part of its 27 May 2001 show in New York can be seen at YouTube.
In the same year they recorded demos with Paul Arthurs (ex-Oasis), Aziz Ibrahim, and Rowetta Idah (ex-Happy Mondays) under the name Moondog One, but the project went no further. Towards the end of 2001, they played together in the veteran Manchester band Jeep. In 2005 they played with Vinny Peculiar, recording the single "Two Fat Lovers" (Joyce also appeared on the 2006 album The Fall and Rise of Vinny Peculiar). In 2007 they released the documentary DVD Inside the Smiths, a surprisingly affectionate memoir of their time with the band, notable for the absence of Marr, Morrissey, and their music.
Rourke and Joyce have also pursued their own projects. Joyce has recorded with Suede (1990); toured and recorded with Buzzcocks (1990–91); toured with Julian Cope (1992); toured with John Lydon and Public Image Ltd (1992); recorded with P.P. Arnold (1995); toured and recorded with Pete Wylie (ex-The Mighty Wah!) (1996–98); toured with Vinny Peculiar and Paul Arthurs (2007); and toured with Autokat (2008–09). Joyce presented the Alternative Therapy radio show on Revolution 96.2 FM until the station changed format in 2008, later reviving it on Manchester Radio Online and Tin Can Media. He now hosts The Coalition Chart Show on East Village Radio, which streams from New York, and works as a club DJ.
Rourke wrote the music for three Morrissey B-sides released in 1989 and 1990 ("Yes, I Am Blind", "Girl Least Likely To", and "Get Off the Stage"). He has played and recorded with Killing Joke (for three days in 1988); The Pretenders (featuring on Last of the Independents, 1994); Badly Drawn Boy (with whom he played for two years); Proud Mary (featuring on Love and Light, 2004); and Ian Brown (featuring on The World Is Yours, 2007). In 2007 he formed Freebass with fellow bassists Peter Hook (ex-New Order and Joy Division) and Mani (The Stone Roses and Primal Scream); he remained active in the group until 2010 and appears on its only album, It's A Beautiful Life (2010).
Rourke co-founded the Manchester v Cancer concert series, later known as Versus Cancer, to raise money for cancer research. Concerts took place in January 2006, March 2007, February 2008, and December 2009. He has since concentrated on his radio career, beginning with a Saturday-evening show on XFM Manchester. More recently he has been a regular on East Village Radio, where his colleagues include Mike Joyce. Rourke relocated to New York in early 2009. Soon after arriving there, he formed Jetlag – a "DJ and audio production outfit" – with Olé Koretsky. The pair DJ at venues around the city; a selection of their remixes can be heard at Soundcloud.
Morrissey and Marr each took 40 per cent of The Smiths' recording and performance royalties, allowing 10 per cent each to Joyce and Rourke. As Joyce's barrister would later argue in court, the bassist and drummer were treated as "mere session musicians, as readily replaceable as the parts in a lawnmower". In March 1989, Joyce and Rourke started legal proceedings against their former bandmates, arguing that they were equal partners in The Smiths and each entitled to a 25 per cent share of the band's profits on all activities other than songwriting and publishing. Rourke, who was in debt, settled almost immediately for a lump sum of £83,000 and 10 per cent of royalties, renouncing all further claims.
Joyce continued with the action, which eventually reached the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division) in December 1996. Morrissey and Marr had accepted the previous year that Joyce and Rourke were partners. "The only contentious issue was whether Mr Joyce was an equal partner entitled to ¼ of the profits arising out of the activities (other than songwriting or publishing) of 'The Smiths'." Joyce's barrister, Nigel Davis QC, asserted that "it was not until after the bestselling band split up in 1987 that his client discovered he was getting only 10 per cent of the profits". Davis continued: "Mr Joyce never agreed to ten per cent, he never assumed he was getting ten per cent. On the contrary he thought he was getting 25 per cent."
Morrissey and Marr – who were represented separately at the trial – insisted that the royalty split had been explained to Rourke and Joyce, even if they were no longer sure when. As Marr's counsel, Robert Englehart QC, explained, "Some 13 years on it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the moment when the 40:40:10:10 profit split came into being ... But Morrissey and Marr acted throughout on the basis that they would be getting 40 per cent each of the net profits from The Smiths earnings."
After a seven-day hearing, Judge Weeks found in favour of Joyce, ordering that he receive around £1 million in back-royalties and 25 per cent henceforth. The judge also volunteered character assessments of the four antagonists, which were highly favourable to Joyce and Rourke (who gave evidence in Joyce's support):
- He said of Mr. Joyce and Mr. Rourke that they had impressed him as straightforward and honest. He continued: "Mr. Morrissey is a more complicated character. He did not find giving evidence an easy or happy experience. To me at least he appeared devious, truculent and unreliable where his own interests were at stake." The Judge was also critical of Mr. Marr as seeming to the Judge to be "willing to embroider his evidence to a point where he became less credible." He concluded that where Mr. Morrissey's evidence differed from that of Mr. Joyce and Mr. Rourke, he preferred that of Mr. Joyce and Mr. Rourke.
The judge also ranked the band members by IQ, with Marr "probably the more intelligent of the four", Rourke and Joyce "unintellectual", and Morrissey presumably somewhere in between.
Morrissey offered a different interpretation in an interview eight months later:
- The court case was a potted history of the life of The Smiths. Mike, talking constantly and saying nothing. Andy, unable to remember his own name. Johnny, trying to please everyone and consequently pleasing no one. And Morrissey under the scorching spotlight in the dock being drilled. "How dare you be successful?" "How dare you move on?" To me, The Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it, and Mike has destroyed it.
Asked some time before the trial whether he thought Rourke and Joyce had been short-changed, Morrissey responded: "They were lucky. If they'd had another singer they'd never have got further than Salford shopping centre." Morrissey's counsel, Ian Mill QC, conceded that his client's attitude "betrayed a degree of arrogance". Morrissey appealed against the verdict; Marr did not. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) in November 1998 and dismissed. Inspired by Joyce's success, Rourke sought legal advice on his own options. No further action appears to have been taken since that time. Rourke was declared bankrupt in 1999.
In November 2005, Mike Joyce told Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music that financial hardship had reduced him to selling rare Smiths' recordings on eBay. By way of illustration, Riley played part of an unfinished instrumental known as the "Click Track" (or "Cowbell Track"). Morrissey responded with a statement three days later revealing that Joyce had received £215,000 each from Marr and Morrissey in 1997, along with Marr's final back-payment of £260,000 in 2001. Morrissey failed to make his final payment because, he said, he was overseas in 2001 and did not receive the paperwork. Joyce obtained a default judgement against Morrissey, revised his outstanding claim to £688,000, and secured orders garnishing much of the singer's income. This was a source of ongoing inconvenience and grievance to Morrissey, who estimated that Joyce had cost him at least £1,515,000 in recovered royalties and legal fees up to 30 November 2005.
Both Johnny Marr and Morrissey have repeatedly said that they will not reunite the band. In 2006, Morrissey declared, "I would rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that's saying something for a vegetarian." When asked why in another interview the same year, he responded, "I feel as if I've worked very hard since the demise of the Smiths and the others haven't, so why hand them attention that they haven't earned? We are not friends, we don't see each other. Why on earth would we be on a stage together?" In a February 2009 interview on BBC Radio 2, he said, "People always ask me about reunions and I can't imagine why ... the past seems like a distant place, and I'm pleased with that."
In November 2004, VH1 screened a Backstage Pass Special episode of Bands Reunited showing host Aamer Haleem trying and failing to corner Morrissey before a show at the Apollo Theater. In March 2006, Morrissey revealed that The Smiths had been offered $5 million for a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which he turned down, saying, "No, because money doesn't come into it." He further explained, "It was a fantastic journey. And then it ended. I didn't feel we should have ended. I wanted to continue. [Marr] wanted to end it. And that was that."
In August 2007, it was widely reported that Morrissey had that summer declined an offer of $75 million – nearly £40 million at the time – from a "consortium of promoters" to reunite with Marr for a fifty-date world tour under the Smiths' name in 2008 and 2009. NME gave Morrissey as its source for the story. Rolling Stone cited his publicist. The offer was also reported at true-to-you.net, an unofficial fan site tacitly supported by Morrissey. It was later described as a "hoax", although it is unclear who was hoaxing whom.
In October the same year, Marr reignited speculation when he hinted on BBC Radio 5 Live at a potential reunion in the future, saying that "stranger things have happened so, you know, who knows?" Marr went on to say that "It's no biggy. Maybe we will in 10 or 15 years' time when we all need to for whatever reasons, but right now Morrissey is doing his thing and I'm doing mine, so that's the answer really." This suggested a change of heart, given that Marr had previously said reforming the band would be a bad idea.
In October 2008, The Sun, citing "sources close to the band", reported that the Smiths would reform to play at the Coachella in 2009. Soon afterwards, NME scotched the story, also citing "sources close to the band", and quoting Johnny Marr's manager to the effect that it was "rubbish".
In June 2009, Marr told an interviewer on London's XFM, "I think we were offered 50 million dollars for three ... possibly five shows." He said that the chances of a reunion were "nothing to do with money", and that the reasons were "really abstract".
The closest Marr or Morrissey has come to any kind of reunion was in January 2006 when Johnny Marr and The Healers played at Andy Rourke's Manchester v Cancer benefit concert. There were suggestions leading up to the show that Morrissey might also be involved. Marr made it clear that this would not happen, but did perform "How Soon Is Now?" with Rourke. Marr and Rourke played the same music again at the Loolapalloza Brazil 2014 festival.
Since the band split, its members have sanctioned the release of a live album (Rank, 1988), four greatest-hits collections (Best ... I, 1992; ... Best II, 1992; Singles, 1995; and The Sound of The Smiths, 2008), one miscellaneous compilation (Stop Me, 1988), and two box-sets (The Smiths Singles Box, 2008; and Complete, 2011). There has also been an unsanctioned greatest-hits collection (The Very Best of The Smiths, 2001). This is in addition to the compilations released during the band's lifetime (Hatful of Hollow, 1984; The World Won't Listen, 1987; and Louder Than Bombs, 1987).
As critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine has pointed out, "Several months after releasing their first album, the Smiths issued the singles and rarities collection Hatful of Hollow, establishing a tradition of repackaging their material as many times and as quickly as possible." Erlewine elsewhere observes that, "the anti-record company "Paint a Vulgar Picture" – on Strangeways, Here We Come – "has grown increasingly ironic in the wake of the Smiths' and Morrissey's love of repackaging the same material in new compilations."
Morrissey and Johnny Marr dictated the musical direction of The Smiths. Marr said in 1990 that it "was a 50/50 thing between Morrissey and me. We were completely in sync about which way we should go for each record". The band's "non-rhythm-and-blues, whiter-than-white fusion of 1960s rock and postpunk was a repudiation of contemporary dance pop" – the style popular in the early 1980s. The band purposely rejected synthesisers and dance music. They sometimes used Sergei Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets as entrance music at live shows.
Marr's jangly guitar-playing was influenced by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Neil Young's work with Crazy Horse, George Harrison (with The Beatles) and James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders. Marr often tuned his guitar up a full step to F-sharp to accommodate Morrissey's vocal range, and also used open tunings. Citing producer Phil Spector as an influence, Marr said, "I like the idea of records, even those with plenty of space, that sound 'symphonic'. I like the idea of all the players merging into one atmosphere". Marr's other favourite guitarists are James Williamson of The Stooges, Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Morrissey's role was to create vocal melodies and lyrics. Morrissey's songwriting was influenced by punk rock and post-punk bands such as the New York Dolls, The Cramps, The Specials and The Cult, along with 1960s girl groups, and singers such as Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull, and Timi Yuro. Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour; John Peel remarked that The Smiths were one of the few bands capable of making him laugh out loud. Influenced by his childhood interest in the social realism of 1960s "kitchen sink" television plays, Morrissey wrote about ordinary people and their experiences with despair, rejection and death. While "songs such as 'Still Ill' sealed his role as spokesman for disaffected youth", Morrissey's "manic-depressive rants" and his "'woe-is-me' posture inspired some hostile critics to dismiss the Smiths as 'miserabilists.'"
A study has found that The Smiths employed the greatest vocabulary range of all bands to emerge from Manchester, using more than 1,100 different words in their first three albums.
The group's cover artwork had a distinctive visual style and often featured images of film and pop stars, usually in duotone. Design was by Morrissey and Rough Trade art coordinator Jo Slee. The covers of singles rarely featured any text other than the band name, and the band itself did not appear on the cover of any UK release. (Morrissey did, however, appear on an alternative cover for "What Difference Does It Make?", mimicking the pose of the original subject, British actor Terence Stamp, after the latter objected to his picture being used.) The choice of cover subjects reflected Morrissey's interest in cult film stars (Stamp, Alain Delon, Jean Marais, Warhol protégé Joe Dallesandro, James Dean); figures from sixties British popular culture (Viv Nicholson, Pat Phoenix, Yootha Joyce, Shelagh Delaney); and anonymous images from old films and magazines.
The Smiths dressed mainly in ordinary clothes – jeans and plain shirts – in keeping with the back-to-basics, guitar-and-drums style of the music. This contrasted with the exotic high-fashion image cultivated by New Romantic pop groups such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran and highlighted in magazines such as The Face and i-D. In 1986, when The Smiths performed on the British music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test, Morrissey wore a fake hearing-aid to support a hearing-impaired fan who was ashamed of using one, and also frequently wore thick-rimmed National Health Service-style glasses.
The Smiths have been widely influential. Marr's guitar playing "was a huge building block for more Manchester legends that followed The Smiths", including The Stone Roses, whose guitarist John Squire has said Marr was an influence. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher also cites The Smiths as an influence, especially Marr. Gallagher has said that "When The Jam split, The Smiths started, and I totally went for them." Singer Davey Havok of the band AFI cites The Smiths as an influence. The BBC described The Smiths as "the band that inspired deeper devotion than any British group since The Beatles".
Q magazine's Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that The Smiths were "the one truly vital voice of the '80s" and "the most influential British guitar group of the decade". He continued: "As the first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms (their second album proper, 1985's Meat Is Murder, made Number 1 in the UK), they elevated rock's standard four-piece formula to new heights of magic and poetry. Their legacy can be traced down through The Stone Roses, Oasis and The Libertines to today's crop of artful young guitar bands."
Uncut magazine's Simon Reynolds wrote of the band: "Once upon a time, a band from the North came with a sound so fresh and vigorous it took the nation by storm. The sound was rock, but crucially it was pop, too: concise, punchy, melodic, shiny without being "plastic". The singer was a true original, delivering a blend of sensitivity and strength, defiance and tenderness, via a regionally inflected voice. The young man's lips spilled forth words that were realistic without being dour, full of sly humour and beautifully observed detail. Most recognised their debut album as a landmark, an instant classic."
The "Britpop movement pre-empted by The Stone Roses and spearheaded by groups like Oasis, Suede and Blur, drew heavily from Morrissey's portrayal of and nostalgia for a bleak urban England of the past." Blur formed as a result of seeing The Smiths on The South Bank Show in 1987. Yet even while leading bands from the Britpop movement were influenced by The Smiths, they were at odds with the "basic anti-establishment philosophies of Morrissey and The Smiths", since Britpop "was an entirely commercial construct." Mark Simpson has suggested that "the whole point of Britpop was to airbrush Morrissey out of the picture ... Morrissey had to become an 'unperson' so that the Nineties and its centrally-planned and coordinated pop economy could happen."
Playwright Shaun Duggan's stage drama William, Alex Broun's one-man show Half a Person: My Life as Told by The Smiths, Douglas Coupland's 1998 novel Girlfriend in a Coma, Andrew Collins' autobiography Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, Marc Spitz's novel How Soon is Never?, the pop band Shakespears Sister, the defunct art-punk group Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the Polish filmmaker Przemysław Wojcieszek's short fictional film about two Polish fans of The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs, are all inspired by or named after songs or albums by The Smiths.
- Studio albums
- Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984 (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 392; and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "The Smiths: Biography", Allmusic. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
- Simon Goddard. "The Last Rites", Q. No. 250, May 2007.
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- The Smiths Uk Charts
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- "Interview With Stephen Street". HitQuarters. 27 September 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
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- Morrissey and Marr made the point in interviews with Melody Maker (1987), Select (1993), and Q (1994). See the Strangeways, Here We Come page at Passions Just Like Mine. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
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- "History", mikejoyce.com. Retrieved 10 January 2012. Joyce says he played with PiL in 1993, but it was the That What Is Not tour of 1992. See the Fodderstomp database. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
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- David Bret. Morrissey: Scandal and Passion (Robson 2004; ISBN 1-86105-787-3; covers both Smiths and Morrissey's solo career)
- Simon Goddard. The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life (Reynolds and Hearn 2002, 2004²; ISBN 1-903111-47-1, ISBN 1-905287-14-3)
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