The Smiths’ singles: Worst to best

One of the most influential, if not the most influential, bands in indie rock and pop history, the Smiths have a back catalogue of singles so impressive that their collection is bettered only by that of The Beatles. Morrissey, Marr and co. were only in existence for 5 short years in the mid-eighties but they managed to put together a discography comprising of many meaningful and sad, yet often humorous and sarcastic pop classic that the modern music landscape wouldn’t be the same without.

  1. Girlfriend in a Coma – Reached no. 13 in 1987

Not necessarily a bad song, but bad by their high standards. Girlfriend in a Coma depicts Morrissey, as the title in would suggest, as the boyfriend of a girl in a coma. Surprising, I know. The plodding and slow baseline and Marr’s uninspiring guitar melody provide the backing to Morrissey moping about the impending doom of his girlfriend. There is a sense, I feel, of disassociation between Morrissey and his lyrics in this song, understandable as it depicts a fictional event rather than the typical real life motives Morrissey uses for his words. All in all, in its short 2 minutes the song fails to capture the audience with any real emotion or a real pop hook and melody.

  1. I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish – Reached no. 23 in 1987

A faster paced song from Marr with a nice bassline played by Rourke, and a nice bit of brass orchestration in the chorus, but again the song fails to have a solid hook or catchy melody. As for Morrissey, he talks of this song of having doubts in a relationship before finally coming to the conclusion that he can take the relationship no further. He then talks of the feelings of guilt felt after letting his girlfriend, or boyfriend, down. Nice lyrics from Moz but nothing particularly revolutionary or inventive.

  1. Shakespeare’s Sister – Reached no. 26 in 1985

An upbeat and bouncy piano led song which has a very good drum track and very minimal guitar playing, rare for a Smiths song, and a catchy vocal melody performed by Morrissey in the chorus. The enthusiastic melody played out on the piano does a nice job of offsetting the quite depressing lyrics by Morrissey as he talks of fighting against suicidal tendencies and a controlling parent in order to pursue romance, after having taken inspiration from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

  1. Sheila Take a Bow – Reached no. 10 in 1987

A strong and rocking song from the band that sees Morrissey take on a rare positive viewpoint as he tells the subject of the song, Sheila, to try and overcome her depressive thoughts and instead go out at night and pursue love. Good guitar playing and the introduction again of an upbeat piano melody being played out to support the fast, driving nature of the song makes this song an extremely entertaining and uplifting listen, rare for a song with lyrics written by Moz.

  1. Shoplifters of the World Unite – Reached no. 12 in 1987

This song sees Morrissey tackle a number of issues such as the injustice in the criminal sentencing and the general dullness of life. He addresses both of these topics through the example of shoplifters, first claiming that it is an injustice that a small and often victimless crime such as shoplifting can have such a massive effect on someone’s future prospects while politicians are able to orchestrate acts of war and see no punishment. He then refers to shoplifting as something that is done to relieve boredom, stating from the characters perspective that he tried to live a life without crime but was “bored before he even began”. With a strong and melodic backing by the band, this track is a very strong showing from Moz and the boys.

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  1. Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me – Reached no. 30 in 1987

The title of this song says it all really. A very gloomy and mopey song in which Morrissey depicts in a particularly depressing way, even for him, having to live with crippling loneliness and only having access to love and happiness in his dreams. He sings with desperation and asks into the emptiness “How long until the right one?” before complaining about how long he has been in the cycle of waking up alone, a cycle which he feels is destined to never end. With the melancholic strings that support Marr’s guitar playing on this track, it stands as one of The Smiths most poignant and moving songs, and both Marr and Morrissey claim it as their favourite Smiths song.

  1. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now – Reached no. 10 in 1984

Again, another song where the title does all the explaining necessary. In this track Morrissey sings in a very straightforward way about how miserable he is in his life. His depression is a result of his boredom and loneliness, and he has got to the point where he is sick of society and wants to withdraw entirely from it. The brilliance in this song comes from the guitar playing from Marr as he starts the song of by playing a gorgeous and jangly riff and extends this riff throughout the song, weaving it between Morrissey’s vocal melodies and the great bassline played by Rourke. A truly brilliant pop song.

  1. What Difference Does It Make? – Reached no. 12 in 1984

One of the more rocking Smiths songs, this one of their first album sees Johnny Marr start the song with a reverby and driving riff that remains throughout the track, as Morrissey sings of a relationship that has broken down due to him telling his partner something about him that they did not agree with or support, seemingly that he is gay. But Morrissey sings of still feeling great fondness for this person, despite them growing apart from one another. Marr does a good job of shadowing quite a sad song about loss with a catchy and fun riff that has led to this song being one of The Smiths’ most enduring.

  1. Panic – Reached no. 11 in 1986

Led by the strong drum and basslines, along with the typical jangly guitar playing from Marr, this song stands as one of The Smiths most musically upbeat and danceable songs. One of Morrissey’s most simplistic lyrical efforts, but also one of his most hard hitting, he sings of the deterioration in the quality of modern pop music and that he finds the lyrics in most modern songs to be completely devoid of all meaning. Finally, the song ends with the iconic “Hang the DJ” chants as the song fades out. A masterful pop song that strikes back at the dwindling state of mainstream music.

  1. William, It Was Really Nothing – Reached no. 17 in 1984

To the backing of very fast jangly guitars, on this song Morrissey seemingly sings to a man called William about a short lived relationship that they have had, before William feels he has to leave the relationship because it goes against social norms, and that he instead must marry a woman in order to be conventional and fit in with society. He criticises the woman that William is now with, saying that she doesn’t care about anything except herself, and Morrissey ultimately questions the meaningfulness of both their relationship and the marriage that William later had, before coming to the conclusion that both were meaningless. The brilliant and harsh lyrics combined with Morrissey’s brilliant vocal performance on this song lead to it being one of the best in the Smiths’ discography.

  1. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side – Reached no. 23 in 1985

The “Thorn” in this case is the music industry that Morrissey believes is failing to take the band’s music seriously. “How can they look into my eyes and still they don’t believe me?” Morrissey sings to his musical critics who have questioned the sincerity in his words, and whether he truly means what he is saying when he sings of his misery and loneliness. He wants them to see that in his words, he is truly portraying his feelings and wants them to respect him for it. In this song, Marr backs up Morrissey’s complaining with a beautiful, jangly riff that remains a constant throughout the song, and leads to this being one of the most melodically strong songs in a back catalogue made of melodically strong songs.

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  1. Bigmouth Strikes Again – Reached no. 26 in 1986

Another song in which Morrissey directs his words towards the critics, but this time with a sense of irony and sarcasm to them. Funnily, in The Boy with the Thorn in his Side, Morrissey sings of how the music industry fails to take him seriously, yet in this song he makes fun of them for taking everything he says literally and crucifying him for it. He compares himself to Joan of Arc, being burnt at the stake for only speaking his mind in an elaborate manner. After all he says he was only joking in his biting criticism of various things such as the Royal Family and the music industry. The bouncy acoustic riff that lasts throughout the song and the phenomenal guitar fill played by Marr in the pre-chorus, along with Morrissey’s brilliant wailing, helps to make this one of the band’s most stand out and sublime songs.

  1. Ask – Reached no. 14 in 1986

This ode to shyness and introversion is one of the most singalong and upbeat songs in the band’s discography. In this anthem, Morrissey offers support to those who, like him, struggle with expressing themselves or knowing how to act in social situations. His sarcastic quip of “Shyness is nice, and shyness will stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to” stands as the greatest opening line from any Smiths song, and possibly any song in pop history. The typical Marr brilliance that lines the words that Morrissey so passionately sings only adds to the majesty of this song. A true masterpiece.

  1. This Charming Man – Reached no. 25 in 1983, and no. 8 in 1992

The best opening 5 seconds of a song ever? Maybe. The indisputable genius of the notes played out by Marr in the opening bars of this song are of course the most incredible thing about This Charming Man, but there are many more. The brilliant bassline line that bounces throughout the song, and the masterful vocal performance by Morrissey both play a part in making this song an all-time pop classic. And Morrissey’s lyrics that depict a shy boy getting in the car with a suave, confident and, of course, charming man are excellent. The boy’s willingness to fall under the man’s charm and call off his prior engagements to spend the evening with him show perfectly the way in which confidence can cast a spell over impressionable souls and cause them to lose all concept of reality. A short, sweet and catchy song that still stands as a highpoint of indie rock music to this day.

  1. How Soon is Now? – Reached no. 24 in 1985, and no. 14 in 1992

There could probably be 1000 words written about the brilliance of Morrissey’s lyrics on this song, but this isn’t the time. In short, How Soon is Now? gives a perfect depiction of what it is like to try and find romance in a club when you are a shy, miserable, socially inept young person who is riddled with self-doubt. The opening “I am the sun and the heir/Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar” shows Morrissey starting the song as he means to go on, before he goes on to discuss his need for love, despite the standoffish nature of his character, and his impatience at waiting for love to come when others seem to get it so freely. When talking about the musical backing of this song, it is hard to describe the brilliance of Marr’s reverby guitar playing, a style that few have been able to recreate, and the way the coldness of the sound perfectly supports the feelings of emptiness that Morrissey sings about. A truly remarkable piece of work and one of the finest songs ever produced in music history.

  1. There is a Light that Never Goes Out – Reached no. 25 in 1992

There really are no words that can truly describe the genius of this song. Uplifting, soul-crushing, moving beyond words. The anthem to end all anthems. If you don’t cry listening to this then I can’t understand you. One of the best five songs ever, maybe the best.

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