Styles: Alternative / Indie Rock
Similar Artists: Echo and the Bunnymen, Felt, The The
Recording Year: Sire, 1984.
The Smiths were the definitive British indie rock band of the '80s, marking the end of synth-driven new wave and the beginning of the guitar rock that dominated English rock into the '90s. Sonically, the group was indebted to the British Invasion, crafting ringing, melodic three-minute pop singles, even for their album tracks. But their scope was far broader than that of a revivalist band. The group's core members, vocalist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, were obsessive rock fans inspired by the D.I.Y. ethics of punk, but they also had a fondness for girl groups, pop, and rockabilly. Morrissey and Marr also represented one of the strangest teams of collaborators in rock history. Marr was the rock traditionalist, looking like an elegant version of Keith Richards during the Smiths' heyday and meticulously layering his guitar tracks in the studio. Morrissey, on the other hand, broke from rock tradition by singing in a keening, self-absorbed croon, embracing the forlorn, romantic poetry of Oscar Wilde, publicly declaring his celibacy, performing with a pocketful of gladioli and a hearing aid, and making no secret of his disgust for most of his peers. While it eventually led to the Smiths' early demise, the friction between Morrissey and Marr resulted in a flurry of singles and albums over the course of three years that provided the blueprint for British guitar rock in the following decade.
Before forming the Smiths in 1982, Johnny Marr (born John Maher, October 31, 1963; guitar) had played in a variety of Manchester-based rock & roll bands, including Sister Ray, Freaky Part, White Dice, and Paris Valentinos. On occasion, Marr had come close to a record contract -- one of his bands won a competition Stiff Records held to have Nick Lowe "produce your band" -- but he never quite made the leap. Though Morrissey (born Steven Patrick Morrissey, May 22, 1959; vocals) had sung for a few weeks with the Nosebleeds and auditioned for Slaughter & the Dogs, he had primarily contented himself to being a passionate, vocal fan of both music and film. During his teens, he wrote the Melody Maker frequently, often getting his letters published. He had written the biography/tribute James Dean Isn't Dead, which was published by the local Manchester publishing house Babylon Books in the late '70s, as well as another book on the New York Dolls; he was also the president of the English New York Dolls fan club. Morrissey met Marr, who was then looking for a lyricist, through mutual friends in the spring of 1982. The pair began writing songs, eventually recording some demos with the Fall's drummer, Simon Wolstencroft. By the fall, the duo had settled on the name the Smiths and recruited Marr's schoolmate Andy Rourke as their bassist and Mike Joyce as their drummer.
Several months after releasing their first album, the Smiths issued the singles and rarities collection Hatful of Hollow, establishing a tradition of repackaging their material as many times and as quickly as possible. While several cuts on Hatful of Hollow are BBC versions of songs from The Smiths, the versions on the compilation are nervy and raw -- and they're also not the selling point of the record. The Smiths treated singles as individual entities, not just ways to promote an album, and many of their finest songs were never issued on their studio albums. Hatful of Hollow contains many of these classics, including the sweet rush of "William, It Was Really Nothing," and the sardonic "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," the tongue-in-cheek lament of "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want," the wistful "Back to the Old House," "Girl Afraid," and the pulsating, tremolo-laced masterpiece "How Soon Is Now?" With such strong material forming the core of the album, it's little wonder that Hatful of Hollow is as consistent as The Smiths and arguably captures the excitement surrounding the band even better.
Fields Of Haze... Underground for all.