Best British 1980s Bands-The Smiths

Morrissey and Marr - A Songwriting Duo Made in Manchester

The Smiths formed in Manchester in 1982 when John Maher and Steven Morrissey started writing songs together. They would be leaders of one of the most influential bands of the 1980s, The Smiths.

Forever after known as Johnny Marr and Morrissey, they would go on to write some of the best songs of the 1980s.

Their legacy though is a strange one - only three original albums to speak of but many, many individual songs in addition to these. Recently, there has been criticism over the number of 'Best Of' albums they have managed to release. Maybe they're being musically' green, recycling is probably something of which Morrissey approves.

Their star shone bright for the shortest time, from 1982 to 1987 when Johnny Marr decided he'd had enough of their narrow musical style and wanted to explore other options.

The band spilt with rancour - Marr and Morrissey, long time friends called it a day. The other two band members, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce would spend the next 20 years fighting both Morrissey and Marr through courts to get their fair share of royalties. It's all a bit sad really, but there is no denying that their 5 years together produced some of the most iconic tracks of the 1980s.

When you bring together an amazing guitarist and a poet, you are going to get some outstanding songs.

The Smiths
The Smiths
Coronation Street Screen Siren Elsie Tanner
Coronation Street Screen Siren Elsie Tanner
Johnny Marr with his beloved Rickenbacher.
Johnny Marr with his beloved Rickenbacher.

Manchester in the 1980s - Centre of the Music Universe

If you need any convincing of the Smiths influence in the 1980s, look no further than the bands to come out of their city after they have started the fire.

Morrissey

Steven Morrissey is all about words - his early career with the Inland Revenue didn't last long and he seems to have devoted a lot of his time to reading and a constant devotion to popular culture

He would spend hours watching Coronation Street and other soap operas and from a young age seems to have been affected by what he saw. He wrote about his attachment to such programmes, where he felt connected to many of the characters; especially those going through torment.

His ability to articulate feelings of disillusion,depression and disenfranchisement is what makes the Smiths songs so good. He brings lyrics down to a poetic form,

'In a river the colour of lead'

'Immerse the baby's head.'

'Wrap her up in the News of the World'

'Dump her on a doorstep, girl'

Can you see the dirty river, the small baby, the teenage mother wrapping the poor mite in the most popular but seediest Sunday newspaper - Morrissey has dragged you into his world.

The mundane is what makes his lyrics so great but don't be ready to think it's all doom and gloom, He is in many respects like Oscar Wilde in his ability to create humour out of darkness. Yes, it's bad sometimes but there's laughter too - even laughter at yourself.

'Hand in glove - the sun shines out of our behinds'

Morrissey doesn't worry too much about offending listeners. He's storytelling in a poetic way. He's singing the poem in his baritone monotone and you'll either love him or hate him.

Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr is one of the most influential British guitarist of the last 3 decades. Many current guitarists like Noel Gallagher and John Squire have claimed Marr as a major influence on them and they are songwriters in two of Manchester's biggest bands, Oasis and Stone Roses.

Johnny Marr is an amazing creator of melody and his symphonic approach to creating music gave the Smiths music a very 'full' sound. He used rhythm of bass and drums are guides for his layered guitar lines and to see him live was amazing.

The Smiths album cover
The Smiths album cover | Source
The Smiths Meat Is Murder album cover
The Smiths Meat Is Murder album cover | Source
Johnny Marr and Morrissey
Johnny Marr and Morrissey
The Smiths
The Smiths

Smiths Albums

The Smiths' first album, 'The Smiths' was released in 1982 and went to Number 2 in the British charts, staying in the charts for 33 weeks.

They appeared live on Top of The Pops; Morrissey danced on stage with gladioli hanging out of his back pocket and spun around slowly, trailing his microphone and resting the back of his hand against his fevered (?) brow. Marr couldn't stand still, the guitar looked too big for his small frame. Joyce and Rourke looked solid at the back, allowing Morrissey and Marr to dominate the front of the stage/

'The Smiths' was the indie album of 1982 but it planted another Manchester seed.

Manchester was were it was all happening - Ian Curtis was dead at 24 and Joy Division were gone. Tony Wilson was still valiantly trying to raise the indie music flag in the north and Manchester bands were thriving in a vibrant live scene. The Smiths first album in 1982 came along at just the right time.

I recall seeing them sing 'This Charming Man' on Top of the Pops and having to run to the phone to talk to my friend, Tanya to see if she had seen them too.

That was it, I was a Smiths fan for the rest of my life. I loved Marr's guitar, I loved Morrissey's poetry.

'On two bicycles,

On a hillside, desolate,

will nature make a man

Of me yet?'

I bought the album the next day during my lunch break.

The album was on the Rough Trade label. Rough Trade were the foremost indie music label and The Smiths had a fruitful relationship with Rough Trade until their final year when there were problems with the release of their last album.

Meat Is Murder, their second album kept on the same sort of track as The Smiths but it was as if Morrissey was suddenly aware that he had a bigger audience and decided to sing about his own causes. At times things got more political, the songs about vegetarianism and Mrs Thatcher all seemed a bit overdone to my 20 year old ears. His earlier lyrics were depressing but also clever and sometimes fun. I didn't get the whole singing about vegetarianism thing, still don't.

The Queen Is Dead had a title written to be controversial but the tracks offered a return to The Smiths melodic finesse, Marr at his best and Morrissey returning to his witty repartee and occasionally depressing poetry.

Surprisingly, only 3 years into their career, they released their first compilation album, 'The World Won't Listen', Morrissey's wry comment on their lack of recognition when they had toured extensively for 3 years and released three excellent albums.

Another compilation, 'Louder Than Bombs' followed and soon after, The Smiths split up after Andy Rourke's heroin meltdown and Johnny Marr's exhaustion after their last tour.

Morrissey remained aloof throughout the split. Marr has admitted he'd had enough drinking and feeling exhausted. Rourke went to rehab and Joyce became a successful session drummer.

Morrissey has had a great deal to say about other members of the band killing The Smiths, he seems almost blameless but who knows what really happened.

They have been asked about reuniting many times. Morrissey has said he would rather eat his own testicles than reform "And I'm a vegetarian..."

The Smiths have been apart 25 years but there is a timelessness about their songs which still makes them sound amazing even after a quarter of a century.

The Smiths' Best Songs

This is so difficult for me to choose because The Smiths strange manner of making records leaves you with a 'canon' which they have released as 'Greatest Hits' under one guise or another for the last 25 years but usually, you will find some of these song on one of their few albums as well. The Smiths have also enjoyed the good fortune to be included in many British movies over the years and they are still played on British radio on a regular basis.

Jools' Top 10 Smiths Songs


10.Girlfriend In A Coma

9. William, It Was Really Nothing

8. Ask

7. What Difference Does It Make?

6. Reel Around the Fountain

5. There is A Light That Never Goes Out

4. Back To The Old House

3. This Charming Man

2. Still Ill

1. Please Let Me Get What I Want

After The Smiths

The Smiths called it a day in 1987, Morrissey remaining dignified and somewhat sarcastic with the press about his ex-bandmates.

Morrissey is not a man to remain quite for long and he started his solo career almost immediately. He has enjoyed a successful career for that whole period, mainly hanging onto old Smiths fans but also gaining new fans along the way. He has had a lot of success in the UK and the USA. His most successful single 'Every Day Is Like Sunday' was successful on both sides of the Atlantic and he continues to perform live.

He remains as controversial as ever, most lately calling David Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister a 'stupid twit' for not allowing wild animals to perform in circuses.

Some of his solo singles show that he still has his ascerbic sense of humour, 'You're The One for Me Fatty' and 'Action Is My Middle Name' being two of note.

After a period of recuperation from exhaustion, Johnny Marr joined forces with fellow Mancunian, Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) to create the band Electronic which melded his guitar harmonic stylings with synthesisers. Electronic did not last ling but did make three good albums.

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Influential 1980s Bands-The Smiths Comments 12 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks Christy, I've been a long time fan, still listen to them now.


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

What a complete hub you have created here. You outline The Smiths well!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Nicole, glad you are a fellow fan! Thanks for your comment.

Teaches12345, I don't think they made much of an impression in the states and even over here, they were either loved or hated. Thanks for your comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

You have me here, Jools. I am showing my age, but I do not know these talented people. Your hub is well written though and interesting. Have to look them up.


Nicole Winter profile image

Nicole Winter 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

I love The Smiths, thanks for publishing this, Jools99!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

HeadfullofSound - I thought of editing that actually, I meant in album terms but you're right, any of their many compilation albums proves they recorded a lot of songs. I stand corrected!


Headfullofsound 4 years ago

"Not an extensive back catalogue"? Jesus Christ, it wasn't until "The Sound of the Smiths" came out that I was able to finally brave the waters of all their singles!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I don't remember The Smiths, but I enjoyed the videos and learning something new. Wonderful tribute hub!!!:)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Deb, I have visited your 80s hub. Bigmouth Strikes Again was just outside of my top 10 but often I listen to things again and remember how much I liked them so this list could be open to editing!

Billy, I have eclectic tastes and it's fine you never heard of them, they never made it big in the USA.

Vellur, 80s and 90s bands are my favourites - showing my age!


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Great work, got to know British bands from 1980's. Voted up.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Jools, do not dislike me for saying this but I have no idea who this band is...never heard of them. Obviously I am much too old and out of touch. :)

However, because you recommend them I will check them out on YouTube.

Well done hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

Great work, Jools. I enjoyed the Smiths back in the day but didn't know much about them, and I'm not familiar with some of these songs. Maybe they didn't get as much play in the States? By the way, my favorite didn't make your list: Bigmouth Strikes Again. It was on my list of the top five new wave songs of the 80s in my hub of the same name.

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