Formed in 1982, The Smiths were an English band from Manchester, regarded as the definitive indie rock band of the 80s, highlighting the end of the synth-driven new wave and introducing us to the beginning of the guitar-heavy English rock that dominated the 90’s.
Based on a partnership from then-strangers Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr, we also saw bassist Dale Hibbert and drummer Simon Wolstencroft recruited to form a complete group. When it became apparent this group dynamic wasn’t a good fit after only one gig, Hibbert and Wolstencroft parted ways, leaving an open space for drummer Mike Joyce, and Marr's old friend and fellow guitarist Andy Rourke, finalising the lineup.
Avoiding what was thought to be ‘flashy’ and ‘pretentious’ names of synthpop bands in the ’80s such as Duran Duran and A-ha, by late 1982 Morrissey had chosen the name “The Smiths” due to it being “the most ordinary name....and it's time the ordinary folks of the world showed their faces." The Smiths were soon signed to independent record company Rough Trade Records, and taking inspiration from the D.I.Y. ethics of punk, The Smiths became the first indie rock outsiders to achieve headline recognition on their own terms, a rejection of the synth-pop sound that was predominant at the time.
In May 1983 The Smiths released their first single, “Hand in Glove” which sold well for 18 months, although it failed to chart in the UK Top 40. The two following singles “This Charming Man” and “What Difference Does It Make?” gained a greater response when they both placed higher numbers of 25 and 12, respectively. With help from positive music journalist reviews and a successful series of studio sessions for John Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, the Smiths began to build a dedicated fanbase.
In February 1984, the group released their debut eponymous album, The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart. This was then followed shortly after by the release of popular singles “Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now” and ”William, It Was Really Nothing”, which featured ”How Soon Is Now?” on its B-side. The year concluded with the compilation album “Hatful of Hollow”, grouping together a selection of singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded in the Peel and Jenson shows throughout the previous year.
A second album titled Meat Is Murder was released in February 1985, which was directly more strident and political than its predecessor, including the pro-vegetarian title track. During this time the band had also grown more musically diverse, with Marr experimenting with rockabilly riffs and Rourke introducing funky bass solos on the likes of “Barbarism Begins at Home”. The album was the band's first and only chart-topping work, and in 2003 was ranked number 295 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Throughout 1985 the band were touring the UK and US while at the same time recording their next studio album, ”The Queen is Dead”. The album was released soon after the single ”Bigmouth Strikes Again” in June 1986. The single featured Marr's jangly arpeggios and lead melody guitar lines. "The Queen Is Dead" peaked at number two on the UK charts and featured a mixture of witty despair and dry humour.
With the stresses of touring and releasing music growing on the band, tensions were high and Marr turned to the bottle to cope. Rourke was later fired, reportedly learning this by the means of a note handwritten by Morrissey and left on his car, although he was reinstated after a fortnight. Morrissey has since denied these accusations. Frustrations with Rough Trade on the part of The Smiths accumulated, and the group sought after a new deal, ultimately (and controversially) signing with American label EMI.
In early 1987, ”Shoplifters of the World Unite'' reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart, which was then followed by a second compilation album titled ‘The World Won’t Listen’ highlighting Morrisey’s annoyance with the band’s lack of recognition within the media. This went on to reach number 2 in the charts, with the single ‘Sheila Take a Bow’ following in its footsteps, becoming the second (and last) of the band's singles to reach the UK Top 10.
The Smiths' fourth album, “Strangeways, Here We Come” strayed away from tradition and opened with a piano introduction, as Marr wanted to get away from the Smiths' usual sound. This peaked at number two in the UK and was their most successful album in the US, hitting number 55 on the Billboard 200. It received a welcome yet lukewarm reception from critics, despite both Morrissey and Marr claiming it to be their favourite Smiths album.
Despite the continued success of The Smiths, it was growing more apparent that tensions were emerging within the band. Exhausted and growing closer to the verge of alcoholism, Marr took some time away from the band in June 1987, which he felt wasn’t well perceived by his bandmates. In July 1987, Marr left the group permanently, with suspicions that the NME article entitled "Smiths to Split'' was planted by Morrissey. The article stated that Morrissey disliked Marr collaborating with other musicians, and that Marr and Morrissey's personal relationship had finally reached its breaking point. Marr later contacted NME to explain that he did not leave The Smiths due to personal tensions within the band, but because he wanted to experiment with a wider musical range.
By the time "Strangeways, Here We Come" was released in September 1987, the band had split. In a 1989 interview two years later, Morrissey blamed the lack of a managerial figure and background business problems as reasons for the band's split, and ever since it has been a unanimous decision that there will be no chance of a Smiths reunion due to bad blood.