Synopsis of Pop Music
“I am the son,
And the heir,
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar…”
In the mid 1980’s, all the kids with all their passé new wave haircuts needed a new alternative scene, and the Smiths provided it in spades. Guitars instead of synthesizers, a personalized and casual look instead of campy gimmick wear, and most significantly, a new brand of very uniting angst. Synth bands of the early 80’s had certainly drawn on woe-is-me adolescent malaise, but the Smiths turned it into a sort of inside joke for their fans. Earnestly sensitive and snobbily irreverent at the same time, their angst seemed to wink at you and whisper: if you have to be miserable, you might as well be with us…we are the miserable elite.
Having done stints in bands like Sister Ray and Freaky Part, guitarist Johnny Marr was looking for someone who could add lyrics to his music. In 1982 Manchester, Morrissey (Steven Patrick Morrissey, to be long-winded about it) was known about town to be an eccentric writer-type—he had been twice published, after all, with a biography on the New York Dolls (whose fan club he ran) and a treatment of fame and celebrity, James Dean Is Not Dead. He and Marr were introduced by friends and started writing songs. With drummer Simon Wolstencroft, Marr and Morrissey gave themselves a purposefully plain band name and recorded a batch of demos.
When Wostencraft left to join the Fall, Mike Joyce was hired as the band’s drummer and Andy Rourke as its bassist. A local Manchester entrepreneur named Joe Moss funded their diligent rehearsals, and they were signed—supposedly for just a one-off—by Rough Trade Records. The band’s Manchester following soon made its way down to London, and singles “Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man” were hits on the alternative radio scene. Their debut record The Smiths came in 1984, and their sound, by now, was firmly established: smart, odd and affecting lyrics from the crooning Morrissey and innovative guitar work from Marr.
U.K. college gigs and favorable press coverage helped build a cult-like following, and Morrissey was as outspoken and controversial on the page as he was on the stage. He tucked gladiolas in his pants to honor Oscar Wilde, and wore a hearing aid to honor the memory of early 50’s singer Johnnie Ray. He claimed to embrace celibacy, he spoke of film, politics, music and his patented misery with provocative flair—sometimes incredibly cocky, sometimes equally self-deprecating…and all of it making him, and his band, genuine press darlings.
The band collaborated with singer Sandie Shaw, whose talents Morrissey had long celebrated, on “Hand in Glove,” which became a hit. Rough Trade issued Hatful of Hollow, full of their early radio sessions, and the band’s second studio album Meat is Murder was released in 1985. Morrissey sang on subjects both grave and funny, while Marr’s guitar efforts made him one of the U.K.’s most respected musicians. He believed the guitar was meant to add atmosphere to a song’s words, and he combined twelve string and six strings, sometimes with odd, beguiling tunings, to enforce his philosophy.
Additional guitarist Craig Gannon (formerly of Aztec Camera) came aboard, and the band’s third record, called The Queen is Dead, was popular on both coasts. 1986 found Marr involved in a serious car accident, Rourke fired from the band for heroin abuse, and Gannon just plain old fired. Marr recovered and Rourke was re-hired. Rough Trade finally released The Queen is Dead in 1986, and when the band toured, the crowds were riotously enthusiastic.
Behind the scenes, however, Marr and Morrissey grew weary of each other. Morrissey was frustrated with his guitarist’s constant outside session work, and Marr didn’t like the 60’s pop bent that Morrissey was so devoted to. It seems that both were as passionate about their musical influences as their own fans became about them. An official announcement of their split came in 1987. Strangeways, Here We Come was released posthumously, as was the live Rank in 1988.
Morrissey’s solo career commenced immediately, while Marr joined The The and did session work for artists like the Pretenders, Billy Bragg and Bryan Ferry. He then went on to form Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order (with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys joining in for a few vocals). In 1991, Joyce and Rourke announced they would sue Morrissey and Marr for their fair share of Smiths royalties. A long court battle ensued…Rourke settled out of court and Joyce eventually won his case.
Morrissey, and the legacy of his five-year band, are still unabashedly adored. Conventions are planned, web sites abound, the back catalog is worshipped…Morrissey and his winking angst took hold of something in the 80’s youth consciousness and never let go.
Artist Release History1984 – The Smiths
1984 – Hatful of Hollow
1985 – Meat is Murder
1986 – The Queen is Dead
1987 – Strangeways, Here We Come
1987 – Louder Than Bombs
1988 – Rank
1992 – Best, Volumes 1 & 2
1995 – Singles
Pop Sub Categoriesalternative
Essential Music AlbumsSingles (Reprise)
Band MembersMorrissey vocals
Johnny Marr guitar
Andy Rourke bass
Mike Joyce drums