Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The Smiths album by album

(Work in progress....I have the albums listed and linked to Spotify, but few comments as yet....)

If you were listening to music in the Eighties then you would have been aware of The Smiths, and would likely have had an opinion on the lead singer Morrissey. From the band's first appearance on Top Of The Pops in Nov 1983, Morrissey attracted attention and controversy (Marr's opinion). I remember seeing that performance with my partner at the time and my teenage step sons. They found the performance laughable and ridiculous. I found it, um, interesting and different. The song was OK; though - contrary to what people think these days - it did not stand out as particularly different or as a contrast to synthpop. The Smiths were not the only guitar band at the time, nor were they the only band sourcing from the Sixties.  The main difference was in Morrissey's antics and his manner of singing. I liked the music, and I was curious about the band. A year later in November 1984, after enjoying a few more singles, I bought - not the first album, but the second: Hatful Of Hollow, which gathered together the singles plus other material, including "How Soon Is Now?" The boys asked me why I had bought it, as they were still in the sneering at Morrissey phase. I  said that it appeared to me that there was a tension in the band between the guitarist and the singer, and that the guitarist was winning, and played them "How Soon Is Now?" As teenagers they liked the idea of internal conflict and rebellion, and so that sort of broke down their resistance, and they both became Smiths' fans.

And now, 35 years later, "How Soon Is Now?" still strikes me as an exceptional piece of music, for me the best thing The Smiths did. It's Marr at his creative and imaginative best. I like that Morrissey's voice is reasonably controlled, and becomes another instrument in the overall sound. Some of the words are interesting, which adds to the appeal, but it's the layering of the guitar sounds which lifts the song out of the ordinary for me not the lyrics or the singing. Such an original and fascinating piece of music is rare. I think that Morrissey wrote and performed better on some other songs.

The Smiths are both Morrissey and Marr. Their solo careers have not matched what they did together, though both (Marr less so initially) have attempted to recreate the sound and structure of The Smiths in their solo work.

The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982. The band consisted of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce. Critics have called them one of the most important bands to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s. In 2003, four of the band's albums appeared on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr, the group signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, on which they released four studio albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987). They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-album singles. They had several singles reach the top twenty of the UK Singles Chart and all four of their studio albums reached the top five of the UK Albums Chart, including Meat Is Murder which hit number one. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites. The band broke up in 1987 due to internal tensions and have turned down several offers to reunite.

The band's focus on a guitar, bass, and drum sound, and their fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk, were an alternative to the then-popular, synthesiser-based dance-pop. Marr's guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Morrissey's complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour.

The Smiths were the definitive British indie rock band of the '80s, marking the end of synth-driven new wave and the beginning of the guitar rock that dominated English rock into the '90s. Sonically, the group was indebted to the British Invasion, crafting ringing, melodic three-minute pop singles, even for their album tracks. But their scope was far broader than that of a revivalist band. The group's core members, vocalist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, were obsessive rock fans inspired by the D.I.Y. ethics of punk, but they also had a fondness for girl groups, pop, and rockabilly. Morrissey and Marr also represented one of the strangest teams of collaborators in rock history. Marr was the rock traditionalist, looking like an elegant version of Keith Richards during the Smiths' heyday and meticulously layering his guitar tracks in the studio. Morrissey, on the other hand, broke from rock tradition by singing in a keening, self-absorbed croon, embracing the forlorn, romantic poetry of Oscar Wilde, publicly declaring his celibacy, and making no secret of his disgust for most of his peers. While it eventually led to the Smiths' early demise, the friction between Morrissey and Marr resulted in a flurry of singles and albums over the course of three years that provided the blueprint for British guitar rock in the following decade.

The albums

The Smiths 
(Feb 1984)

A stunning debut full of great songs.

Rolling Stone contemporary review

Albums released around the same time: The dB's  Repercussion (Oct 1981), The Teardrop Explodes Wilder (Nov 1981),  Television The Blow Up (1982),  The Psychedelic Furs Forever Now (Sept 1982), Orange Juice Rip It Up (Nov 1982),  Echo & The Bunnymen  Porcupine (Feb 1983), Pulp's debut It (April 1983),  R.E.M.;s debut Murmur (April 1983), The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood (May 1983),  Aztec Camera's debut High Land, Hard Rain (June 1983), The Chameleons' debut Script of the Bridge (Aug 1983), The Durutti Column  Another Setting (Aug 1983),  Gang of Four Hard (Sept 1983),  The Triffids' debut Treeless Plain (Nov 1983), The Icicle Works' debut The Icicle Works (March 1984)

Hatful of Hollow
(Nov 1984)

Meat Is Murder
(Feb 1985)

The Queen Is Dead
(June 1986)

The World Won't Listen
(Feb 1987)

Louder Than Bombs
(March 1987)

Strangeways, Here We Come
(Sept 1987)

(Sept 1988)

(Feb 1995)

The Very Best
(June 2001)

The Sound Of
(Nov 2008)

(Sept 2011)


During their time together they released four albums of new material and three albums of previously released material (P):

The Smiths (1984)
Hatful of Hollow (Nov 1984)  (P)
Meat Is Murder (1985)
The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The World Won't Listen (Feb 1987)  (P)
Louder Than Bombs (March 1987)  (P)
Strangeways, Here We Come (Sept 1987)

after which they split.

A live album was released a year after they split:

Rank (Sept 1988)

And several compilations, the most highly regarded of which are

Singles (Feb 1995)
The Very Best of The Smiths (June 2001)
The Sound of The Smiths (Nov 2008)

The Complete box set released in 2011 contains the seven albums released while the band were together, plus the live album.

Tribute album

The Smiths Is Dead  (1996)

1."The Queen Is Dead"The Boo Radleys5:33
2."Frankly, Mr. Shankly"The High Llamas3:35
3."I Know It's Over"The Trash Can Sinatras6:16
4."Never Had No One Ever"Billy Bragg3:36
5."Cemetry Gates"The Frank and Walters4:15
6."Bigmouth Strikes Again"Placebo3:51
7."The Boy with the Thorn in His Side"Bis3:21
8."Vicar in a Tutu"Therapy?2:42
9."There Is a Light That Never Goes Out"The Divine Comedy5:18
10."Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others"Supergrass3:35

Morrissey albums

Viva Hate (1988)


Bona Drag  (1990)


Kill Uncle (1991)


Your Arsenal  (1992) 

I'm uncomfortable with the nationalism on display here.


Vauxhall And I (1994)
I'm liking this.


Southpaw Grammar (1995)


Maladjusted (1997)


You Are the Quarry (2004)


Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)


Years of Refusal (2009)

Not much going on here.


World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014)

Not interesting.

Low in High School (2017)


Some Morrissey links

* BestEverAlbums (Highest album Vauxhall & I - ranked 881)

Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr's career after leaving the Smiths has been more complicated than Morrissey's - working  as session or guest guitarist for a variety of artists along with his own solo albums.

Brian Ferry - "The Right Stuff" (1987) Guitar and co-writer
Talking Heads - Naked (1988) Guitar on four tracks inc "(Nothing But) Flowers"
The The - Mind Bomb  (1989)  Guitar only
Kirsty McCall "The End Of A Perfect Day" (1989) Guitar and co-writer
Pretenders - "When Will I see You" (1990)  Guitar and co-writer
Electronic - Electronic (1991) Guitar, keyboards and co-writing with Bernard Sumner (New Order)  Contains "Getting Away With It" and "Get The Message"
Billy Bragg - "Sexuality" (1991) Guitar and co-writer
Kirsty McCall - "Walking Down Madison" (1991)  Guitar and co-writer
The The - Dusk  (1993)  Guitar only
Kirsty McCall - "Can't Stop Killing You" (1993)  Guitar and co-writer
Electronic - Raise the Pressure (1996)  Guitar, keyboards and co-writing with Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk)   Contains "Forbidden City" and "For You".
Billy Bragg - "The Boy Done Good" (1997)  Guitar and co-writer
Electronic - Twisted Tenderness (1999)  Guitars and co-writing with Bernard Sumner
Johnny Marr + The HealersBoomslang (2003)  Guitar, keyboards, vocals and writing
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)  &  No One's First, and You're Next (EP of unreleased tracks from the Marr album - 2009)  Guitar and songwriting contribution with rest of band
Johnny Marr - The Messenger  (2013)  Sixties style music with a sound and feel of The Smiths
Johnny Marr - Playland  (2014)  A harder, rockier sound, but less charming and interesting than The Messenger. Again there is the occasional memory of The Smiths, and the album is OK, but we're only listening because this man was the musical driving force of The Smiths.
Johnny Marr - Adrenalin Baby  (2016)   An attractive live album covering the whole of Marr's career.  It finishes with an explosive "How Soon Is Now?", which was the track that grabbed my attention back in 1984 when I bought Hatful of Hollow, and which I still consider to be the best The Smiths ever did. 
Blondie - "My Monster" (2017)  Guitar and writer
Johnny Marr - The Comet  (2018)   

Distinctive Marr jangle-pop guitar work. Mainly  pleasant and often admirable, but not on the same level as his work with The Smiths. Most interesting work is probably that done with Electronic. 

Some Smiths links

* MusicFolio
* Plundering Desire
* NME Beginners Guide
* AlbumReviewsBlog
* Adrian Denning

Albums ranked

* BestEverAlbums  (Highest album The Queen is Dead - ranked 21 of all time)
* The Guardian  (The Queen is Dead)
* Stereogum (Hatful of Hollow / Louder Than Bombs)
* NME  (The Queen Is Dead)
* What Culture  (The Queen Is Dead)
* Diffuser (The Queen Is Dead)
* Ranker (The Queen Is Dead)
* Blog  (The Queen Is Dead)

Songs ranked

* CoS All 72 Songs  1) Light 2) Charming 3) Soon
* Guardian Top Ten  1) Glove 2) Reel 3) Night
* TopTen 1) Light 2) Soon 3) Charming
* Billboard Top 20  1) Soon  2) Bigmouth  3)   Ask
* NME Top 30 by Musicians  1) Soon  2) Queen  3)  Light
* NME Top 30 by Readers  1) Light 2) Charming  3)  Soon
* Rolling Stone All 73 Songs   1) Light  2) Half  3)  Know
* Pop Matters Top 13   1) Light  2) Thorn  3) Ask
* Paste Top Ten  1) Light   2)  Miserable  3) Thorn

1) "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (1986)  from The Queen Is Dead 
2) "How Soon Is Now"  (1984) B-side of  "William, It Was Really Nothing"; included on Hatful Of Hollow 
3) "This Charming Man" (1983)  single 

1020 March 2019 

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