[Morrissey Week] The Smiths’ Debut: 30 Years Later

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In celebration of Morrissey‘s May 28 return to The Ryman (tickets here) and our accompanying ticket giveaway (get the full scoop), we’re going to be bringing you Moz-releated posts all week long. Monday, we got things started with a show preview, and, yesterday, we took a look at the new deluxe reissue and “definitive” remaster of Morrissey’s classic, Your Arsenal. Today, we’re jumping even further back, and examining Morrissey’s musical debut with The Smiths, whose self-titled album just turned 30 last month.

The Smiths were a proper band, to be sure, and, though not dissimilar from Morrissey’s later solo career, they were a group more firmly rooted and distilled in their sound and image throughout their brief, influential five-year run. Formed in Manchester in early 1982, it wasn’t until February 20, 1984 that the band released their eponymous debut LP. Initially produced by The Teardrop Explodes’ Troy Tate, The Smiths was ultimately rerecorded by John Porter, at the insistence of Rough Trade Records label head Geoff Travis. By the time of its release, The Smiths had already experienced moderate success from several non-album singles, and had begun to tour, however no one, the band especially, could have predicted its deep-rooted and long-lasting influence.


At the time of The Smiths‘ release, core songwriting duo Morrissey and Johnny Marr were merely 24 and 21, respectively. Channeling a blend of dance pop, postpunk, and ’60s pop, cemented by Moz’s grandiose, socially and politically conscious lyrical themes, The Smiths arrived at a time of musical transition, and connected with audiences, especially European ones, in a way much more profound than many of their more superficial peers. Debuting at number two on the UK Albums Chart, The Smiths never hit quite as hard stateside, especially at the start (it wasn’t until 1985’s Meat Is Murder and bonus single “How Soon Is Now?” that the U.S. started to take notice). Still, the album laid the foundation for a legacy, and is often regard as the group’s best, if not a close second to The Queen Is Dead.

Interestingly, only one proper single was spawned from the release: “What Difference Does It Make?” However, “This Charming Man,” a non-album single that had performed well in England upon its release a year prior was packaged with the American edition of the album, and has generally been included on its tracklisting since, even as recently as 2011’s gorgeously remastered (by Johnny Marr himself) and meticulously comprehensive re-release of the group’s entire catalogue, Complete.

The long-lasting influence of The Smiths is immeasurable, and, unlike most classic releases, it is disproportional to the record’s commercial success. In a time when record sales were abundant, the album managed only to chart Gold in the UK, and, to this day, has achieved no sales certifications in the United States. Still, it appears on countless “Greatest of All Time” lists, and Smiths fans have only grown more rabid and cult-like in the decades since. A quick YouTube search for Smiths covers will turn up bands of all shapes and sizes, and, in recent years, Morrissey has been offered millions to reunite with the band (the other three members, Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce are all open to the possibility). However, between Morrissey’s own cult-like solo success, pride, and stubbornness, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get to witness the group perform again; still, with all four members alive and well, it’s not entirely impossible.

Rather than holding onto hope for that reunion unlikely to occur, you’d be better suited to spend your time appreciating what The Smiths left behind: a four album (eight, if you count the official live and b-side/compilation releases included in most comprehensive release sets) legacy of some of the greatest, most unique, and most emotionally resonant music in history, and the album that started it all: The Smiths. And, for the closest live experience around, you have to see Morrissey May 28 at The Ryman. His set is sure to include plenty of his former band’s classics.

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