Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Top 20 Smiths songs

The most influential band to come out of the Manchester music scene (which also included The Buzzcocks, New Order, Joy Division, Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, to name a few), The Smiths are regarded as legends. They were formed in 1983, and stuck around for only 5 years. In that time they have created not just songs, but anthems. The band consisted of singer Morrissey (who still continues to record solo these days), who is known for his poetic, dramatic lyrics, his love for Oscar Wilde and his disdain for society in general, guitarist Johnny Marr, (who is one of the best guitarists ever and would later join The The and the New Order sideproject Electronic), and bassist Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Inner tensions caused the band to break up suddenly in 1987. Johnny Marr has said he usually worked with the producer then Morrissey would come in, sing his part and leave. Although the highest they reached on the British singles charts was #10, their influence is incredible. The Smiths and maybe the Beatles have such devoted fans, to this day there are Smiths conventions and they are all constantly asked to reunite and have been offered millions to do so.

Here is what has been said of Morrisey's lyrics:  "Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour; John Peel remarked that The Smiths were one of the few bands capable of making him laugh out loud. Influenced by his childhood interest in the social realism of 1960s "kitchen sink" television plays, Morrissey wrote about ordinary people and their experiences with despair, rejection and death."

To realistically write a top 20 songlist for The Smiths is hard work. It's like asked a parent who their favorite child is. I have love for all of their songs. I will probably change my mind the minute I finish this post. Nevertheless, here is my attempt to chart my favorite songs, starting with...

#20 London (b-side of Shoplifters of the World and the compilation album Louder Than Bombs)
The most "punk" sounding Smiths song ever. Anthrax (of all bands!) did a pretty good version of this on the Airheads soundtrack. This song is basically about leaving your town behind and wondering if you made the right decision and the jealousy of people you left behind.

#19 Girl Afraid (b-side of Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now and the compilation album Louder Than Bombs)
Insecurity and wondering what the other person is thinking. You are afraid, and so is she. Girl wonders what the boys intentions are or if he even has any.

#18 Rubber Ring (b-side of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and the compilation album Louder Than Bombs)
Louder than Bombs is such a great album. Everything so far has been included on that. This song is about the singer singing to his fans and how songs can save your life. It's really a song aimed at your future and how songs can affect you. One of Morrissey's greatest lyric achievements

#17 How Soon Is Now? (single, also appeared as a b-side on the single William It Was Really Nothing and on the compilation album Hatful of Hollow)
The Smiths best known song, though it did not chart as high as most would imagine (#24 on the British charts), it was mostly because it was already released on the single William It Was Really Nothing. I love the vibrato on this song and I also love the double usage of the world sun/son and air/heir. Numerous cover versions have been released, the most famous ones were from Love Spit Love (which became the theme for the show Charmed and The Craft) and the band t.a.t.u.

#16 . Pretty Girls Make Graves from the album The Smiths
The song title comes from the book The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. This is another song about genders and confusion. I'm not quite sure what the song is about. Most seem to think it's about a woman persuing a gay man, but in the book Dharma Bums, this is said by the main character and the philosophy behind it is that "pretty girls" lead to lust, which in turn leads to birth, which in turn leads to suffering and then, inevitably, death, or "graves". Very cool song.

#15 What Difference Does It Make? from the album The Smiths
Morrissey himself has said this is his least favorite Smiths song. I disagree. The lyrics are great. It sounds like someone revealing a dark secret to another. A mysterious song

#14 You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby from the compilation album The World Won't Listen
A forgotten Smiths song that almost never gets mentioned. A very catchy song that is basically about happiness and how you have to "suffer and cry for a longer time" to really appreciate it.

#13 Girlfriend In A Coma from the album Strangeways Here We Come
One of the finest singles from The Smiths. Very sarcastic Morrissey lyrics, where he displays a lot of anger toward the girlfriend, yet still wishes no harm. Also check out the novel of the same name by Douglas Coupland, which talks of a dystopian future and many other Smiths and Morrissey lyrics are used throughout the book.

#12 Still Ill from the album The Smiths
 Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body?" This could be about depression or relationships or holding on to the past and trying to hold on to dying dreams.

#11 Handsome Devil from the compilation album Hatful of Hallow
I remember first hearing this on Miami's college radio station, WVUM and falling in love with this song. I love the guitar in this song and Morrissey's voice throughout. Lyrically, their most sexual song.

#10 Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me from the album Strangeways Here We Come
Morrissey has called this his favorite Smiths song. A very depressing song, yet I always feel hopeful after hearing it. Intense. The Eurythmics have covered this song.

#09 This Charming Man from the album The Smiths
Awesome guitar work on this track. Morrissey has said this about the song. " "I really like the idea of the male voice being quite vulnerable, of it being taken and slightly manipulated, rather than there being always this heavy machismo thing that just bores everybody." The video for the song features the band playing in a room with the floor covered by flowers.

#08 The Boy With The Thorn In His Side from the album The Queen Is Dead
The first song I ever heard from The Smiths and my introduction to their world. This song holds a special place for me. I was walking randomly around Miami and on my Walkman this song came on while hearing WVUM and I had to hear more from this band. Luckily I remembered the name of the band.  "Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love"

#07 A Rush and A Push and the Land is Ours from the album Strangeways Here We Come
This could be about a person stressed out about life, talking with their father and reassuring him that he's alright despite being single. It could be about someone just coming out of a relationship as well. Like all good Smiths songs, the lyrics are meant to be ambiguous. "A rush and a charge and the land is ours" is an old Irish battle motto. This could be about independece. Superb song!

#06 Shoplifters of The World Unite from the compilation album Louder than Bombs
Morrissey has also said at one time this was his favorite Smiths songs. The title alludes to the communist slogan "workers of the world, unite!". To me this has always seemed like a very revolutionary song. Stealing stuff to piss off capitalists. I could be wrong, but one of the best singles from the band.

#05 William It Was Really Nothing from the compilation album Louder than Bombs
I love that this song contains my first name!
The song is popularly believed to have been written by Morrissey about his short-lived friendship with Billy Mackenzie, lead singer of Associates. The compilation Associates: Double Hipness released in Aug 2000 included the song "Stephen You're Really Something" recorded by Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine during the Associates reunion in 1993 as a tribute to "William, It Was Really Nothing".Morrissey has said the song was in response to all those 60s song sung by women about marriage.

#04 Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now from the compilation Louder Than Bombs
This includes one of the best Morrissey lines ever "In my life why do I give valuable time
to people who don't care if I live or die? " I also love the lines about getting a job, yet still being miserable. This song is one of the most honest ones ever and for this reason is one of the best known Smiths songs.

#03 Bigmouth Strikes Again from the album The Queen is Dead
Another great Johnny Marr guitar lick! The rock band Placebo have done a great cover of this also. A very witty song. I really like the opening lines about being joking about being bludgeoned in your bed. Morrissey has said the song is about being misunderstood and crucified for things you say, much like Joan of Arc.

#02 Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want from the compilation album Louder Than Bombs
A very short, beautiful song that has been covered to death but I still love the original version. It's only 2 minutes long, doesn't have many lyrics, yet it says so much. Depressing, bitter, sad, angsty, yet so brilliant. I can recall myself being a teenager and playing this song on repeat over and over again.

#01 There Is A Light That Never Goes Out from the album The Queen Is Dead
The ultimate song from the Smiths. Most lists of people's favorite Smiths song list this as #1 also, and with good reason. A very depressing, inspiring song. It conveys a moment of happiness so pure that if the person were to die by his beloved, it would be a great way to die. There's also a longing for a better life and not being accepting by family "it not my home, it's their home and I'm welcome no more" that seems so sad. The perfect combination love and death and my personal favorite song from this band.

Further reading.

All Men Have Secrets by Tom Gallagher - People share their stories about what Smiths songs mean to them
Girlfriend in A Coma by Douglas Coupland - Dystopian novel about a girl who falls into a coma and has strange visions, Smiths and Morrissey lyrics throughout.
Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance by Johnny Rogan - Brilliant book about Morrissey's early life and his time with the Smiths and their breakup
Mozipedia by Simon Goddard - Encyclopedia of all things Morrissey related. Everything from Manchester to Golden Girls!

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