The Smiths Biography

Review The Artist (7)

The Smiths-photo
FORMED: 1982, Manchester, England
DISBANDED: August 1987

Acclaimed by many as the most important UK band of the 80s, the Smiths were formed in Manchester, England during the spring of 1982. Morrissey (b. Steven Patrick Morrissey, 22 May 1959, Davyhulme, Manchester, England) and Johnny Marr (b. John Maher, 31 October 1963, Ardwick, Manchester, England) originally combined as a songwriting partnership, and only their names appeared on any contract bearing the title "Smiths". Morrissey had previously played for a couple of months in the Nosebleeds and also rehearsed and auditioned with a late version of Slaughter And The Dogs. After that he wrote reviews for Record Mirror and penned a couple of booklets on the New York Dolls and James Dean. Marr, meanwhile, had played in several Wythenshawe groups including the Paris Valentinos, White Dice, Sister Ray and Freaky Party.

By the summer of 1982, the duo decided to form a group and recorded demos with drummer Simon Wolstencroft and a recording engineer named Dale. Wolstencroft subsequently declined an offer to join the Smiths and in later years became a member of the Fall. Eventually, Mike Joyce (b. 1 June 1963, Fallowfield, Manchester, England) was recruited as drummer, having previously played with the punk-inspired Hoax and Victim. During their debut gig at the Ritz in Manchester, the band was augmented by go-go dancer James Maker, who went on to join Raymonde and later RPLA.

By the end of 1982, the band appointed a permanent bass player. Andy Rourke (b. Manchester, England) was an alumnus of various previous groups with Marr. After being taken under the wing of local entrepreneur Joe Moss, the band strenuously rehearsed and after a series of gigs, signed to Rough Trade Records in the spring of 1983. By that time, they had issued their first single on the label, "Hand In Glove", which failed to reach the Top 50. During the summer of 1983, they became entwined in the first of several tabloid press controversies when it was alleged that their lyrics contained references to child molesting. The eloquent Morrissey, who was already emerging as a media spokesperson of considerable power, sternly refuted the rumours.

During the same period the band commenced work on their debut album with producer Troy Tate, but the sessions were curtailed, and a new set of recordings undertaken with John Porter. In November 1983 they issued their second single, "This Charming Man", a striking pop record that infiltrated the UK Top 30. Following an ill-fated trip to the USA at the end of the year, the quartet began 1984 with a new single, the notably rockier "What Difference Does It Make?", which took them to number 12.

The Smiths ably displayed the potential of the band, with Morrissey's oblique, genderless lyrics coalescing with Marr's spirited guitar work. The closing track of the album was the haunting "Suffer Little Children", a requiem to the child victims of the 60s Moors Murderers. The song later provoked a short-lived controversy in the tabloid press, which was resolved when the mother of one of the victims came out on Morrissey's side. A series of college gigs throughout Britain established the band as a cult favourite, with Morrissey displaying a distinctive image, complete with National Health spectacles, a hearing aid and bunches of gladioli. A collaboration with Sandie Shaw saw "Hand In Glove" transformed into a belated hit, while Morrissey dominated music press interviews.

His celibate stance provoked reams of speculation about his sexuality, and his ability to provide good copy on subjects as diverse as animal rights, royalty, Oscar Wilde and 60s films, made him a journalist's dream interviewee. The singer's celebrated miserabilism was reinforced by the release of the autobiographical "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", which reached number 19 in the UK. Another Top 20 hit followed with "William, It Was Really Nothing". While the Smiths commenced work on their next album, Rough Trade issued the interim Hatful Of Hollow, a bargain-priced set that included various flip-sides and radio sessions. It was a surprisingly effective work, that captured their inchoate charm.

By 1984 the Smiths found themselves f坱ed as Britain's best band by various factions in the music press. The release of the sublime "How Soon Is Now?" justified much of the hyperbole and this was reinforced by the power of their next album, Meat Is Murder. This displayed Morrissey's increasing tendency towards social commentary, which had been indicated in his controversial comments on Band Aid and the IRA bombings. The album chronicled violence at schools ("The Headmaster Ritual"), adolescent thuggery ("Rusholme Ruffians"), child abuse ("Barbarism Begins At Home") and animal slaughter ("Meat Is Murder"). The proselytizing tone was brilliantly complemented by the musicianship of Marr, Rourke and Joyce.

Marr's work on such songs as "The Headmaster Ritual" and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' effectively propelled him to a position as one of Britain"s most respected rock guitarists. Despite releasing a milestone album, the band's fortunes in the singles charts were relatively disappointing. "Shakespeare's Sister" received a lukewarm response and stalled at number 26, amid ever-growing rumours that the group were dissatisfied with their record label. Another major UK tour in 1985 coincided with various management upheavals, which dissipated the band's energies.

A successful trek across the USA was followed by the release of the plaintive summer single "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side", which, despite its commerciality, only reached number 23. A dispute with Rough Trade delayed the release of the next Smiths album, which was preceded by the superb "Big Mouth Strikes Again", another example of Marr at his best. During the same period, Rourke was briefly ousted from the band due to his flirtation with heroin. He was soon reinstated, however, along with a second guitarist, Craig Gannon, who had previously played with Aztec Camera, the Bluebells and Colourfield. In June 1986, The Queen Is Dead was issued and won immediate critical acclaim for its diversity and unadulterated power.

The range of mood and emotion offered on the album was startling to behold, ranging from the epic grandeur of the title track to the overt romanticism of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and the irreverent comedy of "Frankly, Mr Shankly" and "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others". A superb display of Morrissey/Marr at their apotheosis, the album was rightly placed alongside Meat Is Murder as one of the finest achievements of the decade. A debilitating stadium tour of the USA followed and during the group's absence they enjoyed a formidable Top 20 hit with the disco-denouncing "Panic". The sentiments of the song, coupled with Morrissey's negative comments on certain aspects of black music, provoked further adverse comments in the press.

That controversy was soon replaced by the news that the Smiths were to record only one more album for Rough Trade and intended to transfer their operation to the major label EMI Records. Meanwhile, the light pop of "Ask' contrasted with riotous scenes during the band"s 1986 UK tour. At the height of the drama, the band almost suffered a fatality when Johnny Marr was involved in a car crash. While he recuperated, guitarist Craig Gannon was fired, a decision that prompted legal action. The band ended the year with a concert at the Brixton Academy supported by fellow Mancunians the Fall. It was to prove their final UK appearance.

After another hit with "Shoplifters Of The World Unite" they completed what would prove to be their final album. The glam rock-inspired "Sheila Take A Bow" returned them to the Top 10 and their profile was maintained with the release of another sampler album, The World Won't Listen. Marr was growing increasingly disenchanted with the group's musical direction, however, and privately announced that he required a break. With the band's future still in doubt, press speculation proved so intense that an official announcement of a split occurred in August 1987.

Strangeways, Here We Come, an intriguing transitional album, was issued posthumously. The work indicated the different directions towards which the major protagonists were progressing during their final phase. A prestigious television documentary examining the group's career followed on The South Bank Show, and a belated live album, Rank, was issued the following year. The junior members Rourke and Joyce initially appeared with Brix Smith's Adult Net, then backed Sin俛d O'Connor, before Joyce joined the Buzzcocks.

Morrissey pursued a solo career, while Marr moved from the Pretenders to The The and Electronic, as well as appearing on a variety of sessions for artists as diverse as Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads, Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, the Pet Shop Boys, Stex and Banderas. In 1992, there was renewed interest in the Smiths following the furore surrounding Johnny Rogan's controversial biography of the band, and Warner Brothers Records' acquisition of their back catalogue from Rough Trade. In 1996, the long-standing legal action taken by Mike Joyce was resolved with Morrissey and Marr losing their case. Joyce was awarded damages of ? million, and Morrissey subsequently lost his appeal..

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The greatest.... | Reviewer: Phil | 7/11/11

In terms of their influence on a multitude of great musicians, the influence of The Smiths is unparalleled. I'd even go so far as to say that they were as great an influence as the Beatles in their era. Morrisey is a great poet full stop. Forget the music, which is a great backdrop. He captured the futility of growing up in the 80s with Thatcherism and the Cold war quite brilliantly. An exceptional and unique talent, never to be surpassed I suspect.

Second only to The Beatles | Reviewer: Jon (rooster) Krause | 12/21/10

In my opinion The Smiths fall second only to The Beatles in terms of brilliant song writing and structure. Anyone who is serious about music as an art will definatly appriciate and benefit from purchasing and listening to the entire catalog. I was lucky enough to hit 7th grade in 1984 and was turned on to the band shortly there after. It was one of those life changing moments where you realize you are witnessing something special and historic unfold (at least I thought so at the time). The fact that they were not a huge commercial success just solidifies how great and important to music they were. The junk the radio stations were playing back then was just that - junk. We (my friends and I) took pride that most of our musical selections at the time were not on the airwaves. It added to the moment something I really can't describe. I guess it made it more special? I don't know. I'm just glad to have lived to see that I was right. The Smiths were an incredible part of music history!

critically magnificent | Reviewer: Anonymous | 11/13/09

...I never wanted to lkie them in the 80s....but the quality of the music and lyrics was incomparable then, and even to this say, it remains difficult to match. Morrissey is surely one of the greatest musical poets, and Marr can write just brilliant guitar riffs and melodies. Not played much on the radio nowadays, mainly as much of their work failed to be commercially successful. Yet as anyone that knows their music will immediately place them very high in top 10 rankings of best bands...

truley classic | Reviewer: dereck | 5/28/08

None compares to the true powerhouse that the smiths were as a unit, i recently got out all my vintage smiths vinyl for the fist time in years as i was a young bloke at there peak, there music truley transends time.

the cream of the crop | Reviewer: Anonymous | 6/2/07

my all-time favourite band
there is a light that never goes out, how soon is now, this charming man, and many other songs are just the cream of the crop of the britain music ever
i love them, morrissey and marr are the worlds best duo ever in my opinion
lyrics of their songs are beautiful plus morrisseys great voice and marrs guitar=the best music
thank god for the smiths and their music

Long live the Smiths | Reviewer: Miguel Castro | 1/14/06

I love this band... sadly i'm too young to have seen them still together, but they are absolutely great... it doesn't bother me if my friends tease me for liking one of the 'oldies', The Smiths are definitely going to stick for a while in my favourite bands !

WHY HAS NOONE COMMENTED ON THEM | Reviewer: Ben S | 1/10/06

With a frown, a moan and a shuffling of feet the Smiths were born in 1982. Who could have known from humble beginnings peppering labels with demoes that Morrisey (vocals), Jonny Marr (guitars), Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) would still be so deservedly in a pantheon of British rock greats. Early singles such as 'handsome devil' and the stupendoes 'this charming man' displayed the Smiths jangling indie sound. Marr's multi-layered licks and melodies fitting perfectly with Morriseys highly individual vocals. Now recognised as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) songwriting duos Britain and even the world has ever seen Morrisey and Marrs deflecting personalities worked perfectly as strings of classic singles ('how soon is now', 'last night i dreamed somebody loved me') led up to the all time classic 'The Queen is Dead' album which itself included the classics 'bigmouth strikes again', 'the boy with a thorn in his side', 'i know its over' and 'there is a light that never goes out', as well as the spitting title track deservedly (actually no it should have been higher) meant a Top 20 showing in Channel 4s classic albums poll. Sadly it couldn't last and after five rich years The Smiths disintegrated messily but the music lives on and always will do

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