Many great musicians have come from British roots: The Cure, The Who, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Queen, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, The Police, The Animals, Depeche Mode, Cat Stevens, Eric Clapton, Joy Division, Coldplay, Ozzy Osbourne, Oasis, The Clash, Black Sabbath, and so many, many more. British bands have literally changed music sounds forever, and today I would like to talk about one of the most famous, influential bands out of all of them. Coming straight from Manchester, the home of bands like Herman???s Hermits, The Hollies, Joy Division, and the Stone Roses, comes one of the best of them all.
You could say this band is indebted to the British Invasion, but in truth they stand out so much more than that. If you listen to one of their sings, you can hear the originality the band has, along with a catchiness that is still yet to be captured in some of the mainstream music today.
Even though this group was inspired so many bands today, they have countless sounds from many different genres of music. Pop, electronic and fondness of girl groups make up one part, but then the other edge has a classic rock feel, and early, stretching roots of punk.
I highly doubt many people in Whyville can truly understand and fully appreciate what The Smiths have done to modern rock and other sub genres today, and I have even more of a mind to say that half of you don't know who the Smiths are at all, and could care less. I pity you. This is where I come in, because I expect you to click off today knowing much fuller about who this amazing group is.
The Smiths is just one more band you can't put into a certain category of music. They sound like a crafty rock band, but on the other hand, Morrissey's notable self-absorbed, beautiful croon breaks rock barriers and many other elements of the group lean toward pop sounding. Somehow, beyond genres, The Smiths broke through humbly to show exactly what they would do with the 80's scene.
The two musicians who started the Smiths, Johnny Marr and Steven Morrissey, had little experience with the music business before starting the band in 1982. Johnny had been playing in numerous local Manchester bands, which included Sister Ray, Freaky Part, White Dice, and more, chasing his dream to become a rock artist. Somehow it never connected. One of his bands had come close to getting a record contract at a point of time, but Johnny Marr never made the leap. Playing guitar was what he wanted to do, for sure, although, and he wasn't about to give it up.
Meanwhile, Morrissey was just enjoying being an unknown avid music fan. Although he had done vocals with The Nosebleeds for a period of time, and tried out for a few Manchester bands, Morrissey was content at the moment to continue his love for music in general, and his numerous writings, which sometimes appeared in Melody Maker, along with two books Steven Morrissey had written. These books were mainly biographies and tributes to his favorites; one entitled James Dean isn't Dead, and another on the group The New York Dolls. Never did the two men know that their paths would make such a difference in music.
Morrissey met Marr through distant friends in the spring of 1982, Marr looking for a lyricist and Morrissey filling in the job. The two hit it off right away, and started writing a few songs together, nothing to serious, but after a few more months, things did get quite a bit more serious when the two recorded a few demos in a local studio with temporary drummer Simon Wolstencroft, and agreed on the name The Smiths. The two realized the special balance of music each other had, and recruited Johnny Marr's old time friend and schoolmate Andy Rourke as their bassist and Mike Joyce as their drummer.
The Smiths, after scrapping together their limited funds, made their live debut album in late 1982, the group not knowingly produced the first of some of the most amazing records of the Brit bands at that time. By 2003, The Smiths had gathered a small, but loyal, Manchester fan base.
Slowly, The Smiths road into London, where their music was a small, but instant hit with the general public. Along the way, The Smiths turned down a record contract with Mancunian Factory Records. Instead, they signed onto Rough Trade. After a few more local concerts, The Smiths released the single "Hand in Glove" off Rough Trade. The song was the first breakthrough for the band. "Hand in Glove" was played all over the U.K's small radios and became the hit of the underground.
With the popularity of the song came more and more media for The Smiths. They took it coolly. Throughout interviews and radio shows, Morrissey became notorious for his strong-headed opinions, and his dark sense of humor. Over the weeks, "Hand in Glove" started topping the independent charts, and getting good reviews from the U.K. weeklies. The song itself has some slim traces back to homosexuality, but the song is catchy, and shows just the beginning of what The Smiths could do with their talent.
The next single The Smiths released was titled "This Charming Man." And is to this day one of my favorite songs by them. With a catchy, upbeat tune and a somewhat underside bass line, the song is beautiful, and if you want to hear a few of the best songs by The Smiths, "This Charming Man" is one of them. The single made the Smiths ever-growing fan base multiply.
"This Charming Man" topped at 25 on British charts, leading the way for the "What Difference Does It Make" peaking at number 12 in February of 1983. If you aren't familiar with The Smiths music, you have to know that the songs have very easy listening beat, along with darker lyrics, and beautiful vocal twists. This made The Smiths soar to the British charts very swift.
The media and fans were eating up this new kind of music; this new dominating sound that was covering the U.K. so quickly. The Smith's concerts were also becoming quite a place to be. With Morrissey's unique performing style, and the bands action and live sound, The Smith's concerts were just one of the things that made them so adored by the fans.
After the few singles, The Smith's then went on to release their eponymous debut in the spring of 2004, once again, to wonderful reviews and heavy-flowing CD sales; actually, the debut peaked at number 2. Not to bad, eh?
The next single, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," was released and topped at number 10.
Once again, the B-side to this single, Suffer Little Children received much controversy, as did the B-side to Hand in Glove's "Handsome Devil." The media thought the B-sides lyrics had to do with things such as the Moors Murders, and the falsely accused lyrics to "Handsome Devil," which the media thought had to do with pedophilia.
Ha. These were a few of the first times the media would misinterpret Morrissey's new wave of lyrics, but it wouldn't be the last.
So, it had finally become clear: The Smiths were the most popular rock group in Britain, but had yet to reach outside the underground in the U.S. None of that really mattered, though, because these 4 guys were just continuing what they loved to do best: make music. The next single "William It was Really Nothing" hit high on the charts, and Hatful of Hollows, a collection of B-sides, previously unreleased songs and top singles was released, and charted near the top, also.
Then came Meat is Murder, The Smiths second studio album. It flew out of the studio at number one, even though many fans said it was more watery and weaker than the usual Smiths. This didn't affect the chart standings, though, as Meat is Murder was still going strong. After Meat is Murder The Smiths had a lot of media attention, mainly because of Morrissey's harsh-whipped opinions about hunger relief, and he trashed Thatcher Administration and campaigned for vegetarianism. This also caught a lot of media word, because the whole band were still carnivores, just told not be photographed eating meat. Scandal much?
You would think that any publicity is good publicity, but apparently not for The Smiths, because the hit off their Meat is Murder record, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," went into the charts below 40 and stayed there.
The drop didn't last for long, although. I suppose the public forgot about there media affair, because when "The Boy With The Thorn is His Side" reached 23 on the British charts, and although the standing wasn't the best the Smiths had achieved, the song has very popular and still is to this day. Don't believe me? Many, many artists like Belle & Sebastian and Jeff Buckley have covered "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side," and it is also the title of infamous Pete Wentz's book.
The song was released a few months before the actual release of the record The Queen is Dead, released in 1986. This album confirmed the Smiths popularity by far, and in fact, is still making news and listings today.
The Rolling Stone magazine listed it 216 in the greatest 500 albums of all time. Q Magazine readers placed it at number 12. It hit number 5 on Spins Top 100 British Albums, and so many, many more awards that are still being placed today. When it was released, it hit number 2 on British charts, and number 71, finally, on Billboard 200. Many say it was The Smith's best album ever.
A new short-lived member of The Smiths came in soon after the album was finished. Craig Gannon, from Aztec Camera, was placed as rhythm guitarist for The Smith's 1986 national tour, and a short U.S. tour. Next was a non-LP release from The Smiths called Panic, which, although it reached number 11 in the summer, was considered racist and didn't travel very far from there.
I'd like to point something out here: Even though it's probably wrong, the release and song was called Panic, and the chorus goes like "Burn down the disco...Hang the DJ," Remind you of anything? Oh well, just an observation.
A few months after the release, some troubles began to unfold for The Smiths. For one, Johnny Marr was in a car crash and got seriously injured, and had to take time off for recuperation. During that time, Craig Gannon was fired, as was Andy Rourke because of his heroin addiction, although Rourke was reinstated a few weeks later, but Craig Gannon...he had his time with The Smiths.
The two non-LP singles Shoplifters of the World, and Sheila Take a Bow just increased The Smiths fame when they were released in early 1987. The two reached, of course, 10 and 11, and soon after the singles and B-sides release The World Won't Listen hit number 2. Although things sounded like they were going pretty good, not all was harmoniousness behind the walls of The Smiths.
Morrissey was irritated because Johnny Marr was continually working with other artists, and Marr in turn was frustrated at Morrissey's lack of wanting to explore new sounds of music.
One of the greatest releases of The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come, was released in the fall. Although many The Smiths fans will not budge in saying that The Queen is Dead was the best album coming from the band, Morrissey disagrees, and states that Strangeways, Here We Come was the top musical performances from The Smiths. Shortly after it was put out, Marr said he was leaving the band.
From there, the group went there separate ways. Morrissey went on to a solo career, Johnny Marr was a sideman to a various resume of artists, Andy Rourke retired from the music business, and Mike Joyce, in turn, went on to play for the Buzzcocks.
So, The Smiths tale comes to an end. The last releases were a live album recorded on The Queen Is Dead tour, titled Rank, in 1992, and a compilation of singles, the best of The Smiths in 1995.
Joyce and Rourke sued Morrissey and Marr in 1991, claiming they received only ten percent of the group's earnings while the songwriters received 40 percent. Rourke eventually settled out of court, but Joyce won his case in late 1996. And this was the last of The Smiths. Even though things cropped up in the end, The Smiths were, and still are, one of the greatest British rock bands ever, a and should be known as such.
And so I leave you now, because I really can't muster up a proper or fitting ending for this amazing bands tale. But I do hope you click off with a head more full and a pulse beating just a skip quicker, for you have learned the tale of The Smiths, and their music will live on through our knowledge.