Happy Anniversary: The Smiths
“It takes a particular confidence for one unknown musician to announce to another that their first meeting has the hallmarks of legend. But then Johnny Marr, 18 years old when he arrived uninvited at the Stretford home of Steven Patrick Morrissey one afternoon in May of 1982, had such confidence in abundance.”
– Tony Fletcher, A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths
For lonely, depressed teenagers in the ‘80s who felt that no one could possibly understand how they felt, it’s difficult to underestimate of the release of the Smiths’ self-titled debut album, which first hit UK record store shelves 30 years ago today. The combination of Morrissey’s voice and Johnny Marr’s guitar, ably accompanied by Andy Rourke on bass and Mike Joyce on drums, created a kind of musical magic which, although it may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, led to the creation of songs that saved the lives of many moping males and females around the world. Not that they necessarily moped any less as a result, but at least they could spin The Smiths and know unequivocally that they weren’t alone in their despair.
The first song listeners heard when they set the album upon their turntable was “Reel Around the Fountain,” which began with Morrissey crooning the lines, “It’s time the tale were told / Of how you took a child / And you made him old.” While the sentiment led to the song being pulled from airplay well before it had ever made it onto the album (the band had recorded an early version of the track for a radio session with British DJ John Peel which had earned repeat spins), a decision which stemmed from a columnist for the British newspaper The Sun claiming that the song contained “clear references to picking up kids for sexual kicks,” the ridiculous claim – which, unsurprisingly, was quickly denied by Morrissey – actually resulted in a positive development for the band. With their plans to release “Reel Around the Fountain” as their second single having been squelched, the Smiths instead opted to record and release a new song in its place: “This Charming Man.”
“Reel Around the Fountain” wasn’t the only controversial moment on The Smiths: the closing track, “Suffer Little Children,” written about England’s notorious Moors murders, five children who were slain by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Similarly, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” tackled a dark topic as well, with a narrator seemingly offering an admission of having committed child molestation. But, of course, these songs weren’t singles: the album was represented on radio by far more uplifting fare, most notably “What Difference Does It Make?” Also found within the track listing was the band’s 1983 debut single, “Hand in Glove,” and depending on where you initially bought your copy, you may find the aforementioned “This Charming Man” on there as well. (It wasn’t on the initial UK pressing of the album.)
When it was originally released, The Smiths hit #2 on the UK album charts, an outstanding showing for any debut album, and it’s only grown more popular over time, with Rolling Stone first citing it as one of the 100 Greatest Albums of the ‘80s before kicking it up a notch and naming it one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
This being its birthday, why not give it another listen? It might be 30 years old, but it sounds pretty timeless to us.