The Smiths

2007 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 Flag of England Manchester, England
Genre(s) Alternative rock
Indie pop
Years active 1982– 1987
Label(s) Rough Trade
Morrissey (solo career)
Johnny Marr & The Healers, Modest Mouse
Morrissey ( vocals)
Johnny Marr (guitars)
Andy Rourke ( bass guitar)
Mike Joyce ( drums)
Former members
Dale Hibbert (bass guitar)
Craig Gannon (bass guitar, rhythm guitar)

The Smiths were an English rock group active from 1982 to 1987. The group was based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, and were signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records. Considered by some critics to be the most important alternative rock band to emerge from the British indie scene of the 1980s, the Smiths have had a major influence on subsequent alternative music, including the Britpop movement and bands such as The Stone Roses, Gene, Radiohead, Blur, Suede, Oasis, The Libertines, The Verve and Doves. At the time, the group was notable in particular for two things: Morrissey's unusual, witty, and controversial lyrics, and Marr's music, which helped return guitar-based music to popularity after it had fallen out of favour in the UK charts. The group released a total of four studio albums and several compilations in fewer than five years, as well as numerous singles.

Although not commercially successful outside the UK while they were still together, The Smiths won a growing following both at home and overseas in the closing years of the twentieth century, and they remain cult and commercial favourites to this day.


The group was formed in early 1982 by two Manchester residents. Morrissey (Steven Patrick Morrissey, though he does not use his forenames) was an unemployed writer who was a big fan of the New York Dolls and briefly fronted punk rock band The Nosebleeds. Johnny Marr (originally John Maher, he changed his name to avoid confusion with the Buzzcocks drummer) was already a very skillful guitarist with a talent for songwriting, and he provided the music for Morrissey's lyrics throughout the group's career. Mike Joyce was recruited as drummer after a short audition. He had previously played with the punk bands The Hoax and Victim. Dale Hibbert initially played bass, and provided demo recording facilities at the studio where he worked as a sound engineer. However, after two gigs, Marr's friend Andy Rourke replaced Hibbert. Marr and Rourke had previously worked together in The Paris Valentinos along with Kevin Kennedy, who later became a household name in Britain as Curly Watts in the television show Coronation Street.

The precise origin of the band's name is unknown, although they stated that it was a reaction against names they considered fancy and pompous such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Another theory regarding the origin of the band's name suggests that it was an ironic joke to give the band a quintessentially English name when all of the band members were of Irish descent. Somewhat contrarily, in a 1984 interview Morrissey stated, "I decided [to call ourselves "The Smiths"] because it was the most ordinary name, and I think it's time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces." . The band also considered the names "Smiths Family" and "Smithdom" before settling on "The Smiths".

Signing to indie label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, " Hand in Glove," on 13 May 1983. That record, like all of their later singles, was championed by DJ John Peel, but failed to chart. The follow-ups " This Charming Man" and " What Difference Does It Make?" fared better, however. Aided by much praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, The Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base—which, particularly in the case of Morrissey himself, continues to be something of a cult following. Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour (The Smiths were "one of the few bands capable of making me laugh out loud," said Peel) and his lovelorn tales of alienation found an audience amongst a disaffected section of youth culture, bored by the ubiquitous synthesizer bands that then dominated the charts. Morrissey wrote about ordinary things, social statements of life, and everything from despair, rejection, and death, to vegetarianism and the English music scene.

The group also had a very distinctive visual style. Album and single covers 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 any UK release. (Morrissey did, however, appear on an alternative cover for "What Difference Does It Make?", mimicking the pose of the original subject Terence Stamp, after the latter objected to his image being used.) The "cover stars" were an indication of Morrissey's personal interests — obscure or cult film stars (Stamp, Jean Marais, Joe Dallesandro, James Dean), figures from 1960s British culture ( Viv Nicholson, Pat Phoenix, Yootha Joyce, Shelagh Delaney), or pictures of unknown models taken from old film or magazine photos. In contrast to the 1980s obsession with exotic fashion, typified by new romantic artists such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, and highlighted in magazines such as The Face and i-D, the group dressed mainly in ordinary clothes — jeans and plain shirts — which reflected the "back to basics" style of the music. Morrissey occasionally affected props such as a (fake) hearing aid (supporting a female fan who was ashamed of using one; see Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance by Johnny Rogan for more detail), thick-rimmed NHS-style eyeglasses and most famously bunches of flowers (often stuffed casually into the back of his trousers).

The Smiths

By February 1984, The Smiths fanbase was sufficiently large to launch the band's long-awaited self-titled debut album to number two in the UK chart. Its mood was unremittingly bleak, exemplified by such track titles as "Still Ill" and " Suffer Little Children," the latter referring to the Moors Murders that had stunned not just Manchester but the whole of Britain in the 1960s.

Also evident were Morrissey's studied references to literature and popular culture icons. His frequent acknowledgment of his many idols ( Alain Delon, James Dean, and Oscar Wilde particularly) in interviews, along with more lyrical subtle reference (the song title "Pretty Girls Make Graves," for example, is taken from Jack Kerouac) encouraged a literary bent amongst fans, who already had a tendency towards bookishness. 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. In spite of the uproar, the song is in fact entirely sympathetic to the children's plight and led to Morrissey establishing a friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, who is mentioned by name in the song.

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.

1984 also saw the release of a couple of singles which were not taken from the album: " Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (the band's first top ten hit; the title parodies Sandie Shaw's '60s hit "Heaven Knows I'm Missing Him Now"), and "William, It Was Really Nothing" (popularly believed to have been written by Morrissey about his friend Billy Mackenzie, lead singer of The Associates, and which featured one of The Smiths' most well-known songs, " How Soon Is Now?," as a B-side). The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This album collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs which 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 superior to those released on singles and 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 vegetarian proselytizing of the 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." Musically, also, the band had grown more adventurous, 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.

As well as the album being more political than its predecessor, Morrissey brought a political stance to many of his interviews, courting further controversy. Among his targets were the Thatcher administration, the Monarchy, and 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."

The subsequent single "Shakespeare's Sister" (not taken from the album) was not a great success in chart terms, nor was the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore." Many considered this an odd choice for a single, with its backwards guitar and lack of any consistent hook. The charts reflected this, with it barely cracking the top 50. September 1985's "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side," however, was an indication of bigger things to come.

The Queen Is Dead

During 1985 the band completed exhausting 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." A typical mixture of the mordantly bleak (e.g. "Never Had No One Ever," which seemed to play up to stereotypes of the band), the dry humour of (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 a number of songs that synthesised both of these sides (such as " There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "Cemetry Gates"), the record reached number two in the UK chart, and is now generally thought of as their best work. 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 the NME and Melody Maker. In June 2006, the NME even 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 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 ongoing problems with heroin. He received notice of his dismissal via a Post-it note stuck to his car windscreen. It read, "Andy - you have left The Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey." Rourke was temporarily replaced on bass by Craig Gannon, but was reinstated after only a fortnight. Gannon was retained and switched to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles " Panic" and " Ask" (with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals), and toured the United Kingdom; after the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon was fired.

Strangeways, Here We Come

1987 started off well for the band. The single " Shoplifters of the World Unite" (one of Morrissey's favourite Smiths songs) was released early in the year to chart success—as well as mild controversy and concern from parents over whether the song encouraged children to thieve. This 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 ironically 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 States.

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, it was announced that Marr had left the group. Auditions to find a replacement for Marr — with Roddy Frame supposedly being lined up to join the band at one point — proved fruitless, and by the time Strangeways, Here We Come (named after Strangeways Prison, Manchester) was released in September, the band had ceased to exist. The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey becoming annoyed with Marr's work with other artists, and Marr growing frustrated by Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Marr in particular 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."

Strangeways peaked at number two in the UK but was only a minor US hit. The track "Paint a Vulgar Picture" proved somewhat prophetic in foretelling how the group's songs would be "reissued and repackaged" in seemingly innumerable compilations. The infamous 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 immediately began work on a solo effort, 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. Marr has also worked as a session musician and writing collaborator for artists including The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Black Grape, and Beck. In 2000 he started another band, Johnny Marr and the Healers, with a moderate degree of success, and would later work as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry. In addition to his work as a recording artist, Marr has worked as a record producer. In 2006 Marr began work with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock(2007) on songs that would eventually feature 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 music with Liam Gallagher of Oasis.

Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have continued working together, including doing session work for Morrissey (1988–1989) and Sinéad O'Connor, as well as working apart. Rourke has recorded and toured with Proud Mary and is currently forming a supergroup with fellow bassists Peter Hook (of New Order and Joy Division) and Mani (of The Stone Roses and Primal Scream), called Freebass. He has recently started a radio career, hosting a show on Saturday evenings on XFM Manchester.

Unfinished business

The Smiths were reunited in court in 1996 to settle a royalties claim by Joyce against Morrissey and Marr, who had claimed the lion's share of the Smiths recording and performance royalties and allowed only 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 £1m in back pay and receive twenty-five percent henceforth. As Smiths royalties had been frozen for two years, being under financial pressure Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off debts, and continued to receive ten percent. Morrissey was described by the judge as "devious, truculent and unreliable." The singer later said, "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." . 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 .

Things heated up once more in late November of 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 revealed that Joyce had misled the Courts by not declaring that, amongst others, Rourke was entitled to assets seized by his lawyers from Morrissey. Rourke, it stated, had been deprived of royalty payments from Morrissey as they had already been covertly seized by Joyce who was obligated to declare that others (Rourke, Lillywhite, and Street) had an interest in funds he wished to seize.

The future of The Smiths

As a result of the court case, a Smiths reunion seemed like it would almost certainly never happen, despite the apparent thawing of relations between Marr and Morrissey in recent years. Both Johnny Marr and Morrissey have repeatedly said in interviews that there is no way a reformation will ever take place. In 2005, VH1 attempted to get the band back together for a reunion on its Bands Reunited show. The show abandoned its attempt after its 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?".

Morrissey refuses to reunite with his old band members, 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 were offered five million dollars 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?”


Studio albums

Compilations and live albums

UK singles (with chart positions)


  • "This Charming Man" (1992 re-issue [1983] #8)
  • "How Soon Is Now?" (1992 re-issue [1984] #16)
  • "Ask" (1995 re-issue [1986] #62)
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