The Smiths are generally recognised as one of the most important British bands of the 1980s. They formed in 1982 in Manchester when songwriters Morrissey (voice) and Johnny Marr (guitar) recruited Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). After playing a few gigs, the band signed to Rough Trade and released their first single, ‘Hand in Glove’, in May 1983. The band’s profile was raised by repeated broadcasts of the radio sessions they recorded for Radio One’s John Peel and Andy Kershaw, and their second single, ‘This Charming Man’, became a hit, resulting in a ‘Top of the Pops’ performance that introduced the world to Morrissey’s unique style of dancing, and to the trademark bunch of flowers stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans. By the time the band’s eponymous debut album was released in early 1984, The Smiths were established as the country’s favourite indie band, with the combination of Morrissey’s introspective but witty lyrics and Marr’s innovative guitar sound appealing to a broad range of fans (from students to football fans). Although some felt that poor production blemished the first album, the band continued to release excellent singles (which were collected, along with the best of their radio sessions, on the compilation, ‘Hatful of Hollow’). Early 1985 saw the release of the band’s second proper album, ‘Meat is Murder’, with Morrissey widening his lyrical scope to include more political material, and Marr adding a variety of new styles and sounds to his arsenal. The next album was delayed by a dispute with Rough Trade, but when it was finally released in late 1986 ‘The Queen Is Dead’ proved worth the wait, becoming one of the most highly rated LPs of the era. After further singles, including the classic ‘Panic’, and another compilation, ‘The World Won’t Listen’, problems began to beset the band: Rourke was temporarily sacked due to his drug problems, being replaced by Craig Gannon, and Marr began a number of guest appearances on other people’s records (Billy Bragg, Talking Heads). The Smith’s final album, ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ was released after a disillusioned Johnny Marr had announced that he was leaving the band. Morrissey went on to solo success, and Marr joined New Order’s Bernard Sumner in Electronic and later formed his own band, the Healers.
by Robin Blackburn