Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the English rock band, for other uses of "Smith or "Smiths", see Smith
Core line-up (1982–1987)
- Morrissey – vocals, piano
- Johnny Marr – guitars, keyboards, mandolin, bass guitar, harmonica
- Andy Rourke – bass guitar, cello
- Mike Joyce – drums, backing vocals
The group was formed in early 1982 by Manchester residents Morrissey (b. Steven Patrick Morrissey May 22, 1959) and Johnny Marr (b. John Martin Maher, October 31 1963). The pair began to write songs based around Marr's guitar playing and lyrics by Morrissey, an occasional and none-too-successful music journalist. When they formed the band, Morrissey dropped his first name and Maher changed his surname to Marr to avoid confusion with the Buzzcocks drummer of the same name.
Mike Joyce was recruited as drummer after a short audition; the sound engineer of the studio where they recorded their first demos, Dale Hibbert , played bass. Hibbert was replaced after two gigs, however, by Andy Rourke, a friend of Marr's. Signing to Rough Trade Records, they released their first single "Hand in Glove" on 13 May 1983. The record, like many 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 and, aided by much praise from the music press, began to pick up a fanatical following. Morrissey's lyrics, superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour ("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 new romantic bands that dominated the charts.
By February 1984 this fanbase was sufficiently large to launch the band's long-awaited, self-titled debut album to No. 2 in the UK chart. Despite its strong chart performance, The Smiths lacked some of the pop energy of the earlier singles, and suffered from being a little one-paced. Its mood was also unremittingly bleak, exemplified by such track titles as "Still Ill" and "Suffer Little Children"; the latter referring to the Moors Murders that had stunned Manchester in the 1960s. Also evident was Morrissey's studied references to literature and popular culture icons. His frequent acknowledgement of his many idols (James Dean and Oscar Wilde particularly) in interviews, along with some more subtle reference (the song-title "Pretty Girls Make Graves", for example, is taken from Hubert Selby) encouraged a literary bent amongst fans, who already had a tendency towards bookishness. "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" caused some controversy over its content, supposedly suggestive of pedophilia.
With their profile further raised by a hit version of "Hand in Glove" by Sandie Shaw (another Morrissey idol), who was supported by the band, barefoot, on the Top of the Pops show, and a critically feted album of session material (Hatful of Hollow, released in November 1984) the band returned to the studio to record their sophomore effort, Meat Is Murder. This album was more strident and political than its predecessor, including the vegetarian proselytising of the title track and the light-hearted republicanism of "Nowhere Fast". Musically, the band were more adventurous, with Marr adding rockabilly riffs to "Rusholme Ruffians" and playing funk on "Barbarism Begins at Home".1985 and 1986 the band completed exhausting tours of the UK and the US while recording the next studio record, The Queen Is Dead, released in June 1986. A typical mixture of the mordantly bleak ("Never Had No-one Ever", which seemed to play up to stereotypes of the band), the dryly humorous ("Frankly, Mr Shankly") and a number of songs that synthesised both of these sides ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "Cemetry Gates") the record reached No. 2 in the UK chart, and is now usually thought of as their best work. Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to ongoing problems with heroin. He was temporarily replaced on bass by Craig Gannon but reinstated after a fortnight. Gannon was retained and switched to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles Panic and Ask and toured the United Kingdom; after the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon was fired.
By 1987 personal differences within the band, and the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr, saw them on the verge of splitting and by the time that year's Strangeways, Here We Come (named after a Manchester prison) was released, the band had ceased to exist. It too peaked at No. 2 in the UK and was only a minor US hit, although the track "Paint a Vulgar Picture" proved somewhat prophetic in foretelling how the songs would be "reissued and repackaged" in seemingly innumerable compilations.
Though not an international commercial success at the time (only two singles "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "Sheila Take a Bow" made No. 10 in the UK chart, none charted in the US), The Smiths generated a growing cult following throughout the last two decades of the twentieth century. They received increased acknowledgement in the 1990s and the re-released "This Charming Man" reached No. 8. The band released a total of four studio albums and at least as many compilations in less than five years, as well as numerous singles. In 2002, they were voted 'most inspirational band' by NME magazine.
The band finally split due to a breakdown in the relationship between Morrissey and Marr with Morrissey becoming annoyed at Marr's work with other artists, and Marr becoming frustrated by Morrissey's musical inflexibility.
The Smiths were reunited in court in 1996 to settle a royalties claim by Joyce against Morrissey and Marr, who claimed the lion's share of the Smiths earnings from recordings and delegated only 10 percent each to Joyce and Rourke. The court found in favor of Joyce, and ordered that he be paid over £1m in back pay and receive 25% henceforth. Rourke had long since settled for a smaller sum to pay off debts and continues to receive 10%. Music journalists have speculated that the chance of The Smiths reforming is extremely low, as the damage in their relationship was so severe.
UK Singles (with chart positions)
- "Hand in Glove" (1983: 124)
- "This Charming Man" (1983: 25)
- "What Difference Does It Make?" (1984: 12)
- "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (1984: 10)
- "William, It Was Really Nothing" (1984: 17)
- "How Soon Is Now?" (1985: 24)
- "Shakespeare's Sister" (1985: 26)
- "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" (1985: 49)
- "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" (1985: 23)
- "Bigmouth Strikes Again" (1986: 26)
- "Panic" (1986: 11)
- "Ask" (1986: 14)
- "Shoplifters of the World Unite" (1987: 12)
- "Sheila Take a Bow" (1987: 10)
- "Girlfriend in a Coma" (1987: 13)
- "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" (1987: 23)
- "Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me" (1987: 30)
- "This Charming Man" (1992 re-issue : 8)
- "How Soon Is Now?" (1992 re-issue : 16)
- "There Is a Light that Never Goes Out" (1992 : 25)
- "Ask" (1995 re-issue : 62)
- The Smiths (1984: UK – 2; US – 150)
- Hatful of Hollow (compilation, 1984: UK – 7)
- Meat Is Murder (1985: UK – 1; US – 110)
- The Queen Is Dead (1986: UK – 2; US – 71)
- The World Won't Listen (compilation, 1987: UK – 2)
- Louder Than Bombs (compilation, 1987: UK – 38; US – 62)
- Strangeways, Here We Come (1987: UK – 2; US – 55)
- Rank (live, 1988 : UK – 2; US – 77)
- Best...I (compilation, 1992: UK – 1; US – 139)
- ...Best II (compilation, 1992: UK – 29)
- Singles (compilation, 1995: UK – 5)
- The Very Best of The Smiths (compilation, 2001: UK – 31)
- 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)
- Mick Middles . The Smiths: The Complete Story (Omnibus 1985, 1988²)
- Johnny Rogan . Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance (Omnibus 1992, 1993²; ISBN 0-7119-3000-7)
- The Smiths Tribute Site
- It May All End Tomorrow (lyrics, FAQs, interviews, etc.)
- Passions Just Like Mine, featuring complete Smiths and Morrissey discographies
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