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
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
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:
- The Smiths (1984)
- Meat Is Murder (1985)
- The Queen Is Dead (1986)
- Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
Their numerous non-album singles and b-sides are collected on:
- Hatful of Hollow (1984)
- The World Won't Listen (1987)
- and its far more famous American equivalent Louder Than Bombs, issued the same year.
Vote for your favourite Smiths album by heading over to the Best Album crowner
"I'd go out tonight, but I haven't got a trope to wear...":
- All Boys Want Bad Boys
- 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.
- Amusing Injuries: "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before."
- Anti-Love Song: "Unhappy Birthday"
- 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.
- Auto Erotica: "You've Got Everything Now"
- Banister Slide: "Vicar In A Tutu"
- 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.
- 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.
- Closet Key: "This Charming Man"
- Cool Shades: One of Johnny Marr's favorite fashion accessories.
- Covert Pervert: Moz himself.
- 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.
- Dead Artists Are Better: "Paint A Vulgar Picture" is about this, and how it's exploited.
- Deadpan Snarker: Morrissey is a Real Life example of this.
- Dean Bitterman: "The Headmaster Ritual"
- Double Entendre: Too many lyrics to list.
- Drowning My Sorrows: "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"
Oh, so I drank one
It became four
And when I fell on the floor
...I drank more
- Dumbass DJ: "Panic" was inspired by Steve Wright at the BBC, who played Wham's "I'm Your Man" after announcing the Chernobyl disaster.
- Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: "Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it's really serious." Alternate trope title.
- The Eighties
- Epic Rocking: By album:
- 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)
- 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.
- Hypocrite: Even after releasing Meat is Murder, Morrissey admitted to wearing leather shoes until synthetic leather shoes became more widespread years later.
- "I Want" Song: "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want".
- Intercourse with You: "Stretch Out And Wait", "Reel Around The Fountain", and "Handsome Devil" are some of the less subtle examples.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Morrissey.
- "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.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Sonically, they were like a slightly less murky REM. Lyrically, they were like a funnier The Cure.
- Mad Love: A theme in some of their songs.
- 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.
- "How Soon is Now?" is probably a 5 or 6
- Money Song: "Frankly, Mr. Shankly".
- 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.
- Strangeways, Here We Come 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").
- Obsession Song: "Paint a Vulgar Picture"
- Only One Name: Morrissey.
- Oop North
- Protest Song: "The Headmaster Ritual", "Meat Is Murder", and "Barbarism Begins At Home"
- Sadistic Teacher: "The Headmaster Ritual".
- 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."
- Shirtless Scene: Moz at almost every concert and quite a few photo shoots.
- Sixth Ranger: Second guitarist Craig Gannon, who only appeared on the "Panic" and "Ask" singles and the live Rank album.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Morrissey.
- Smoking Is Cool: Admit it, Johnny looked pretty damn cool with a cigarette.
- Something Completely Different:
- Strangeways, Here We Come opens with the guitarless "A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours."
- "Oscillate Wildly", "The Draize Train", and "Money Changes Everything" were the only instrumentals released by the band.
- "Death of a Disco Dancer" is among the very few Smiths songs where Morrissey "plays" an instrument (the piano).
- Spoof Aesop: The entirety of "Accept Yourself," but especially:
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about my shoes?
- Stage Names: Morrissey's full name is Steven Patrick Morrissey, and Johnny Marr's real name is John Maher. The latter changed his name to avoid confusion with the drummer of the Buzzcocks and because it sounds like the French phrase 'J'en ai marre', which roughly means 'I'm fed up with it all'.
- 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. Examples include "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", "I Want The One I Can't Have", and "I Know It's Over."
- Ur Example: "How Soon is Now?" is an Ur Example of Shoegazing.
- The Vicar: The subject of the aptly named "Vicar In A Tutu."
- Wholesome Crossdresser: The title character of "Vicar In A Tutu."
- Word Salad Title: The band named themselves "the Smiths" as a reaction against the word salad band names of their contemporaries.
- Writer on Board: Meat is Murder, 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.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Both Morrissey and Marr have forbade the Prime Minister David Cameron from listening to The Smiths.