"I think if I'd led an acceptably frivolous teenage life I wouldn't be singing in this group. I'm sure if you have a great time and get everything you want, all the friends you want, then you tend not to be so ambitious. If you're deprived of certain things it makes you very resilient and you kick very hard for what you want. And I wanted something very special because I'd led such an unspecial life previous to the Smiths." - Morrissey, 1983
The Smiths began in 1982. Guitarist Johnny Marr and Morrissey decided to create a band focused on the music, rather than the image. Hence, the name "The Smiths" was chosen, which was chosen as the most common, ordinary name they could think of, in protest to the extravagant names of most bands of the era.
"Nothing spurs you on like anger and we were angry about all the ugly people who control this business and all the ugly faces on Top Of The Pops. Why all the ugliness? It's very strange - this complete lack of intellect and complete lack of sensitivity. And of course there was nothing more repellent than the synthesizer, so it was really time to sweep all that down the drain.
To say everything is hopeless, which is what people have been saying up till now, is a pointless attitude and that's where our belief in beauty and charm comes in. It's not to do with having a perfect profile or alabaster teeth." - Morrissey, 1983
Interestingly enough, they originally intended to only write songs and sell them to other groups. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce joined up as bass guitarist and drummer, respectively, and the newly formed band was signed to do a single after their seventh live performance, by Mancunian Factory Records. Their first single was "Hand In Glove", which was an immediate hit, sweeping the UK. They stood out from the bands of the time because of their avoidance of synthesizers, and their down-to-roots style of dress. In an age of glam rock, they avoided the gimmicks and popular hooks of the day to focus on the song writing. They were quickly signed to Rough Trade Records, (Sire Records was their distributor in the US) and released their second single, the hit "This Charming Man", and the eagerly awaited eponymous album "The Smiths" was released in 1984. The critics of the day were harsh on the album, claiming it didn't live up to the promise their earlier singles had shown. The tone of the album was morose, not the energetic feel their two singles had exhibited.
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "William It Was Really Nothing", combined with the earlier singles helped propel this album eventually to #2, although it was slow going until they were aided by controversy over one of their songs. The media took Suffer Little Children, about the horrific Moors Murders, and called it sympathetic to the murderer, Ian Brady. This, of course, drew more people to their albums, bringing them attention through media instead of their music.
"(The tabloids) hound me, and it gets very sticky. What makes me more dangerous to them than anybody else is the fact that I lead somewhat of a religious lifestyle. I'm not a rock 'n' roll character. I despise drugs, I despise cigarettes, I'm celibate and I live a very serene lifestyle. But I'm also making very strong statements lyrically, and this is very worrying to authoritarian figures. They can't say that I'm in a druggy haze or soaking in alcohol and that I'll get out of it. They probably think I'm some sort of sex-craved monster. But that's okay — they can think what they like. I'm only interested in evidence, and they can't produce any evidence to spoil my character." - Morrissey, 1985
When they released the single "How Soon Is Now", the song was a huge hit and came just as the band was falling under disfavor. This is probably the Smiths song that is most remembered, to this day. They gained such acclaim, that their second album, "Meat is Murder" debuted at #1 on the British charts. After this, Rourke quit the band to deal with his growing drug addiction. He was replaced by Craig Gannon, who helped them record the next album and was retained when Andy Rourke returned, clean. Next up was "The Queen is Dead", which was their first album to enter the top 100 in the US. The theme of the album brought controversy, bringing them back to that which had earlier propelled them to the top of the charts.
"The reason why Morrissey and I got together in the first place to write songs - and the reason why it was so successful - was because we both felt the need to react against what we'd been hearing over the past X years. Basically, we had a lot of gripes. I don't think groups can succeed unless they've got something they feel uncomfortable about. If you're happy with the music you're making and the music around you then you're going to be complacent, boring and safe." - Johnny Marr, 1983
It was after their fourth album, "Strangeways Here We Come" in 1987 that the trouble that had been brewing became evident. The band had grown increasingly large and mainstream. Under pressure from their record company to produce the big hits, Johnny Marr began drinking heavily and grew tired of the industry, finally quitting the band in August. The band sought a replacement for several months, and released statements that the departure of Marr had been entirely as a result of the scope of the band, but this came across as unconvincing. Marr and Morrissey had been out of communication for months, prior to his leaving, and the press discovered this. The search for a replacement was unsuccesfull, and Morrissey eventually officially broke up the band in September to pursue his solo career. The controversy of their careers as the Smiths has all but died, now, and all that remains is the original core of the band, their songs. No small legacy.