This is a hard task I’ve set for myself. To pick out 10 songs that resonated with me out of The Smiths’ flawless catalog is an easy task. To pick the ones that I like the most is not so easy. 10 is a shortlist because there are so many good songs by Morrissey, Marr & crew. To the point where even if I picked at random I wouldn’t be disappointed with the list. They wrote songs that stood the test of time. Simply because to be honest – no one wrote songs like them. No one was brutally honest about the boredom of everyday life quite like Morrissey. There are few who have followed, but none of them have matched The Smiths. For context I discovered The Smiths when the songs were already as old as me. I’m 31 now.
- Ask – My introduction to The Smiths. As a teen I was into a band called Idlewild that were getting a lot of play on UK radio, TV and in magazines. Journalists compared them to The Smiths a lot and I had to check them out for myself. I took a trip to my local record store and the only CD they had was The World Won’t Listen. The second song on the CD was “Ask” and this song changed my life literally. I was a little awkward at 15/16 and remember expecting things to happen without me putting in the actions. A typical entitled millennial youth This song made shyness seem very bleak & I had to change my ways. Its delivered in such a positive way (unusual for the Smiths). Like the song was an invitation for me to be more socially/emotionally intelligent and ask for things. Work for things etc & not be so held back by emotions and worries of negative outcomes. Also “writing frightening verse to a bucktooth girl in luxembourg” – no other writer would even consider writing something like this. Brilliant.
- How Soon Is Now – A slightly less positive take on being shy. “I am the son & eire of a shyness that is criminally vulgar” – Also feeling a little lost and in need of love. At the age of 15/16 those years I felt the same. I was into my music and working hard on it every night I had spare since the age of 14. My social life suffered a little bit. I was too shy to get with girls, and this song resonated. I love the choppy tremelo’d guitar and the half time strut of the song too.
- This Charming Man – The opening line is brilliant “Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate. Will nature make a man out of me yet” – sets the scene of him hitching a ride. Just the brilliance of the guitar (I’d never heard a Rockabilly player I liked before Johnny Marr) – The way he fuses his style with Morrissey’s lyrics, Joyce’s drums and Rourke’s basslines just has so much swagger. The song too (although sexually amibiguous to some) is essentially about being young & it feels almost sarcastic in saying “this charming man” – he knows so much about these things. Like he’s a somebody and Morrissey the young lad is still a nobody. The irony that in being so honest he became a very cool somebody! I like both the version on the self-titled and the version on Hatful of Hollow. I slightly prefer the brighter sound of the Hatful of Hollow version even though its just a Peel Session recording.
- William, It Was Really Nothing – From Hatful of Hollow – The song touches on a typical rainy day in a shitty town (in Morrissey’s case – Salford/Manchester… for me Huthwaite/Nottinghamshire) – I could relate. Also the line about staying with a fat girl who only wants to get married & doesn’t care about the man – even though close minded I find it hilarious. Such a dry topic and a funny observation he must have made when writing. I sense Morrissey was bored when he wrote the song but with Marr’s guitar this song stands out! The Smiths were all about being ordinary so often the song topics are just Morrissey venting his bored frustrations. What made them great is the relatable quality but also how Marr’s guitar made them uplifting or interesting. No other bands had guitar players like Marr at the time.
- Panic – A song that made everyone in indie clubs chant “Burn down the Disco – Hang the blessed DJ – Hang the DJ, because the music means nothing to my life ” – just incredible. I love how he shouts out Birmingham, London, Leeds, Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside – it really opens up the listener to relate even more. “Has the world changed or have I changed?” – These questions asked in song form just really stick hard with the listener. It opens them up to philosophise.
- Cemetery Gates – This song is funny. “A dreaded sunny day so I’ll meet you at the Cemetery Gates – Keats & Yeats are on your side, while Wilde is on mine” – An ode to Morrissey’s literary tastes but also he’s saying his identity is shaped by reading someone greater. That many keats and Yeats fans are merely sheep who are in love with the English Literary Canon
- Hand In Glove – The first single the band recorded and put out. I love the line “Yes, we may be hidden by rags but we have something they’ll never have”. Talking about being poor but having a unique bond that others dont have. Also it reminds me of another one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” where he sings “we are ugly but we have the music” which is funny because he makes a Cohen reference with the line “And everything depends upon how near you stand to me”, (actually an adaptation of a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s Take This Longing)
- The Boy With The Thorn Inside – A song that basically says behind every hateful person lies a need for love. Forever relevant in today’s hateful world. The instrumental is joyous and never gets old.
- Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now – My dad’s favourite The Smiths song and his reason being he loves the dry humour. Even though Morrissey’s deadly serious about his job dissatisfaction and search for meaning – the song’s light hearted instrumental perked up by Marr gives it a feeling of lightness. Like its slightly in jest. Lots of people related to the song being in shitty jobs in the 80s. When I got my first shitty jobs I also related to it.
- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – How could this be a top 10 without this song?! It couldn’t. Its perhaps Morrissey’s best love song. “Take me out tonight, cause I want to see people and I want to see lights”. It paints a picture of a boring weekend where you’re stuck in the house & need some human interaction. A theme we’ve all felt in our lives. Morrissey’ take just romanticises those lonely times “and in the darkened underpass i thought oh god my chance has come at least, but a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask” – Morrissey once again talking of his shyness. “and if a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side – such a heavenly way to die”. What a chorus! Many lonely people fear dying alone, and The Smiths made a love song for the lonely and the desperate. At 15/16 I could relate, and at 31 with a girlfriend I would still prefer to die by her side than alone. So this song is timeless and universal. Like much of The Smiths’ discography.
Whats your favourite song? Leave in the comments or on the Facebook thread below!
I hope you liked my rundown. You can hear the songs here (mostly) in Official video form.