So, I broke into the palace With a sponge and a rusty spanner She said: "Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing" I said: "That's nothing - you should hear me play piano."
—The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead"
The Smiths were a Manchester-based alternative rock band that formed in 1982 and broke up in 1987. Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey (vocals) and Johnny Marr (guitar), the band also included Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). Their sound was largely defined by the combination of Morrissey's witty, Deadpan Snarker lyrics and Campy, Melodramatic vocals, Marr's jangly, catchy pop-rock melodies (drawing a lot from The Beatles, Power Pop and classic rock) and the steady support of the Rourke-Joyce rhythm section, but they've branched out beyond pop-rock and experimented over the course of their career.Widely regarded as one of the most important bands to emerge from the British indie music scene of The Eighties, the Smiths had a major influence on other artists, including Radiohead, The Stone Roses, and Suede. The band's influence on British alternative and indie rock is often compared to the influence REM had on American alternative rock.After the break up, Morrissey went on to have a successful solo career. Johnny formed Electronic with Joy Division/New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner, and also formed the short-lived Johnny Marr & the Healers. He also played with cult alternative rockers The The and has done session work for too many artists to list. He was a member of the American indie rock band Modest Mouse from 2005 to 2008. After leaving Modest Mouse, he joined the British indie band The Cribs which he was a member of from 2008 to 2011.Discography:
Alliterative Title: "Death of a Disco Dancer", "Meat is Murder", "Rubber Ring", "Rushholme Ruffians", "Shakespeare's Sister", "These Things Take Time", "Well I Wonder", "What's the World", "Wonderful Woman".
In the consonance department, there's "Still Ill".
All of the Other Reindeer: The Smiths are one of the few Manchester-based bands of their era not to have signed with Factory Records.
Author Appeal: "This Charming Man" and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" both mention leather car seats, which Morrissey admitted to finding "erotic." And then there's his interest in ruffians and criminals, which became even more pronounced in his solo work.
Black Comedy: Present in a lot of their songs, as a counterbalance to the more depressing lyrics.
"Unhappy Birthday" is a prime example, with morbid lyrics made funny by their matter-of fact delivery and anticlimactic nature (the narrator shoots himself toward the end of the song, but it keeps going).
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" managed to be both quite sad and quite funny at the same time.
Black Sheep Hit: Their best known song, "How Soon Is Now?", doesn't sound like their usual jangly style - it's more dance-rock.
Boarding School of Horrors: "The Headmaster Ritual", written about the horrors of the British Education System as corporal punishment was still legal at the time. The song was released in 1985, and corporal punishment was banned in state schools and state-funded private schools in 1987, and then for all other private schools in 1999 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland). See Society Marches On.
Cover Version: "Work Is a Four-Letter Word" by Cilla Black and "Golden Lights" by Twinkle are infamous for incensing Johnny Marr to the point that he left the band, leading to their breakup.
Johnny: I wrote "I Keep Mine Hidden", which I liked, 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.
Credits Gag: According to the liner notes to The Queen Is Dead, the backing vocals to "Bigmouth Strikes Again" are performed by Ann Coates... In reality, those vocals were Morrissey's own voice sped up, and "Ann Coates" is a pun on Ancoats, a district of Manchester.
Epic Rocking: "How Soon Is Now?", "The Queen Is Dead" and "Barbarism Begins At Home" all exceed the 6-minute mark.
The Smiths Reel Around The Fountain (5:58) and Suffer Little Children (5:28)
Meat Is Murder: Barbarism Begins At Home (6:57) and the title track (6:06)
The Queen Is Dead: The title track (6:24) and I Know It's Over (5:48)
Strangeways, Here We Come: Death Of A Disco Dancer (5:26), Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (5:01), Paint A Vulgar Picture (5:35)
Hatful Of Hollow: How Soon Is Now? (6:44), Reel Around The Fountain (5:51, from The Peel Sessions)
Rank: Bigmouth Strikes Again (5:51)
Neither The World Won't Listen Or Louder Than Bombs have any.
Fake-Out Fade-Out: "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" fades out, then back in before carrying on for another minute and fading out again.
Inverted with "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" where the song fades out rapidly and then fades slowly back in at the beginning of the song.
Lesser Star: Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke. The band's contract apparently only listed Morrissey and Marr as the official members of the band. Joyce and Rourke even sued the other half of the band for royalties that were owed them. Although Rourke wound up settling amicably out of court with Morrissey and Marr, Joyce kept pushing his part of the lawsuit and received a 1 million pound settlement (which in turn alienated him from Rourke). Morrissey claims that Joyce is the main reason why the Smiths will never reunite, moreso than his rift with Marr.
"Just Joking" Justification: The aptly titled "Bigmouth Strikes Again." "Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head..."
Large Ham: Morrissey, frequently and entertainingly.
Long Title: "Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before", "Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want", "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me", "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", etc. It's safe to say that they were in love with this trope. Morrissey's solo work also uses ridiculously long song titles.
Miniscule Rocking: "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" comes in at a brisk 1:50.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: The Smiths never went very high up it, pushing a 3-4 at most in their most aggressive moments- the lyrics were where the darkness was, not the music. However, when asked in an AV Club interview, Johnny Marr discussed the trope by mentioning how he felt that bands that drew inspiration from the Smiths like Belle and Sebastian were too lightweight compared to them:
Iíve heard some records by bands that came after us who had their music been any more fey and lightweight, then Iíd expect petals to come out of the speakers. [Laughs.] Thatís kind of missing what we were about, because The Smiths were not all ďOscar Wilde at 3:30 in the afternoonĒ and feyness. The truth of it is, if you were to see any songs from any of our shows, we were, what I would say, quite heavy. Even the ballads were intense. We were a rock band, really, that played a type of pop music, if I care to analyze it. I donít know very much about The Wedding Presentís music, but what Iíve heard of Belle & Sebastian was often quite fey, and light in a very deliberate way. I think they have their own thing, which is absolutely fine. But I donít actually think they sound like The Smiths.
My Greatest Failure: Marr admitted to Guitar Player magazine in 1990 that he regrets not writing down how he achieved the slide guitar sound of "How Soon Is Now?":
I wish I could remember exactly how we did the slide part — not writing it down is one of the banes of my life! We did it in three passes through a harmonizer, set to some weird interval, like a sixth. There was a different harmonization for each pass. For the line in harmonics, I retuned the guitar so that I could play it all at the 12th fret with natural harmonics. It's doubled several times.
New Sound Album: The Queen is Dead, which featured more elaborate production than on their previous albums and singles. And then there is Strangeways, Here We Come which largely abandons the jangle pop sound that they are known for.
Non-Appearing Title: "Paint a Vulgar Picture," though the original demo version does include it ("and they paint a vulgar picture / of the way they say you were").
The Pete Best: Dale Hibbert, their first bass player, was fired after their first gig because Johnny Marr felt he wasn't a good fit for the band. Since he worked at a studio, he was able to help the band record their first demos.
Protest Song: "The Headmaster Ritual", "Meat Is Murder", and "Barbarism Begins At Home"
Reality Subtext: According to Tony Fletcher's bio of the band, A Light That Never Goes Out, "The Headmaster Ritual" was based on an actual daily event of that name at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Secondary Modern, Morrissey's alma mater, where during morning assembly the headmaster would find some minor detail amiss about some child's, say, uniform, call him up to the front and excoriate him for it in front of the entire school, then take him down to his office and give the kid a couple on the bare buttocks with a leather strap. And that was just the official punishment.
Recursive Import: Louder Than Bombs was initially released in America, but Rough Trade issued it in the U.K. a few months after the release of The World Won't Listen simply to save obsessive fans from having to pay high import prices. It retailed for the price of a single LP despite being a double album, though some fans did complain about having to pay twice for what was essentially the same thing.
Self-Deprecation: Quite often. "The Queen Is Dead" features the lyric "I know you and you can't sing/That's nothing, you should hear me play the piano". (Morrissey later fulfilled his threat on "Death of a Disco Dancer".)
Serial Killer: The song "Suffer Little Children" was written about Real Life killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Morrissey's fascination with serial killers continued in his solo career with songs like "Jack the Ripper."
Three Chords and the Truth: To an extent. The band's music was generally intricate and melodic but the emphasis on guitar-based rock was a reaction against synthesizer-heavy Eighties pop music.
Truck Driver's Gear Change: Quite a few of them in "Paint A Vulgar Picture," so that each verse seems to ascend into the next one, finally building up to the climatic guitar solo (the only one the Smiths' musical catalogue).
Unrequited Love: A recurring lyrical theme, often going straight into Obsession Song territory. Notable examples include "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", "I Want The One I Can't Have", and "I Know It's Over."
Writer on Board: Meat is Murder is most likely an example, as Morrisey supports PETA and has stated he accepts the violent actions of Animal Wrongs Groups. Based on interviews they've given, the rest of the band seems to have reacted to his fervency with mild exasperation, but they are all vegetarians as well and avoid animal products.