The Smiths was a famous English rock band that was active from 1982 to 1987. The band first burst into the limelight with the release of their 1984 debut album titled The Smiths, which produced such famous songs as This Charming Man, Hand in Glove, and Suffer Little Children. The band was also noted for several other famous songs such as How Soon is Now?, There’s a Light That Never Goes Out, Sheila Take a Bow, and Shoplifters of the World.
The band was started in May, 1982 in Manchester by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. Bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce were later recruited to complete the band’s lineup. The Smiths disbanded in 1987 after guitarist Marr left the band.
Despite existing for a very short period of time, today, the band is widely regarded as one of the most influential bands in the United Kingdom. In 2014, the band was nominated for the first time for an induction into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2015, the band received another nomination into that same Hall of Fame.
Why the Smiths split up?
Despite achieving remarkable commercial success in the United Kingdom and abroad, the Smiths shocked their fans by splitting. A number of things played various roles in the band’s break-up, including a strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr.
Tensions between Morrissey and Marr
By 1987, the relationship between Marr and Morrissey became very tensed, mainly as a result of a disagreement in the band’s musical direction. Morrissey strongly despised Marr’s interest in working with other musicians while Marr disliked Morrissey’s refusal to be flexible musically. Marr was frustrated with Morrissey’s interest in wanting the Smiths to cover various pop songs from singers from the 1960s, most notably Cilla Black. In a 1992 interview, Marr famously said he never formed the Smiths to cover “Cilla Black songs”.
Exhaustion on the part of Marr
In June 1987, Marr took a break from the Smiths as a result of exhaustion. Speaking with the Musician in 1989, Marr said he was forced to take a break from the group because of the immense pressure from the workload. Marr said that the sheer amount of work from the band not only negatively affected his relationship between him and his wife Angie and almost led him to start abusing alcohol. He therefore thought it wise to leave the group and take some time to organize his life.
According to Marr, the break was just meant to be a temporary one, however it became a permanent one when he read a Danny Kelly-article in the NME titled Smiths to Split, which stated that Morrissey did not like Marr working with other musicians and that their personal relationship had become extremely strained. Marr felt that Morrissey was behind that article and became so furious that he made the crucial decision to finally abandon the group the permanently in July 1987.
Speaking with The Sun in 2011, Marr revealed that another contributing factor that led to his departure from the Smiths is the fact that he is a type of person who is not used to staying at or hanging around a particular place for a long period of time. Indeed, taking a look at Marr’s career upon departing the Smiths, one would realize that Marr constantly bounced from one band to another. Since his departure from the Smiths in 1987, Marr has briefly been a member of the following bands: The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, and Johnny Marr and the Healers, Modest Mouse and the Cribs.
Morrissey’s reasons for the break-up of the Smiths
According to an interview Morrissey had in 1989, he claimed that the major reason the Smith disbanded was simply because of two major reasons: the fact that the band didn’t have a managerial figure and business-related issues.
Facts about The Smiths
- All four studio albums of theirs appeared on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time.
- The Smiths’ famous 1985 album, Meat is Murder, was the only album of theirs to peak at the number one position in the United Kingdom.
- Morrissey was the one that gave the band its name “The Smiths”. According to him, he chose the name “The Smiths” because of its extremely ordinary and simple nature.
- Johnny Marr met Morrissey for the first time on August 31st, 1978 in Manchester. Marr was only 14 years old then.
- The 1987 album Strangeways, Here We Come was the fourth and final studio album released by the Smiths. The band had already split up before this album was released. The album went ahead to become the band’s most successful album in the United States, where it peaked at number 55 on the Billboard.
- Their music influenced so many popular bands and artists, including Davey Havok and Noel Gallagher.
- The role of creating lyrics and vocal melodies in the band was the sole responsibility of Morrissey whereas Marr was responsible for writing the music.
- None of the other members of the Smiths, including Johnny Marr, ever sang on any of the band’s songs.
- The lyrics penned by Morrissey, though filled with humor, were perceived to be depressing by critics and fans across the world.
- The bands’ cover artworks usually featured famous personalities in the music and film industries whereas the band’s singles’ covers were often devoid of text besides the name of the band.
- Morrissey once wore a fake hearing-aid during a live performance with the Smiths just to give moral support to a fan who was ashamed of using their hearing-aid in public.
- The band never appeared on the covers of any records released in the United Kingdom. Not too many Smiths fans are aware of this fact.
- Morrissey designed all the cover sleeves of the Smiths’ four studio albums.
- The Smiths briefly had a second guitarist called Craig Gannon, who joined the band when Andy Rourke was briefly fired in 1986 for his drug problems. After playing on three songs (Ask, You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby, and Panic) and touring with the Smiths for a few months, Gannon and the Smiths went their separate ways. Till today, many still refer to him as the “Fifth Smith”.
- The Smiths disbanded shortly after Marr abandoned the group.
- Despite being one of the most influential bands in the United Kingdom, the Smiths have never been nominated for or won a Grammy Award.
- In 2009, speaking on XFM, Marr revealed that the Smiths declined an amount of $50 million to reunite and perform about five shows.
Facts about the Smiths’ Albums
Below are some of the most interesting facts about all four studio albums of the Smiths:
Facts about “The Smiths”
- The Smiths was the debut album of the band which was recorded in 1983 and released on the 20th of February, 1984, is regarded as one of the greatest debut albums of all time.
- The album was produced twice. First by Troy Tate and the second time by John Porter, who recorded the album again because he felt Tate’s production wasn’t good enough. Interestingly even after Porter re-produced the album, Morrissey still didn’t feel the album was good enough and would have said no to its release but for the fact that production cost 6,000 pounds, which was a lot of money for the band.
- All songs on the album were written by Marr and Morrissey.
- The album peaked at the number two position on the UK Albums Chart. In 1989, the album was placed at the 22nd position on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s. The album went on to occupy the 481th position on the list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by the Rolling Stone. In 2012, the album jumped a few spots to the 473rd position on the same list.
- Morrissey was responsible for designing the album’s sleeve.
Facts about “Meat is Murder”
- Meat is Murder, which is the second studio album of the Smiths, was officially released on February 11th, 1985.
- Meat is Murder was so successful that it went on to become the only album of the Smiths to reach number one in the UK Albums Chart. In the United States, the album peaked at the 110th position, whereas in Canada it peaked at 40.
- The album was produced by both Marr and Morrissey with the assistance of noted engineer in Stephen Street. Marr and Morrissey handled production because they felt the production of their first album The Smiths was not too good.
- The soldier on the cover of the album is that of Marine Cpl. Michael Wynn taken when he was fighting in the Vietnam War.
- All songs on the album were written by Marr and Morrissey.
- Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at the number 295 position on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.
Facts about “The Queen Is Dead”
- The Queen Is Dead came out on June 16, 1986 as the third studio album of the Smiths.
- The album peaked at number two in the United Kingdom and 70 in the United States.
- In 2013, NME referred to the album as the best album of all time.
- The title of the album was taken from the novel ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ authored by famous American writer Hubert Selby Jr..
- Morrissey designed the album’s cover.
- The person on the album’s cover design is French actor Alain Delon famed for starring in films such as 1960’s Rocco and His Brothers and 1962’s L’Eclisse.
- The Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at number 216 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Facts about “Strangeways, Here We Come”
- Strangeways, Here We Come, which came out on September 28th, 1987, is the fourth and last studio album of the Smiths. The album came out few months after the band disbanded.
- The album was the band’s only album that saw singer Morrissey play an instrument, the piano, which he did on the track Death of a Disco Dancer.
- The album, which was recorded at Somerset, England, enjoyed the second position on the United Kingdom Albums chart and remained on the chart for approximately seventeen weeks. It also peaked at the number 55 position in the United States.
- All songs on the album were written by Johnny Marr and Morrissey.
- Morrissey was once again responsible for designing the album’s sleeve.
- The picture on the album’s sleeve is that of American actor Richard Davalos.
- Despite the album not being as powerful as The Smiths and The Queen Is Dead, surprisingly, both Morrissey and Marr agree that the album is their favorite Smiths’ album.
- The album adopted its title from a very notorious prison located in Manchester called the Strangeways Prison. The name of the prison was later changed to HM Prison Manchester.
- The production of the album was handled by Marr, Morrissey, Stephen Street and Steve Williams.
Notable Songs by The Smiths
- Pretty Girls Make Graves
- The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
- Hand in Glove
- Suffer Little Children
- Still Ill
- What Difference Does It Make?
- Reel Around the Fountain
- Miserable Lie
- This Charming Man
- The Queen Is Dead
- Cemetry Gates
- The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
- Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
- Bigmouth Strikes Again
- There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
- I Know It’s Over
- William, It Was Really Nothing
- Frankly, Mr. Shankly
- How Soon Is Now?
- Barbarism Begins at Home
- Meat Is Murder
- The Headmaster Ritual
- That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
- Nowhere Fast
- A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours
- Girlfriend in a Coma
- Unhappy Birthday
- Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
- I started Something I Couldn’t Finish
- Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
- Paint a Vulgar Picture
- Death at One’s Elbow
- Death of a Disco Dancer