If memory serves, some time in late 1984 Glenn O’Brien, in his music column in Interview magazine, mentioned a band that was all the rage among music critics in England. “Thus far the only people in the United States who have heard of The Smiths are some pretentious yuppies at Brandies University,” he wrote. I don’t know if I’d call us yuppies – we were college students – but my friends and I had discovered The Smiths.
Kathy discovered them when she studied in London for a semester. While there she made me a mix tape that included The Smiths’ “This Charming Man.” Its catchy melody and distinctive vocals hit me immediately.
Around the time O’Brien wrote the above-referenced item The Smiths released “How Soon Is Now?” The lyrics included “’There’s a club, would you like to go? You could meet somebody who really loves you / So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” It’s like Morrissey, the band’s lead singer/lyricist, was reading my diary! The record went to #1 in Glenn’s Ten, though failed to chart nationally.
Morrissey’s over-the-top lyrics (and I mean that description in the most flattering way) coupled with Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar riffs separated The Smiths from other bands of that era or any other era. Songs such as “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” were not the minor-key dirges their titles suggest. They were uptempo, in major keys, and melodic.
The group’s artistic pinnacle was their 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, #22 on my Top Albums of All-Time list. The lyrics are Morrissey at his most Morrissey-esque. “If a double-decker bus crashes into us – to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” and “Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.” Marr juxtaposes these words with music that invites the listener to sing along.
Morrissey, who turns 55 today, releases his new album, World Peace Is None of Your Business, this July. Here are a few of my favorite moments from his career. (The Spotify embed tool still is not working.)