It is hard to imagine that The Smiths have been gone for 25 years. The Manchester, England, band whose sound helped define the indie scene in the '80s have been away longer than they were together. September 29 marks the 25th anniversary to the release of their fourth and final record, Strangeways, Here We Come. In just five years and four records together, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce made such a lasting impression on music and the musical landscape for decades to come.
How and why were The Smiths so big? Well, for one thing Johnny Marr's unique guitar work became the signature of the bands sound and eventually the basis and influence for many bands like The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, The Libertines, The Cribs, The Vaccines and nearly any successful British band to emerge in the wake of The Smiths exit. Another part was that their sound was both pop and commercial, but it was also rock and roll. The Smiths proved that guitar bands that played pop music did not always have to sing about falling in love. The Smiths sang about not being in love and breaking up and feeling lonely, a feeling more people can relate to. When they did sing about falling in love, it was to the effect of "If a double-decker bus crashes into us / to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die." They were the misfits of pop music and the misfits of rock and roll and their audience ate it up. Singer Morrissey's stage antics, sexual ambiguity and his being an outspoken animal rights activist, added to the band's aura and popularity.
After the indie spotlight was put on Manchester, England, thanks to Joy Division, Ian Curtis' suicide derailed that band's career and Manchester was hungry for another new, fresh, original band. The Smiths staked their claim. In 2011 I interviewed Smiths' bassist, Andy Rourke. He said, "eventually The Smiths arrived, we knew we had something special... the rest is history." The Smiths had a sound and swagger like no one else, and Marr and Morrissey became one of the greatest songwriting duos since Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards. "We were very united and focused and excited about the sound we were creating, from its creation to the performance, always solidarity," said Rourke.
The band's jingle-jangle sound and catchy songs have never been forgotten and still feel as vibrant and as inventive today as they did back then. Yet, mounting tensions within the band, mainly between Morrissey and Marr, who had conflicting ideas as to where the band's sound should go would, lead to Marr's exit weeks before the release of Strangeways. Marr's exit would eventually disintegrate the band. In 2011, I interviewed Stephen Street, the producer behind all four of the band's acclaimed records, and he said, "I knew that they were pretty special and I am extremely proud of the records we made together. However I never expected that nearly 30 years later they would be held with such high reverence. It truly is amazing!"
In just a small amount of time, they managed to alter rock and roll forever. It was almost like a tease -- they began something so special but never really saw it through to its full potential. This band really could have been headlining arenas and stadiums at the rate they were going. A Smiths reunion is always talked about nearly every year, especially when massive music festivals like Coachella, Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza begin to announce their lineups. While both Marr and Morrissey have ruled out a reunion, Stephen Street feels no different as he said to me, "I would love to see them working together again, but... I don't think it's going to happen." Should they come together, it would be something truly special, but should they not, that magic will live on in legacy and they will be a light that never goes out.
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