The Smiths were a British alternative rock band, formed in Manchester in 1982. Based on the song writing partnership of Morrissey (vocals) and Johnny Marr (guitar), the band also included Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). For a short time, the line up included rhythm guitarist Craig Gannon. The band broke up in late 1987.
The Smiths were based on a partnership formed between then-strangers Morrissey and Johnny Marr. After Marr and Morrissey decided to form a band around this partnership, they recruited bassist Dale Hibbert and drummer Simon Wolstencroft. Wolstencroft recorded a few demos with the band, before leaving as he did not like Morrissey's voice. Hibbert was hired on the basis of his ability to provide after-hours access to local recording studio Decibelle for the band to record their tracks. His personality and style of playing did not suit the band however, and he was dropped from the line-up after one gig. Mike Joyce and Marr's old friend Andy Rourke joined the band as drummer and bassist respectively, finalising the line-up. The name "The Smiths" was used as a reaction to the "flashy" and "pretentious" names of synthpop bands during the same era, such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. In the televised Datarun interview in 1984, frontman Morrissey said he chose the name "because it was the most ordinary name....and it's time the ordinary folks of the world showed their faces." Signing to indie label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove", in May 1983. The record was championed by DJ John Peel, as were all of their later singles, but failed to chart. The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart.
In February 1984, the group released their debut eponymous album The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart. Tracks from the album, "Reel Around the Fountain" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" met with controversy, with some tabloid newspapers alleging the songs were suggestive of paedophilia, a claim strongly denied by the group.
The album was followed the same year by the non-album singles "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "William, It Was Really Nothing", which featured "How Soon Is Now?" on its B-side. Securing the band's first ever top-ten place on the charts, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" was also significant for marking the start of engineer and producer Stephen Street's long-term working relationship with the band.
More controversy followed when "Suffer Little Children", the B-side to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", touched on the theme of the Moors murders. This caused an uproar after the grandfather of one of the murdered children heard the song on a pub jukebox and felt the band was trying to commercialise the murders. After meeting with Morrissey, he accepted that the song was a sincere exploration of the impact of the murders. Morrissey subsequently established a friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, who is mentioned by name in the song.
The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows.
Meat is MurderEdit
A second album entitled Meat Is Murder was released in February 1985. Meat marked a more politically driven message in Morrissey's songs, manifesting in the eponymous album track. The album was the band's first and only chart-topping work. Two singles (That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore and Shakespeare's Sister) drawn from the album, fared poorly compared to previous performances (#26 and #49 at their peak, respectively).
The Queen Is DeadEdit
During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording their next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single "Bigmouth Strikes Again". The single again featured Marr's strident acoustic guitar rhythms and lead melody guitar lines with wide leaps. The Queen Is Dead reached number two in the UK charts, and consisted of a mixture of mordant lugubriousness (e.g. "Never Had No One Ever", which fitted stereotypes of the band), dry humour (e.g. "Frankly, Mr. Shankly", allegedly a message to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis disguised as a letter of resignation from a worker to his superior), and synthesis of both, such as in "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and "Cemetry Gates"(sic).
In the same year, The Smiths undertook tours of the States and the United Kingdom, while juggling recording of their fourth album The Queen Is Dead. A legal dispute with Rough Trade delayed the release of The Queen Is Dead by seven months, however. Adding to the growing problems of the band, Marr turned to the bottle to cope with stress. Rourke was fired, reportedly by means of a note handwritten by Morrissey and left on his car, although he was reinstated after a fortnight. Guitarist Craig Gannon was hired, moving to rhythm guitar. The new five-men band recorded Panic and Ask (the latter with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals), while undertaking a second tour of the UK. Gannon left the band in October 1986 after the end of the tour. Frustrations with Rough Trade on part of The Smiths sans Gannon mounted, and the group sought a deal, ultimately (and controversially) signing with EMI.
Strangeways, Here We ComeEdit
Early 1987 saw the release of the single Shoplifters Of The World Unite, peaking at #12 on the UK Singles Chart. The second compilation The World Won't Listen was released, peaking at #2 on the albums chart. This was paired by the release of American-exclusive compilation Louder Than Bombs. Sheila Take A Bow was released, hitting the top 10 on the singles chart for the second time in the band's history (and the last during the lifetime of the band).
Strangeways, Here We Come peaked at number two in the UK and was their most successful album in the US, hitting number 55 on the Billboard 200. It received a lukewarm reception from critics, but both Morrissey and Marr have named it as their favourite Smiths album. A couple of further singles from Strangeways were released with earlier live, session and demo tracks as B-sides.
Despite the continued and growing success of The Smiths, a variety of tensions emerged within the band. Johnny Marr was exhausted and on the verge of alcoholism, and took a break from the band in June 1987, which he felt was negatively perceived by the other Smiths. In July 1987, Marr left the group permanently, alleging that the NME article entitled "Smiths to Split" was planted by Morrissey. The article, written by Danny Kelly, spoke of Morrissey dislike of Marr working with other musicians, and that Marr and Morrissey's personal relationship had reached breaking point. Marr contacted NME to explain that he did not leave the band due to personal tensions but because he wanted a wider musical scope.
Former Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry was brought in to replace Marr, and the band recorded some new material with him which was never completed, including an early version of "Bengali in Platforms" that was originally intended as the B-side of "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before". Perry was uncomfortable with the situation, stating "it was like they wanted another Johnny Marr", and the sessions ended with (according to Perry) "Morrissey running out of the studio". By the time the group's fourth album Strangeways, Here We Come was released in September, the band had split up. The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey becoming annoyed by Marr's work with other artists and Marr growing frustrated by Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Marr particularly hated Morrissey's obsession with covering 1960s pop artists such as Twinkle and Cilla Black. Marr recalled in 1992, "That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs." In a 1989 interview, Morrissey cited the lack of a managerial figure and business problems as reasons for the band's split.