In the early 1980s, the sound of sorrowful pop rock mixed with electronics became distinct thanks to the partnership of Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr in the band The Smiths.
Formed by Morrissey and Marr in 1982, The Smiths included drummer Mike Joyce and bass guitarist Dale Hibbert, who worked at a local recording studio as an engineer. After one gig Hibbert was replaced by Andy Rourke.
Signing to Rough Trade Records, the band’s first single was “Hand in Glove” in 1983 – as they tried to craft a new sound that wan’ts just electronics but more than punk.
Championed by DJ John Peel, The Smiths enjoyed critical acclaim but no massive chart success in the UK. Their consequent singles “This Charming Man” and “What Difference Does it Make” did better on the charts, and their sound was slowly gaining fans.
In 1984, The Smiths debut album was released, with moderate success. The band released follow up non-album singles, “Heaven knows I’m miserable” and “William, It was really nothing”, with the B-side “How Soon is Now”. “Heaven knows…” became a club hit, and top 10 single, but the B-side, “Suffer Little Children” was inspired by a local murder case and gained the band some controversy.
A family member related to the victims caused an uproar over the song in the media. Morrissey met withe family to let them know he was sympathetic to the victims, and not wanting to make money from their suffering.
In early 1985, The Smith’s second album, Meat is Murder, was released, showing Marr’s interest in rockabilly riffs as well as an album that reflected Morrissey’s political beliefs. “How Soon is Now” was released as a single, and although wasn’t included on the album, has been added in subsequent editions. This album was their first to go top 10.
Morrissey used the spotlight to share his opinions – making negative comments about the Thatcher government, British monarchy and the relief cause Band Aid championed by many Brit musicians. For the rest of 1985, The Smiths toured extensively throughout the UK and US, strengthening their fan base on both sides of the Atlantic.
The band found itself in dispute with Rough Trade Records as their third album, The Queen is Dead, was delayed by seven months, only releasing in June 1986. A bleak album, it reached number two on the UK charts. Rourke was fired from the band because of his heroin use and replaced with Craig Gannon for the rest of the year.
In 1987, Morrissey wanted a new label and more recognition. The Smiths releasing the single “The World Won’t Listen”. By summer 1987, Marr was exhausted from touring and worried about his drinking, took a break from the group. An article in NME Magazine alleged the band was breaking up, which Marr thought had been instigated by Morrissey, and then quit the band.
Morrissey and other musicians recorded some songs which led to the release of the fourth album, Strangeways, Here We Come, but by the day of release of the album, the band had broken up.
I remember seeing The Smiths perform, an unusual combination of punk bravado and art rock elegance, and realized how hard it would be to this band in a category, which was probably why although a strong fanbase existed, it never got into the top echelons of music royalty in the UK.
The unique combination of Morrissey and Marr made this band forge a new sound in the 1980s UK music scene – one that is still distinct to this day.