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Profile of English Indie/Alternative Pioneers The Smiths

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Profile of English Indie/Alternative Pioneers The Smiths Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino Records UK

Formed:

1982 in Manchester, England

Disbanded:

1987

Core Band Members:

  • Morrissey (born Steven Patrick Morrissey on May 22, 1959 in Davyhulme, Lancashire, England) - Lead vocals, songwriter
  • Johnny Marr (born John Martin Maher on October 31, 1963 in Ardwick, Manchester, England) - Guitar, backing vocals, songwriter
  • Andy Rourke (born Andrew Michael Rourke on January 17, 1964 in Manchester, England) - Bass guitar
  • Mike Joyce (born June 1, 1963 in Fallowfield, Manchester, England) - Drums

Overview:

The Smiths formed in the wake of and as a result of various inspirations from punk rock, but the group also largely forged its own path as a throwback guitar rock band. In addition, the widely disparate influences and musical interests of band leaders Morrissey and Johnny Marr made for utterly unique tapestries of musical precision and introverted lyricism. A leader in the burgeoning post-punk, college rock, alternative rock and indie rock genres, the band cast a tremendous shadow over the future of rock despite only existing for five years during the heart of the '80s.

Early Years:

Inspired by punk rock to seek a back-to-basics approach to making pop/rock music, Morrissey and Marr immediately set out to distance The Smiths from the generally glossy synth pop and new wave acts of the time. In fact, a major nod to simplicity and artistic integrity came in the pair's selection of its name, chosen to champion the ordinary over the excessive contemporary pop music tendencies the band saw around them. After signing to indie label Rough Trade Records, the group began to blaze a trail for the sensibility that would eventually birth indie rock.

U.K. Success, U.S. Reverence:

The band got down to business quickly, producing its self-titled debut album in 1984 along with several successful non-album singles, including "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "William, It Was Really Nothing." Morrissey, meanwhile, drew plenty of controversy with his overtly political, unflinching lyrics, a trend that continued on The Smiths' follow-up releases in 1985 and 1986, respectively, Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead. While the impact of this music was immediate in the band's homeland, The Smiths grew far more gradually in the U.S. However, a wide legacy was quickly forming.

Internal Tensions Shape & Ultimately Undo The Smiths:

Although part of the appeal of The Smiths undoubtedly stemmed from the sharp contrast between Marr's fixations on guitar layering a la The Byrds and Morrissey's crooning vocal style and internalized lyrical concerns, those characteristics also made for a tense relationship between the two visionaries. Another album emerged in 1987, Strangeways Here We Come, but by then Marr had already left the band. Morrissey tried to continue with a replacement guitarist, but soon it became clear that The Smiths were effectively no more.

Legacy & Refusal to Reform:

The brief output of The Smiths quickly sent shock waves through the newly forming modern rock and alternative music scenes. The '90s explosion of these styles in both the U.K. and U.S. borrowed heavily from the group's successful DIY aesthetic as well as its persistent stubbornness in building its own singular sound. Despite lucrative offers to reunite in the new millennium, Morrissey and Marr have remained steadfast in their unwillingness to reform the band, even as both express genuine respect for its accomplishments a quarter-century earlier.

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