The Smiths formed in 1982 fronted by their lead vocalist Morrissey, who before the formation of the Smiths fronted a project named The Nosebleeds for a short period of time. The rest of the Smiths lineup consisted of drummer Mike Joyce, guitarist Johnny Marr, and bassist Andy Rourke. With this lineup The Smiths went on to compose four studio albums in addition to many singles, and The Smiths became a surprise success story. Morrissey describes himself at this stage of his life by saying:
I never had a social life, I never left the house, I just simply sat in and read and watched television, and done all the things that in life are generally considered to be quite negative and quite soul-destroying. The only way that I could find any mental realisation was to simply go out and walk, and to walk around these streets. Which can seem quite depressing to most people and seem quite laughable simplistic. But for me it was perfect fuel, because then I would go home and I would write furiously. And I found that for me it was brilliant, it was the thing that helped, but also you have to have a grain of hope which is a very difficult thing to have.” (source)
That hope gave rise to the fame which The Smiths would later go on to achieve, first releasing a few singles before going on to release their albums with the first of which being “Hand in Glove” which received a fair amount of praise upon its release.
The Smiths released their first album titled The Smiths in 1984, and backlash followed the release due to several songs touching upon the subject of the Moor murders. The Moor murders took place over a few years and ended with five children being murdered, and when one of the victim’s grandfather happened to hear one of these tracks chaos ensued. However, once the grandfather was able to meet Morrissey the conflict was able to be smoothed over fortunately.
“Over the moor, take me to the moor/ Dig a shallow grave / And I’ll lay me down / Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads / Oh John, you’ll never be a man/ And you’ll never see your home again/ Oh Manchester, so much to answer for/ Edward, see those alluring lights?/ Tonight will be your very last night”- The Smiths- “Suffer Little Children”
In the following year of 1985, The Smiths went on to release their second album titled Meat is Murder. The opening lines of the first track “The Headmaster Ritual” sparked controversy once again for The Smiths as Morrissey sings “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools”. In an interview after the album was released Morrissey discussed his problems with Manchester education by saying, “they’re there to be attacked really if they’re not really serving their pupils well” (source). The first track was just the beginning of the controversies which would become presented in the album as The Smiths used Meat is Murder in many ways to spread their political and social messages to the public. For instance, Morrissey, an animal activist and vegetarian, proudly declares “And the calf that you carve with a smile/ Is MURDER/ And the turkey you festively slice/ Is MURDER” on the album’s title track. The album also went on to challenge the English monarchy, and this topic along with animal rights activism are still major issues which Morrissey remains very opinionated on
1986 would prove to be a big year for The Smiths as they had another new album out, The Queen is Dead, and a change in members. Rourke left The Smiths due to drug use and was replaced by Craig Gannon, however this would prove to be a temporary change as Rourke soon rejoined The Smiths and Gannon would switch to guitar, and the group had also changed record labels from Rough Trade to EMI. The Smiths didn’t switch labels before leaving Rough Trade with a clear message however, as they sang “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held / It pays my way, and it corrodes my soul/ I want to leave, you will not miss me / I want to go down in musical history” on their track “Frankly, Mr. Shankly”. The Smiths included a few tracks within The Queen is Dead which slandered their old label, and the new album peaked at number two on the UK albums chart.
Unfortunately though it appeared that the end of The Smiths was coming, as in 1987 The Smiths continued to release singles including “The World Won’t Listen” which showed that Morrissey was growing listless at the rest of the world’s indifference to The Smiths’ messages. Morrissey and Marr had an ongoing riff about clashing musical styles which lead Marr to leave The Smiths and attempts to replace Marr proved unsuccessful, meaning that The Smiths were essentially over. Strangeways, Here We Come was released the September after the band had gone their separate ways, and the album peaked at number fifty five on the US chart and number two on the UK albums chart before going platinum in the UK.
The Smiths music remains popular, and despite rumors there has been no reunion yet and it’s unlikely that there will be one in the near future. They’ve left their influence on the music scene undoubtedly though and are one of the most played artists in the history WCDB.
Written by Alexis Towler