|Who is it?||Soundtrack, Actor, Music Department|
|Genres||Indie rock jangle pop|
|Labels||Rough Trade Sire|
|Associated acts||The Pretenders Jetlag The Adult Net Moondog One|
|Past members||Morrissey Johnny Marr Mike Joyce Andy Rourke Craig Gannon|
Morrissey's role was to create vocal melodies and lyrics. Morrissey's songwriting was influenced by punk rock and post-punk bands such as the New York Dolls, the Cramps, the Specials and the Cult, along with 1960s girl groups, and Singers such as Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull, and Timi Yuro. Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour; John Peel remarked that the Smiths were one of the few bands capable of making him laugh out loud. Influenced by his childhood interest in the social realism of 1960s "kitchen sink" television plays, Morrissey wrote about ordinary people and their experiences with despair, rejection and death. While "songs such as 'Still Ill' sealed his role as spokesman for disaffected youth", Morrissey's "manic-depressive rants" and his "'woe-is-me' posture inspired some hostile critics to dismiss the Smiths as 'miserabilists.'"
On 31 August, 1978, Morrissey was briefly introduced to the 14-year-old Johnny Marr by mutual acquaintances Billy Duffy and Howard Bates at a Patti Smith gig held at Manchester's Apollo Theatre.
In December 1982 the band recorded their second demo, this time at the Drone Studios in Chorlton-cum-Hardy; the tracks recorded were "What Difference Does It Make?", "Handsome Devil", and "Miserable Lie". This was used as their audition tape for the record company EMI, who turned the band down. During the rest of that month, the band continued to practise, this time at the upstairs of the Portland Street Crazy Face Clothing company, a space secured for them by their new manager Joe Moss. By Christmas they had created four new songs: "These Things Take Time", "What Do You See in Him?", "Jeane", and "A Matter of Opinion", the last of which they would soon scrap. Their next gig was Manchester's Manhattan in late January 1983, and although Maker would again appear as a go-go Dancer, this was the last time that he did so. In early February they performed their third gig, at the city's Haçienda club.
The band next approached the record company EMI for a contract, but were turned down. Morrissey and Marr subsequently visited London to hand a cassette of their recordings to Geoff Travis of the independent record label Rough Trade Records. Although not signing them to a contract straight away, he agreed to cut their song "Hand in Glove" as a single. Morrissey insisted that the cover image on the single was a homoerotic photograph by Jim French which he had found in Margaret Walters' The Nude Male. The single was released in May 1983, and would sell well for the next 18 months although never made it into the UK Top 40. This coincided with the band's second gig in London, at the University of London Union. Present at the gig was John Walters, the Producer of John Peel's Radio 1 show; interested, he invited the band to record a session for the programme. Peel expressed the view that "I was impressed because unlike most bands... you couldn't immediately tell what records they'd been listening to. That's fairly unusual, very rare indeed... It was that aspect of the Smiths that I found most impressive." Following this radio exposure, the band gained their first interviews, in music magazines NME and Sounds.
In March 1984, they performed on Channel 4 music programme The Tube.
However, all was not well within the group. A legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. He later told NME, "'Worse for wear' wasn't the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit ... dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle." Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to his use of heroin. He allegedly received notice of his dismissal via a Post-it note stuck to the windscreen of his car. It read, "Andy – you have left the Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey." Morrissey himself, however, denies this.
Strangeways, Here We Come peaked at number two in the UK and was their most successful album in the US, reaching number 55 on the Billboard 200. It received a lukewarm reception from critics, but both Morrissey and Marr name it as their favourite Smiths album. A couple of further singles from Strangeways were released with live, session and demo tracks as B-sides. The following year the live recording Rank, recorded in 1986 with Craig Gannon on rhythm guitar, repeated the UK chart success of previous albums.
The "Britpop movement pre-empted by the Stone Roses and spearheaded by groups like Oasis, Suede and Blur, drew heavily from Morrissey's portrayal of and nostalgia for a bleak urban England of the past." Blur formed as a result of seeing the Smiths on The South Bank Show in 1987. Yet even while leading bands from the Britpop movement were influenced by the Smiths, they were at odds with the "basic anti-establishment philosophies of Morrissey and the Smiths", since Britpop "was an entirely commercial construct." Mark Simpson has suggested that "the whole point of Britpop was to airbrush Morrissey out of the picture ... Morrissey had to become an 'unperson' so that the Nineties and its centrally-planned and coordinated pop economy could happen."
Since the band split, its members have sanctioned the release of a live album (Rank, 1988), four greatest-hits collections (Best ... I, 1992; ... Best II, 1992; Singles, 1995; and The Sound of The Smiths, 2008), one Miscellaneous compilation (Stop Me, 1988), and two box-sets (The Smiths Singles Box, 2008; and Complete, 2011). There has also been an unsanctioned greatest-hits collection (The Very Best of The Smiths, 2001). This is in addition to the compilations released during the band's lifetime (Hatful of Hollow, 1984; The World Won't Listen, 1987; and Louder Than Bombs, 1987).
Morrissey and Marr each took 40% of the Smiths' recording and performance royalties, allowing 10 percent each to Joyce and Rourke. As Joyce's barrister would later argue in court, the Bassist and Drummer were treated as "mere session Musicians, as readily replaceable as the parts in a lawnmower". In March 1989, Joyce and Rourke started legal proceedings against their former bandmates, arguing that they were equal partners in the Smiths and each entitled to a 25 percent share of the band's profits on all activities other than songwriting and publishing. Rourke, who was in debt, settled almost immediately for a lump sum of £83,000 and 10 percent of royalties, renouncing all further claims.
Morrissey and Johnny Marr dictated the musical direction of the Smiths. Marr said in 1990 that it "was a 50/50 thing between Morrissey and me. We were completely in sync about which way we should go for each record". The Smiths "non-rhythm-and-blues, whiter-than-white fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk was a repudiation of contemporary dance pop", and the band purposely rejected synthesisers and dance music. However, from their second album Meat is Murder, Marr embellished their songs with keyboards. They sometimes used Sergei Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets as entrance music at live shows.
Joyce continued with the action, which eventually reached the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division) in December 1996. Morrissey and Marr had accepted the previous year that Joyce and Rourke were partners. "The only contentious issue was whether Mr. Joyce was an equal partner entitled to ¼ of the profits arising out of the activities (other than songwriting or publishing) of the Smiths." Joyce's barrister, Nigel Davis QC, asserted that "it was not until after the bestselling band split up in 1987 that his client discovered he was getting only 10 per cent of the profits". Davis continued: "Mr Joyce never agreed to ten per cent, he never assumed he was getting ten per cent. On the contrary he thought he was getting 25 per cent."
Playwright Shaun Duggan's stage drama William, Alex Broun's one-man show Half a Person: My Life as Told by The Smiths, Douglas Coupland's 1998 novel Girlfriend in a Coma, Andrew Collins' autobiography Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, Marc Spitz's novel How Soon is Never?, the pop band Shakespears Sister, the defunct art-punk group Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the Polish filmmaker Przemysław Wojcieszek's short fictional film about two Polish fans of the Smiths, Louder Than Bombs, are all inspired by or named after songs or albums by the Smiths.
In 2000 he started another band, Johnny Marr and the Healers, which enjoyed moderate success, and later worked as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry (2002). In 2006 he began work with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock on songs that eventually featured on the band's 2007 release, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Modest Mouse subsequently announced that Marr was a fully fledged member, and the reformed line-up toured extensively in 2006–07. Marr also recorded with Liam Gallagher of Oasis. In January 2008, it was reported that Marr had taken part in a week-long songwriting session at Moolah Rouge recording studio in Stockport with Wakefield indie group the Cribs. Marr's association with the band lasted three years and included an appearance on its fourth album, Ignore the Ignorant (2009). His departure from the group was announced in April 2011. He subsequently embarked on a solo career and recorded two solo albums, The Messenger (2013) and Playland (2014). In addition to his activities as a musician and Songwriter, Marr produced Haven's debut album, Between the Senses (2002).
In the same year they recorded demos with Paul Arthurs (Oasis), Aziz Ibrahim, and Rowetta Idah (Happy Mondays) under the name Moondog One, but the project went no further. Towards the end of 2001, they played together in the veteran Manchester band Jeep. In 2005 they played with Vinny Peculiar, recording the single "Two Fat Lovers" (Joyce also appeared on the 2006 album The Fall and Rise of Vinny Peculiar). In 2007 they released the documentary DVD Inside the Smiths, a surprisingly affectionate memoir of their time with the band, notable for the absence of Marr, Morrissey, and their music.
In November 2004, VH1 screened a Backstage Pass Special episode of Bands Reunited showing host Aamer Haleem trying and failing to corner Morrissey before a show at the Apollo Theater. In March 2006, Morrissey revealed that the Smiths had been offered $5 million for a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which he turned down, saying, "No, because money doesn't come into it." He further explained, "It was a fantastic journey. And then it ended. I didn't feel we should have ended. I wanted to continue. [Marr] wanted to end it. And that was that."
In November 2005, Mike Joyce told Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music that financial hardship had reduced him to selling rare Smiths' recordings on eBay. By way of illustration, Riley played part of an unfinished instrumental known as the "Click Track" (or "Cowbell Track"). Morrissey responded with a statement three days later revealing that Joyce had received £215,000 each from Marr and Morrissey in 1997, along with Marr's final back-payment of £260,000 in 2001. Morrissey failed to make his final payment because, he said, he was overseas in 2001 and did not receive the paperwork. Joyce obtained a default judgement against Morrissey, revised his outstanding claim to £688,000, and secured orders garnishing much of the singer's income. This was a source of ongoing inconvenience and grievance to Morrissey, who estimated that Joyce had cost him at least £1,515,000 in recovered royalties and legal fees up to 30 November 2005.
The closest Marr or Morrissey has come to any kind of reunion was in January 2006 when Johnny Marr and The Healers played at Andy Rourke's Manchester v Cancer benefit concert. There were suggestions leading up to the show that Morrissey might also be involved. Marr made it clear that this would not happen, but did perform "How Soon Is Now?" with Rourke. Marr and Rourke also performed "How Soon is Now?" together at the Lollapalloza Brazil festival in 2014.
Q magazine's Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that the Smiths were "the one truly vital voice of the '80s" and "the most influential British guitar group of the decade". He continued: "As the first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms (their second album proper, 1985's Meat Is Murder, made Number 1 in the UK), they elevated rock's standard four-piece formula to new heights of magic and poetry. Their legacy can be traced down through The Stone Roses, Oasis and The Libertines to today's crop of artful young guitar bands."
In October 2008, The Sun, citing "sources close to the band", reported that the Smiths would reform to play at Coachella in 2009. Soon afterwards, NME scotched the story, also citing "sources close to the band", and quoting Johnny Marr's manager to the effect that it was "rubbish".
In June 2009, Marr told an interviewer on London's XFM, "I think we were offered 50 million dollars for three ... possibly five shows." He said that the chances of a reunion were "nothing to do with money", and that the reasons were "really abstract".
The Smiths dressed mainly in ordinary clothes – jeans and plain shirts – in keeping with the back-to-basics, guitar-and-drums style of the music. This contrasted with the exotic high-fashion image cultivated by New Romantic pop groups such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran and highlighted in magazines such as The Face and i-D. In 1986, when the Smiths performed on the British music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test, Morrissey wore a fake hearing-aid to support a hearing-impaired fan who was ashamed of using one, and also frequently wore thick-rimmed National Health Service-style glasses.
In 2014 and 2015 the Smiths were announced as nominees to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.