Described as one of the most influential British bands of all time, the story of The Smiths is extraordinary. In just 5 years the band release 4 studio albums, 3 compilations and a live album, as well as releasing 16 singles. Lead by Morrissey & Marr's songwriting partnership and backed by Andy Rouke (Bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) The Smiths formed in 1982 but by 1987 the band had split. 25 years on, Tony Fletcher has just released his latest book 'A Light That Never Goes Out:The Enduring Saga Of The Smiths' It is the definitive story of The Smiths and the first time band members have been directly involved with a biography of the band.
Tony Fletcher has put together his Top 10 Smiths songs for Banging Drums:
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Yes, this one is obvious, but there's a reason for that. It's timeless. It's the Smiths simultaneously at their most credible and their most commercial. Few bands can pull off such a delicate balancing act. The Smiths managed it - and then refused to release it as a single. That took balls. The Smiths had enough for ten bands.
I always loved this song for its lyrical sentiments, as I note in the book;it may have been the first time I realised the Smiths had such a strong political sensibility. But it is also early(ish) Smiths at their jangliest and jolliest and that's a good thing too.
The Headmaster Ritual
I strongly recall hearing this opening up Meat Is Murder and realising that the Smiths had raised their game, that they were more than a singles band or flavour of the month but that they had, excuse the pun, the meat to compete with the best of rock bands. Lyrically it spoke to some of my own experiences; musically it's impeccable, with Marr and Rourke, in particular,intertwining with the ease that comes from having grown up together.
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
I never doubted that the Smiths had a sense of humour.But when this single came out I almost fell over laughing; it was tender and it was tragic ("Two lovers entwined...") and yet it was side-splittingly funny at the same time, Morrissey laughing at himself while still desiring to kick certain people in the eye. And Marr, as I note in the book, captured a sense of melancholy in his performance, and that's not easy. This song more than any other Smiths single polarised the British public at the time. I knew which side I was on.
Stretch Out And Wait
If I'm honest, I would have to say I only truly came to appreciate this song to such an extent while researching and writing the book;after all, it was a bonus B-side to one of their least successful singles. Perhaps this gorgeous lilting ballad about a girl giving her body to her “juvenileimpulses” should have been the A-side, but that was always the beauty of the Smiths, that they would tuck such magical music away in a format that most bands used as a dumping ground.
Although Panic led to in a shift in the Smiths audience (again as detailed in the book), and for all that the 'Hang the DJ' line was the start of Morrissey unraveling enough rope to hang himself in the eyes of the media, the power of this song, its retro glam feel, and its lyrical sentiment that seemed blindingly obvious in those pre-acid house days (i.e. I never took it as being anti-dance music, but rather as in opposition to the high street meat market discos and the inane MOR that dominated their dance floors) made this a supreme anthem in 1986. It still sounds just a little bit dangerous and exciting even a quarter century on. For that matter, so does Metal Guru. The best music always does.
You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby
I'm a sucker for great pop songs and they don't get much greater in the Smiths' canon than this one, which only saw vinyl release on The World Won't Listen compilation. At the time, I couldn't understand why it wasn't a single; now I realise that the Smiths were nervous about seeming too commercial. They went for Shoplifters Of The World instead, the success of which indicates that they made the right choice. But producer John Porter’s ear for a hit is nonetheless at its most finely attuned here.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
All 17 singles had their merits, and I’veselected a few here already. This one has always been a personal favourite.While I would like to believe I understand and empathise with the sentiment to this song, I love the mood more than anything. I find it enormously uplifting and I love the fact that the Smiths essentially released the demo recording as the single.
Paint A Vulgar Picture
I don't know how many people share my high opinion of this song from Strangeways, Here We Come. I have issues with the lyrics, but musically, I felt it was a big step forward for the Smiths. It's rock, but it's not cliched. There's a guitar solo, rare for the Smiths, but it too is not cliched. It reminds me of the R.E.M. song 'The Flowers of Guatemala' from Lifes Rich Pageant; as per Johnny Marr, Peter Buck was not given to solos, and when he finally stepped up to one on record, he kept it remarkably direct and simple, and it was all the more powerful as a result. When I hear this song, I think of what the Smiths might have become, especially in regard to the onward motion of their aforementioned American cousins.
William,It Was Really Nothing/Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want/How Soon Is Now?
It is almost incomprehensible that the Smiths recorded all three of these classics in the same session, for the same single. The B-sides have endured better (at least in the States) than the A-side, but 'William' remains one of my most treasured Smiths singles for its brevity, simplicity, and again, its wit. It's neither fair nor accurate to say that the Smiths peaked at this point- The Queen Is Dead was probably their finest 40 minutes - yet what an astonishing package this was. I'm sure that the band themselves occasionally scratch their heads and wonder how they pulled it off.
'A Light That never Goes Out:The Enduring Saga Of The Smiths' Is available now in the UK from bookshops & online at Amazon
The author Tony Fletcher has his own Website