The Smiths

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

The Smiths
Left to right: Andy Rourke, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce.
Left to right: Andy Rourke, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce.
Background information
Origin Manchester, England
Genre(s) Alternative rock
Indie pop
Years active 1982–1987
Label(s) Rough Trade
Warner Bros. Records
Associated acts Electronic
Modest Mouse
Johnny Marr
Andy Rourke
Mike Joyce
Former members
Dale Hibbert
Craig Gannon

The Smiths were an English rock band active from 1982 to 1987, based on the songwriting partnership of singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. Critics have called them one of the most important alternative rock bands to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s, and the group has had major influence on subsequent artists. Morrissey's lovelorn tales of alienation found an audience amongst youth culture bored by the ubiquitous synthesizer-pop bands of the early 1980s, while Marr's complex melodies helped return guitar-based music to popularity.

The group were signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, for whom they released four studio albums and several compilations, as well as numerous non-LP singles. Although they had limited commercial success outside the UK while they were still together, and never released a single that charted higher than number 10 in their home country, The Smiths won a growing following, and they remain cult and commercial favourites.


Early history

The Smiths were formed in early 1982 by two Manchester residents: an unemployed writer named Steven Patrick Morrissey (he had not yet abandoned his first names) who was a big fan of the New York Dolls and briefly fronted punk rock band The Nosebleeds, and Johnny Marr, a guitarist and songwriter. Originally named John Maher, Marr changed his name to avoid confusion with the Buzzcocks drummer. Marr's jangly Rickenbacker guitar playing became synonymous with The Smiths' sound. After recording several demo tapes with the drummer from The Fall, Simon Wolstencroft. they recruited drummer Mike Joyce in the autumn of 1982. Joyce had formerly been a member of punk bands The Hoax and Victim. As well, they added bass player Dale Hibbert, who also provided the group with demo recording facilities at the studio where he worked as a factotum. However, after two gigs, Marr's friend Andy Rourke replaced Hibbert on bass, because neither Hibbert's bass playing or personality fit in with the group. Marr and Rourke had previously worked together in The Paris Valentinos along with actor Kevin Kennedy.

Encyclopedia Britannica comments that the band's "non-rhythm-and-blues, whiter-than-white fusion of 1960s rock and postpunk was a repudiation of contemporary dance pop" which was popular in the early 1980s. The band also picked their name in part as a reaction against names used by popular Synthpop bands of the early 1980s, such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Spandau Ballet, because they considered these names fancy and pompous.In a 1984 interview Morrissey stated that he chose the name 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", on 13 May 1983. 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. Aided by praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for John Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, The Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base. Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour; 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 working-class social realism of 1960s "kitchen sink" television plays, Morrissey wrote about ordinary people and their experiences with despair, rejection and death. While gloomy "...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.'"

The group also had a distinctive visual style on their album and single covers, which often featured colourful images of film and pop stars, usually in duotone, designed by Morrissey and Rough Trade art coordinator Jo Slee. Single covers rarely featured any text other than the band name, and the band themselves did not appear on the outer cover of their UK releases. (Morrissey did, however, appear on an alternative cover for "What Difference Does It Make?", mimicking the pose of the original subject, UK film actor Terence Stamp, after the latter objected to his image being used.) The "cover stars" were an indication of Morrissey's personal interests in obscure or cult film stars, featuring Stamp, Jean Marais, Warhol protégé Joe Dallesandro, James Dean), figures from 1960s British culture ( Viv Nicholson, Pat Phoenix, Yootha Joyce, Shelagh Delaney), or images of unknown models taken from old films or magazines.

The Smiths dressed mainly in ordinary clothes – jeans and plain shirts – which reflected 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. Morrissey once wore a fake hearing aid to support a hearing-impaired female fan who was ashamed of using one, and thick-rimmed National Health Service-style eyeglasses.

The Smiths

By February 1984, The Smiths' fanbase was sufficiently large to launch the band's eponymous debut album to number two in the UK chart. Its mood was generally bleak, exemplified by such track titles as " Still Ill" and " Suffer Little Children", the latter referring to the Moors Murders in the 1960s, although there was a sprinkling of humour in several songs. Also evident were Morrissey's references to literature and popular culture icons. He acknowledged his many idols ( Alain Delon, James Dean and Oscar Wilde, particularly) in interviews and in lyrical references (the song title "Pretty Girls Make Graves", for example, is taken from Jack Kerouac). The album cover and promotional poster for the album featured an image of Joe Dallessandro taken from the Andy Warhol film  Flesh. Both " Reel Around the Fountain" and " The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" met with controversy, supposedly being suggestive of paedophilia. In addition, "Suffer Little Children" caused an uproar after the grandfather of one of the murdered children heard it on a pub jukebox, and at first thought that the band was trying to commercialise the murders. After meeting with Morrissey, he realised 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 released debut album followed a scrapped full-length version of the album recorded between July and August 1983 by producer Troy Tate. This collection, with its numerous variations from the final released version, is known as the "Troy Tate Sessions" and is a rarity. The planned single, "Jeane," was retained as a B-side for the "This Charming Man" single. Shortly after the release of the album, Morrissey idol Sandie Shaw recorded "Hand in Glove" backed by Marr, Rourke and Joyce. The hit single resulted in the band performing barefoot (a Sandie Shaw trademark) on Top of the Pops.

In 1984, the band released several singles not taken from the album: " Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (the band's first top-ten hit; the title parodies Sandie Shaw's 1960s hit "Heaven Knows I'm Missing Him Now") and " William, It Was Really Nothing" (which featured " How Soon Is Now?" as a B-side). 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. The radio session versions were felt by many (including the band) to be better than those released as singles and on the debut album.

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 adventurous 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.

Morrissey brought a political stance to many of his interviews, courting further controversy. Among his targets were the Thatcher government, the monarchy and the famine relief project Band Aid. Morrissey famously quipped of the latter, "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England." The subsequent single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" was not a chart success, nor was the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", which barely cracked the top 50.

The Queen Is Dead

During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording the 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 record reached number two in the UK charts, using 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 (e.g. " There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and " Cemetry Gates"). In 1989 Spin magazine rated The Queen Is Dead as number one of "The Greatest Albums Ever Made". Subsequent "Greatest Albums" lists by numerous music publications have placed the album at the top or within the top ten, including those of NME and Melody Maker. In June 2006, NME dedicated an entire issue to the twentieth anniversary of the record's release.

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 received notice of his dismissal via a Post-it note stuck to the windshield of his car. It read, "Andy – you have left The Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey." Rourke was temporarily replaced on bass by Craig Gannon (formerly a member of Scottish New Wave band Aztec Camera), but he was reinstated after only a fortnight. Gannon stayed in the band, switching to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles " Panic" and " Ask" (with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals), and toured the UK. After the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon left the band.

Strangeways, Here We Come

In early 1987 the single " Shoplifters of the World Unite" was released to chart success, as well as mild controversy and concern from parents. 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 U.S.

Despite their continued success, personal differences within the band – including the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr – saw them on the verge of splitting. In August 1987, Marr left the group, and auditions to find a replacement for him proved fruitless. By the time Strangeways, Here We Come (named after Strangeways Prison, Manchester) 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. Referring to the songs recorded in the band's last session together (B-sides for the "Girlfriend in a Coma" single, which preceded the album's release), Marr said "I wrote ' I Keep Mine Hidden', but 'Work Is a Four-Letter Word' I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs." In a 1989 interview, Morrissey said that the lack of a managerial figure and business problems were to blame for the band's eventual split.

Strangeways peaked at number two in the UK but was only a minor US hit, although it was more successful there than the band's previous albums. The track "Paint a Vulgar Picture" foretold how the group's songs would be "reissued and repackaged" in seemingly innumerable compilations. The 30-second video for " Girlfriend in a Coma" garnered video rotation on MTV in America. The album received a lukewarm reception from critics, but all four members name it as their favourite Smiths album. A couple of further singles from the album were released with earlier live, session and demo tracks as B-sides, and the following year the live album Rank (recorded in 1986 while Gannon was in the band) repeated the UK chart success of previous albums.

Post-Smiths careers

Following the group's demise, Morrissey began work on a solo recording, collaborating with Strangeways 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 six months later, 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 also worked as a session musician and writing collaborator for artists including The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Black Grape, Talking Heads and Beck. In 2000 he started another band, Johnny Marr and the Healers, with a moderate degree of success, and later worked as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry.

He performed two Smiths songs and music by others with a supergroup consisting of members from Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Split Enz and others, assembled by Neil Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House in 2001. In addition to his work as a recording artist, Marr has worked as a record producer on Haven's debut album Between the senses. 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. The band subsequently announced that Marr was a fully fledged member, and the reformed line-up toured extensively throughout 2006-07. Marr has also been recording with Liam Gallagher of Oasis. In January 2008, Marr had reportedly been adding his skill and experience to a secret songwriting session with Wakefield indie group The Cribs. Sources reveal that they worked together for a week at Moolah Rouge recording studio in Stockport - a favourite haunt of Bolton's Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough and fellow northern indie heroes I Am Kloot - and have penned a number of new songs. He also played at the Glasgow Barrowlands, Manchester Academy, Oxford Academy, Bristol Carling Academy, Leeds University, Cardiff University and Brixton Carling Academy with The Cribs on the NME Awards Tour. On 23 February 2008 XFM reported that Marr was to become a full member of The Cribs. On 28 February 2008 he also played onstage with The Cribs at NME Big Gig at the O2.

Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have continued working together, including doing session work for Morrissey (1988–89) and Sinéad O'Connor, as well as working separately. Rourke has recorded and toured with Proud Mary and is currently forming a group called Freebass with fellow bassists Peter Hook (of New Order and Joy Division) and Mani (of The Stone Roses and Primal Scream). He has recently started a radio career, hosting a show on Saturday evenings on XFM Manchester.

Court case

In 1996, Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, claiming that he had not received his fair share of recording and performance royalties. Morrissey and Marr had claimed the lion's share of The Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten percent each to Joyce and Rourke. Composition royalties were not an issue, as Rourke and Joyce had never been credited as composers for the band. Morrissey and Marr claimed that the other two members of the band had always agreed to that split of the royalties, but the court found in favour of Joyce and ordered that he be paid over £1 million in back pay and receive twenty-five percent henceforth. As Smiths' royalties had been frozen for two years, Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off his debts and continued to receive ten percent. While the judge in the case described Morrissey as "devious, truculent and unreliable", he did not state that the singer had been dishonest.

The singer later said that 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." Morrissey claimed that he was "...under the scorching spotlight in the dock, being drilled..." with questions such as " 'How dare you be successful?' 'How dare you move on?'". He stated that "The Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny [Marr ] left it, and Mike [Joyce] has destroyed it." Morrissey's 1997 solo album Maladjusted included a song titled "Sorrow Will Come in the End" which commented on the case, and which was omitted from the UK version of the album due to fear of libel action. Morrissey (but not Marr) appealed against the verdict, but was not successful.

In late November 2005, while appearing on radio station BBC 6 Music, Mike Joyce claimed to be having financial problems and said that he had resorted to selling rare band recordings on eBay. As a teaser, a few minutes of an unfinished instrumental track known as "The Click Track" was premiered on the show. Morrissey hit back at Joyce with a public statement shortly after, on the website Relations between Joyce and Rourke cooled significantly as a result of Morrissey's statement which claimed that Joyce had misled the courts. Morrissey claimed that Joyce had not declared that Rourke was entitled to some of the assets seized by Joyce's lawyers from Morrissey. Joyce who was obliged to declare that others (Rourke, Lillywhite, and Street) had an interest in funds he wished to seize.


Both Johnny Marr and Morrissey have repeatedly said in interviews that they will not reunite the band. In 2005, VH1 attempted to get the band back together for a reunion on its Bands Reunited show. The programme abandoned its attempt after host Aamer Haleem was unsuccessful in his attempt to corner Morrissey before a show. In December 2005 it was announced that Johnny Marr and The Healers would play at Manchester v Cancer, a benefit show for cancer research being organised by Andy Rourke and his production company, Great Northern Productions. Rumours suggested that a Smiths reunion would occur at this concert but were dispelled by Johnny Marr on his website. What did eventuate was Rourke joining Marr onstage for the first time since The Smiths broke up, performing "How Soon Is Now?".

To this day Morrissey refuses to reunite his old band, going as far as to say that he would "rather eat [his] own testicles than re-form The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian." In March 2006, Morrissey revealed that The Smiths had been offered $5 million to reunite 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." When asked why he would not reform with The Smiths, Morrissey 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 August 2007, the NME reported that Morrissey had turned down a near £40 million offer to reunite with Marr for a 50-date world tour in 2008 and 2009. The condition would only be that Morrissey would have to play the dates with Marr, meaning the deal could have gone ahead without Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke. According to an anonymous press release on, an unofficial fan site tacitly supported by Morrissey, Morrissey was approached in summer 2007 by a "consortium of promoters" with a $75 million offer to tour during the next two years. The offer required Morrissey to make a minimum of fifty worldwide performances with Johnny Marr, under the Smiths' name. reported that the offer had been refused. Other reports say that the whole $75 million tour was a hoax.

In an October 2007 interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, Johnny Marr hinted at a potential reformation 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 is the first potential indication of a Smiths reunion from Marr, who previously has stated that reforming the band would be a bad idea.


The Smiths have influenced a number of alternative rock bands. Even as early as 1985, the "band had spawned a rash of soundalike bands, including James, who opened for the group on their spring 1985 tour". The Cranberries combined "the melodic jangle of post-Smiths indie-guitar pop with the lilting, trance-inducing sonic textures of late-'80s dream pop, creating their sound with "trebly, chiming guitars and spare, certain melodies". As well, the band used Stephen Street as producer, who was known for "maximizing the moodiness of the Smiths". The Cranberries fused this sound with lyrics that echoed the lovesick, literary style of Morrissey. "The Smiths singer's bookish, fiercely intelligent lyrics also provided a blueprint for the quiet, literate Scottish band Belle & Sebastian." Marr's guitar playing "was a huge building block for more Manchester legends that followed The Smiths - The Stone Roses"; their guitarist John Squire has stated that Marr was a major influence. Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher has called The Smiths an influence, especially Marr; Gallagher stated that "when The Jam split, The Smiths started, and I totally went for them."

Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien has acknowledged that he idolized The Smiths in the 1980s; the band pays homage to The Smiths in their song " Knives Out". After O'Brien played with Johnny Marr in New Zealand in 2001, he acknowledged that Marr was the reason he had picked up a guitar as a teenager. Music reviewer Piero Scaruffi argues that later Radiohead albums turned away from their Smiths'-influenced sound, "virtually hiding the guitars, replacing their emotional content with a barrage of semi-mechanical loops, warped instruments and noises."

Las Vegas band The Killers"...joined the post-millennium resurgence of post-punk and New Wave sound that was built by the likes of similar bands such as Interpol, The Rapture and The Strokes. The Killers were influenced by "bands like The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure and other 80s staples." Music critics have noted the strong British influences such as The Cure, The Smiths and The Clash in the band's sound, even quipping that they "sound more cockney than cowboy."

The "Britpop movement preempted 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." Britpop band Blur "formed as a result of seeing The Smiths on British television's South Bank Show in 1987. However, even though leading bands from the Britpop movement claimed to be influenced by The Smiths, the Britpop bands were at odds with the "basic anti-establishment philosophies of Morrissey and The Smiths", since Britpop "was an entirely commercial construct." In the book Saint Morrissey, the author claims that Britpop "airbrush[ed] Morrissey out of the that the Nineties and its centrally-planned and coordinated pop economy could happen." Other bands influenced by The Smiths include Suede, My Chemical Romance, Placebo, The Libertines, The Sundays, Throwing Muses, The Organ, Smoking Popes, Brand New, The Verve, Muse, The Lucksmiths, Gene and Doves.

Journalist Chloe Veltman argues that "the fanatical adoration surrounding Morrissey today is founded on nostalgia, specifically a yearning for the Morrissey of the 1980s – the superstar-outsider frontman of The Smiths." She argues that The "Smiths have had a much more profound influence on subsequent culture than Morrissey has had on his own over the entire 17 year history of his solo career." She also points out that the "extensive catalogue of pop bands, plays, novels, films and other cultural artifacts that have been influenced by Morrissey's ideas and aesthetics draw their inspiration from The Smiths rather than Morrissey solo."


  • The Smiths (1984)
  • Meat Is Murder (1985)
  • The Queen Is Dead (1986)
  • Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
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