If you have ever watched a coming-of-age teen movie then there is a good chance that you have heard The Smiths. For many people this is their introduction to the music of Steven Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce, but this writers first exposure was slightly different. My Dad has always had a habit of singing around the house, but unfortunately he tends to only ever know one line of a song at a time.
“I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”
I would listen to this line on repeat for years on end as I was growing up, forever wondering was Dad just making up his own song lyrics or actually singing a proper song. Eventually, I would take time to track down the song and thus, The Smiths would enter my consciousness.
This Charming Man would become my favourite song from this moment on, a brilliant piece of music mixed with fond and nostalgic memories. The song would also go on to be the only song that I can remember playing on a very special night out in early 2012.
Despite the affection that I had for this song, it would still be another few years before I would properly educate myself on the music of the Manchester four piece, when, during a particularly difficult time in my personal and family life, that I would start to investigate why The Smiths were revered the way they were, helped in no small part by my sister returning Electric Picnic that year (2013) praising the set that she had seen by ex lead guitarist in The Smiths, Johnny Marr.
What would follow would be a month of repeated google searches of “top 10 smiths songs” to try a learn more about this iconic band. It would soon become apparent why they are considered one of the most bands in music history.
Morrissey wrote poetry. His writings tapped into a range of adolescent and young adult themes in a way that was different to anything that was on the radio at the time, themes such as disillusionment, environmental awareness, social conditions, poverty, depression, love and loss, and self identification.
But the lyrics were one thing, what really attracted this writer to The Smiths was how the instrumentation in every song seemed the perfect match for what the lyrics were trying to say. For this much of the credit needs to go to Johnny Marr, the guitarist who seemed to be able to get inside the head of Morrissey to create the riffs that he was imagining but could not create himself. However, it would be remiss to forget the input of bassist, Andy Rourke, and drummer, Mike Joyce, who also provided some of the most fitting bass lines and drumming tracks of modern music.
The Smiths seemed to create a safe space for people who felt isolated by the society around them, a place where you were free to think and act differently than was expected. Morrissey would frequently perform with a bouquet of flowers sticking out the back pocket of his denim jeans while wearing a loose fitting blouse or shirt and dancing by flailing his arms in rhythm to the music, as the other members of the band swayed behind him. It became clear that this were a band who were advocating personal expression and self discovery – it would lead to Morrissey becoming known as one of the most charismatic front men in music.
When I first started listening to The Smiths properly life was a bit scattered. I had come to a crossroads as to the road that my future career would take, I was in the middle of the aftermath of a particularly painful breakup, and a beloved family member had become very sick, The Smiths made sense, as they have for vast numbers of listeners down through the years.
Songs like Nowhere Fast, from the 1985 Meat Is Murder, and What Difference Does It Make?, from The Smiths in 1984, were two songs from the extensive discography of the band that resonated with this writer, as I chose to interpret them as speaking about a sense of helplessness of being seemingly stuck in your current situation.
“And when I’m lying in my bed, I think about life and I think about death, And neither one particularly appeals to me.”
– Nowhere Fast
This writer is not the first music commentator to talk about the impact that The Smiths have had on music, or the first to write about the influence the band have had on their own lives, and I definitely will not be the last. The Smiths would only be active for five years (1982-1987) after a disagreement between the band members over songwriting credits and payments would lead to a lot of bad blood between Morrissey and Marr, and Rourke and Joyce. This event adds to the story of the band as for many fans there was a sense of unfinished business.
To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die.