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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
The Smiths: The influential alliance

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The Smiths
Marr (second l) and Morrissey (second r) ended The Smiths in acrimony

Tuesday marks 20 years since the release of The Smiths' first single, Hand in Glove. BBC News Online looks at the band's legacy.

The songwriting partnership of Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr may not often be talked about in quite the same terms as that of Lennon and McCartney.

But to a generation of music fans, they were the only band that mattered.

They hardly outstayed their welcome. Within five years of forming, The Smiths would be no more.

But their four albums - The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come - arguably redefined British guitar music.

Hand in Glove, released in May 1983, was the first in a long line of classic Smiths songs that included This Charming Man, Panic, There is a Light That Never Goes Out and How Soon is Now?

With bandmates Mike Joyce on drums and bassist Andy Rourke, the Morrissey/Marr partnership was a beacon to music fans who felt out of step with 80s commercial pop.

Their championing of outsiders and misfits was taken up in the mid-90s by the ascendant Pulp, whose singer Jarvis Cocker updated Morrissey's nerdish manner to winning effect.

Noel Gallagher

The Smiths singer's bookish, fiercely intelligent lyrics also provided a blueprint for the quiet, literate Scottish band Belle & Sebastian.

Marr's guitar style was a huge building block for more Manchester legends that followed The Smiths - The Stone Roses, with their guitarist John Squire acknowledging the debt he owed to Marr.

And Noel Gallagher is another major star admitting The Smiths as an influence, and Marr in particular.

He once told a music magazine: "When The Jam split, The Smiths started, and I totally went for them."

While Gallagher's lyrics are a world away from Morrissey's - beery bravado compared with The Smiths' soul searching - he has also said Morrissey's words were a major influence.

Best album

Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, hours after playing with Johnny Marr at a Neil Finn concert in New Zealand in 2001, said The Smiths' guitarist was the reason he had picked up a guitar as a teenager.

And critics continue to revere them. Their seminal 1986 album The Queen is Dead was recently voted the best album of all time by British music bible NME.

They knew they were good, but they didn't let it consume them,
Geoff Travis, Rough Trade Records

Geoff Travis, the head of independent record label Rough Trade, was one of the first to see their promise when presented with the first of the nascent group's finished songs - Hand in Glove.

"Johnny and Mike Joyce came in to the warehouse, I was upstairs making a cup of tea," Travis told BBC News Online.

"Johnny came up to me and said 'Will you listen to this, it's not just another tape'.

'Propelling creativity'

"You would have been a fool not to notice that he looked great, and I went home and I must have played it 10 times. I called them and said 'Look, let's do a record'."

Travis said he was not surprised the band made such a huge impact.

"They had such a propelling creativity," he said. "If they had a Top of the Pops show on Tuesday, they would be rehearsing on the weekend and writing new songs.

"They knew they were good, but they didn't let it consume them," Travis said.

Morrissey on Top of the Pops
Morrissey's solo career has never matched the success of The Smiths

Their first manager, Joe Moss, was equally convinced the band would make history.

He told BBC News Online: "They wrote some great songs.

"The songs were great musically and great lyrically, and that's a tricky thing to get right," he said.

But it took just five years for the band to split.

Marr was angry Morrissey was too stuck in his ways, and Morrissey hated the fact "his" guitarist was playing with other bands.

'Legend intact'

Marr left the band in 1987, weeks before the release of Strangeways, Here We Come.

He has played since with artists ranging from Billy Bragg to Beck, and made three albums as Electronic, with New Order's Bernard Sumner.

He has also formed The Healers, who released their debut album earlier in the year.

Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr now plays with his band The Healers

Though Morrissey's early solo career saw classic songs such as Everyday is Like Sunday and Suedehead, he never managed to capture the same respect as The Smiths.

Now living in Los Angeles, he is currently without a record deal and tours only occasionally.

After an acrimonious split and ongoing bitterness over royalties (Joyce and Rourke won a legal battle against Morrissey and Marr in 1998), the chance of a Smiths reunion is slight.

The myth of the Smiths, however, has not died. Moss said the fact the band split up at the height of the powers has certainly been kind to their memory.

"It's like a James Dean thing, the legend has remained intact," he said.

"They didn't get to the point where they were making albums that nobody cared about."

Did The Smiths change your life - or is their influence exaggerated? A selection of your e-mails are below.

They defined "indie" music, prepared the market for- and inspired- bands like REM. They were the British music scene in the 1980s and had the decency to split before they began repeating themselves.
al, UK

Most people see The Smiths as that depressing band from the 80s with a wailing,whiny singer. These are the people who do not care for, or understand music. Any music lover, no matter which genre, should understand and appreciate the importance and influence of The Smiths. As a poet/lyricist, Morrissey has not or will ever be surpassed, just ask Brett Anderson...
Martyn, Newcastle, UK

Everybody I knew liked the Smiths, except me brother. We wore the T-shirts, played the music and had daffodils hanging out of our back pockets. As a student in Manchester it was almost surreal, hearing Morrissey sing about places like Rusholme and then calling in at the Rusholme chippy on the way home from a night out. Great times. I've still got the 12" singles.
Jonathan Whitham, UK

My partner and I who are getting married in August decided to have There Is a Light That Never Goes Out playing as we leave the registry office... "and if if a ten-ton truck killed the both of us, oh to die by your side the pleasure the privilege is mine" (how romantic is that!!).
John McDermott

To put it simply they were everything. At the time we were leaving school and every factory had closed,we knew we had no future,but so did Morrissey. We refused not to wear our Queen is Dead t shirts at school,we spray painted the Smiths everywhere and we finished girlfriends who insulted them. From a time of shocking throw away pop The Smiths were seminal.
John Huntington, England

During my teenage years The Smiths were hugely important to me. Not before or since has a band struck such a chord. I listen to their music less now but when I do I am instantly transported back to the 1980's when music had a more intelligent tone.
Allan Ferguson, Scotland

Quite simply, the Smiths were the single biggest influence on my life. As a teenager growing up in the mid-80s, Morrissey's lyrics and the music spoke to me in ways I never knew music could. They said everything about how I was feeling and made me want to go out and experience things, change things, to read books and be creative, to find out what this love thing was all about. Slap me on the patio I'll take it now....
Dru, UK

I think we're mistaking the fact that a poet talking over a guitarist (and the guts to use tremelo with distortion) with genius. Didn't you notice how dull it actually was?

I think Floella Benjamin and Rod Jane and Freddy were more of an influence than most. The Smiths were just too young to remember the programME efficiently.....
El Bongo Drumerre', UK

Who hasn't been "16, clumsy and shy"? Never exaggerated and utterly unequalled.
Annette Hartley, UK

There is no denying that The Smiths were massively influential in shaping many a journey through adolescence. To this day there has never been a British band to match them. Their legend will live on for another 20 years........
Martin Laws, Scotland

Quite possibly everything I ever learnt at such a nascent stage of my life was from The Smiths - from learning to play to discovering films and literature, and even an artistic bent is all owed to them - and it is fitting to see that they are becoming the cherished act they always deserved to be. I just hope they never ruin it by reforming
Andrew Cooper, UK

My husband (at the time boyfriend) is the real Fan. He helped me see past the attitudes of my opinionated friends at school. You know the ones 'you-can only-listen-to-this-stuff-if-you-dress/act-like-us'. Once I saw past that I really took to the melodic and sometimes jarring music the Smiths produced. I think the track 'Suffer Little Children' was one that hit me the most.

I hope they don't make a comeback, it wouldn't be right. Bands like the Smiths were of their time and should stay that way.
Lynne Couch, England

I was watching TOTP in 1983 and it was all new romantic rubbish. Then Morrissey came on with a hearing aid and swinging flowers round his head - I imediately became a complete freak for the next 10 years.
Ian McKinley, UK

I was not part of the Smiths generation, but they still came to me. The passionate and emotional lyrics struck me when I first heard There is a light that never goes out, and they never wear away. I'm so thankful for their's something I can relate to in this world of plastic pop.
Lorenzo Dwyer, Swansea

I think Morrissey & Marr were better than Lennon & McCartney. Their songs are some of the most truthful, honest and beautiful ever written. It's sad that they split up at the height of their powers, they would have gone on to become one of the biggest and most important bands in the world.
Andy Birchall, UK

The Smiths were the most important band in my teen years and, as your article says, their influence can be heard in lots of bands today. You missed out a mention of the album Hatful of Hollow which is still played regularly in my house!!
Angela Baldwin, UK

The Smiths are good but The Jam were far better. Weller could write all sorts of songs from love poems to anti governemnt songs. It would be interesting to find out how much Morrisey & Marr were influenced by Weller.
Karl Jones, England

They were literally the only aspect of my youth that was tolerable. Unlike The Clash or The Jam, I lived with them from start to finish. I never understood why others "got" The Smiths; their songs seemed so personal to me. In one sense, they were immensely inspiring, but in another way, they ruined me because I knew I could never match them creatively. I felt completely imprisoned in a life and era I didn't want, but when The Smiths released a record or appeared on TV, it was like glimpsing through a crack in the highest wall at what life could be - at what I wanted my life to be.

They spoke for the paralysed souls of myself and thousands of others, and were all the more relevant for doing so in a time when the revolting stence of Thatcherism was at its zenith. They were unique, beautiful, fearless and astonishing. I can't listen to those records any more - they're just TOO personal and too much of a reminder of bad times - but I'll always passionately and everlasting! ly love The Smiths. The light that never goes out? Indeed.
Andreas Stavros, England, UK

The Queen is Dead was the first record (or rather cassette) that I ever bought and remains with me to this day. I cherish The Smiths as the first band that ever really got me interested in music, despite the obvious ribbing I used to endure from my classmates and think the music is as relevant today as it was then, perhaps more so. Favourite track = There is a light that never goes out...a classic!
Marc Biondic, UK

The Smiths were indeed the single most important band to me as an adolescent. Others came close - the Jesus and Mary Chain, Joy Division, but it was in the deep reflection and poignancy of Morrissey's lyrics that I found a kindred spirit. Johnny's playing caused me to pick up a guitar. The fact that so many have echoed this is no surprise.

Back then, in the early 90s, if you saw someone else with a Smiths t-shirt it was truly a sign of solidarity, you'd practically go up and hug them, and they'd already been broken up for several years. Neither Morrissey's solo material, though (mostly) laudable, nor Marr's post-Smiths projects ever meant a hill of beans to me compared to the Smiths. They were It.
Blaze, USA

Like many teenagers in the mid 80's, The Smiths were simply the soundtrack to my life for five years- no other music brings back such wonderful, emotive and confusing memories as hearing their music....
Matt, UK

I was introduced to The Smiths by a boyfriend, and although that relationship has long passed - The Smiths are definitely still in.
Mandy, UK

The Smiths were the theme song of my adolescence and Morrisey the hero who sang about Manchester then moved to LA. Life could've been painfully boring without their songs to grow up with.
m villa , usa

Smiths voted top album
30 Dec 99  |  Entertainment
Marr 'set to join Oasis'
11 Aug 99  |  Entertainment


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