10. ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’
‘I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives and now it’s happening in mine’ – Morrissey’s refrain is sure to stick in your head after listening to this. The message of the song is summed up in the lyric ‘When you laugh about people who feel so very lonely / Their only desire is to die.’ So basically don’t take shots at people when they are down or feeling down. There’s a lovely metaphor near the start – ‘Time’s tide will swallow you up’ – that suggests it’s inevitable that life will put difficulties in your path. So there’s no need to make things worse for each other.
We’re treated to a haunting Jonny Marr guitar melody that kicks off around the 1.55 mark that compliments the dark theme of the song. Mike Joyce’s drums sound great here too. A track that really shows off the individual talents of each Smiths’ member.
9. ‘Still Ill’
Probably my first ‘favourite’ Smiths song – it does tend to alternate a lot with fans of great bands! Love the intro to this – real raw and gritty (make sure you’re listening to the version on their self-titled first studio album, not the version on ‘Hatful of Hollow’).
There are different interpretation as to the ‘illness’ in the song. Possibly, it might be about people pressurising others to repress their homosexuality. The key line ‘Does the body rule the mind /Or does the mind rule the body? / I dunno’ links with this view – can one fight the perceived ‘wrong’ urge to be homosexual or will one’s impulses win the day? Or this could be about some form of mental illness, perhaps depression.
Jonny Marr’s guitar is magic here, his chords melding into each other, their melancholy providing the perfect foil to Morrissey’s mournful, yearning ‘ooh’s.
I cannot leave this without reserving special mention for the line ‘And if you must, go to work, tomorrow / Well, if I were you I wouldn’t bother / For there are brighter sides to life / And I should know, because I’ve seen them, but not very often.’ A resonant lyric that encourages the listener to spend less time engaging in life’s dreariness and save more time for the ‘brighter sides’ – things you actually enjoy doing.
8. ‘This Charming Man’
The essential Smiths track. Show me someone who has never heard this!
That introduction… what an absolute MONSTER of a riff! Meanwhile, Andy Rourke’s bass is almost funky in this track, adding to it a delicious swagger.
The abiding line ‘I would go out tonight / But I haven’t got a stitch to wear’ sticks in the mind but there is a more sinister tone to this song. One interpretation is that it’s about a young boy who is seduced by an older, richer man in a car when he stops to offer the boy a lift after he punctures his bicycle!
I love the opening lyrics – namely the contrast of the mundane ‘Punctured bicycle’ and the poetic ‘On a hillside desolate.’ This is a quality Morrissey’s songwriting is renowned for and it grants this hit a mystical, almost romantic, mood.
7. ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’
Such a great song this to sing along to. Marr is on fire on this one – that riff before the chorus is one of his most memorable. Short and sweet, this is the most upbeat song on the list.
6. ‘How Soon is Now?’
A song dripping with melancholia and moodiness, the effect Marr achieves with his guitar on this is surreal from the off – a hazy, muffled riff opens the track before a screaming two tone guitar echoes up to the heavens. One of The Smiths’ longer jams (is it their longest?), Marr also provide us with a cracking little solo after the chorus.
A song clearly about shyness or even social anxiety: ‘There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you / So you go and you stand on your own / And you leave on your own / And you go home and you cry / And you want to die.’ Yes it’s a bit sentimental, but it does neatly sum up the quintessential shit night out – in a club or out with people you feel too self-conscious with so you bugger off home early! We’ve all been there!
The chorus is massive on this as well – ‘You shut your mouth / How can you say / I go about things the wrong way? / I am human and I need to be loved / Just like everybody else does.’ Typical Morrissey motifs here – a splash of aggression twinned with a feeling of alienation. We also get that sense of poetic languor, ‘I am the son / And the heir / Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar / I am the son and heir / Of nothing in particular.’ Fantastic songwriting again here. With Morrissey’s mixture of angst and apathy, it’s easy to see why The Smiths did, and still do, appeal to teens.
5. ‘Back To The Old House’
Listen to the Peel Sessions version – the acoustic guitar is more in keeping with the gloomy air. This is possibly the saddest Smiths song to listen to.
The theme is one of missed opportunities – ‘And you never knew / How much I really liked you / Because I never even told you / Oh, and I meant to.’ It’s a break up song and a damn good one at that – the subject being a former relationship that did not work out, but the speaker still feels an urge to return to their ex – I would rather not go / Back to the old house / There’s too many / Bad memories / Too many memories / There…’
Marr’s guitar is simple yet somehow indescribably forlorn, bewitching and pensive at the same time. What a fucking brilliant guitarist!
4. ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’
A personal favourite here. A real eerie, tense opening sets the tone early. Again, this is a Smiths song that allows every member to shine – Joyce’s drums are fantastic, while Rourke’s bass is lazy and mellow. The track reaches an incredible crescendo – a spectral Theremin sounding effect swooning in and out while Morrissey belts out the piano, Marr doing some serious jamming on the guitar as Joyce’s drums grow more thunderous over time. This is such a good song.
Always interesting to listen to how Morrissey squeezes in all the ‘very nice’s and ‘maybe in the next world’s into the chorus! He really is in excellent form here, sounding at times haunting and wry over the course of the five and a half minutes. While it’s fun to belt out the lyrics along with Moz, they are actually quite poignant and at times caustic. One take is that he is criticising the general, giddy idealism of pop songs – when push comes to shove, everyone is selfish and ‘peace, love and harmony’ go out the window. Another possible interpretation is the song being a reference to how the IRA were targeting British nightclubs during their bombing campaign in the 90s.
A song tinged with a deep sense of disillusionment.
3. ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’
Perhaps The Smiths most quote-worthy number, the opening lines are timeless: ‘I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour / But heaven knows I’m miserable now / I was looking for a job, and then I found a job / And heaven knows I’m miserable now / In my life / Why do I give valuable time / To people who don’t care if I live or die?’ So he’s got the fear after a night on the lash, realises he’s fed up with his job and is sick of showing face to people who he can’t relate to – sentiments we’ve all felt in differing degrees! As always, it’s easy to criticise Morrissey for being melodramatic here but it’s all a bit tongue in cheek I think and it certainly adds to the overall enjoyment of the track.
I love the way Marr’s riffs on this give the track an upbeat mood, yet Moz’s lyrics could not be more, well… miserable! Also the moment midway through the song where Marr sounds like he is winding down the song and then belts out that memorable riff again to set the song off again is a lovely moment. Marr’s guitar playing is really something to savour here while Rourke’s bass is electric. Smashing little song.
2. ‘Girl Afraid’
A song teeming with angst and uncertainty – it seems clear enough the subject is a date that has gone wrong. It’s well written the way we get both the male and female perspectives of the misunderstanding. It’s sad because it seems that they’re both into each other but neither of them is willing to show enough of an interest to the other. Perhaps each of them are too concerned with appearing ‘cool’ and aloof in a misguided attempt to impress or attract the other.
I love how concise the opening is: ‘Girl afraid / Where do his intentions lay?’ We only get two words of description here to set the scene, the second line being more like a thought, but both just compliment and link together so well that we’re left in no doubt as to what’s going on. We get the stereotypical female concerns about physical appearance, ‘He never really looks at me / I give him every opportunity’ while the boy bemoans his date’s expensive tastes, ‘And everything she wants costs money.’
Marr and Rourke sound fantastic together here, cooking up a really funky and rhythmic brew.
1. ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’
My god, Rourke is on fire here – all about the slow, subdued bass guitar. He really is underestimated so much. His bass sounds like a liquid sea of melancholy on this, its choppy waves constantly undulating, absorbing and reflecting Morrissey’s grey, mournful tones.
The lyrics here are so ominous and downright creepy. You can’t help but think what the flying fuck is he on about when he sings ‘In a river the colour of lead / Immerse the baby’s head / Wrap her up in the News Of The World / Dump her on a doorstep, girl.’ This just sounds so sinister that, on first listening, you may be like me in assuming it could another song from The Smiths about the child killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who of course acted out their atrocities in Manchester, the same city the band hails from (this would be no surprise considering their song ‘Suffer The Little Children’ dealt with the Moors Murders). But looking past this eerie opening and considering the song as a whole, it seems to be song about a relationship that produces an unwanted child, the couple decide to ‘dump’ it on someone’s doorstep and as a consequence they spend the rest of their lives wracked by guilt and regret. Quite a dark subject then.
The line ‘This night has opened my eyes / And I will never sleep again’ is a metaphor for how love can make you blind as it buffers you from the cold, practical realities of life, ‘Oh, he said he’d cure your ills / But he didn’t and he never will.’ Morrissey is a real poet here, crafting a range of austere, grim images – ‘In a river the colour of lead’ and ‘A shoeless child on a swing / Reminds you of your own again.’ On no other Smiths track does he sound as brooding and wearisome as he does here, his almost whispered delivery serving to create an utterly dismal atmosphere… but it is a dismal topic. He veritably sighs aloud at moments. A good deal of the baleful tone of this song can be attributed to Morrissey’s detached delivery – his voice sounds so cold and aloof.
I love how he presents the struggle in the pair’s head after they give their child away – ‘The dream has gone / But the baby is real / Oh, you did a good thing / She could have been a poet / Or, she could have been a fool / Oh, you did a bad thing / And I’m not happy / And I’m not sad.’ You did a good thing / bad thing, I’m not happy / not sad – these seemingly contradictory contrasts present their sense of confusion and mental turmoil so pithily. A cracking bit of songwriting.
As always, Marr’s guitar also features prominently, a weeping, spellbinding riff similar to the one that appears on ‘Back To The Old House’ lazily swings between the rich bass and Morrissey’s sparse vocals.
The effect this track has on you is immense. You are left feeling so empty and down but in a good way! My favourite Smiths song – a cold, harrowing, moody, desolate slab of melancholy.
So there you go – my Smiths top 10. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard to pick as I thought initially. Do you agree? Any big songs I’ve left out that should be in here? Feel free to post you own top 10 below. Peace!