I’ve been checking out the 1980s alternative rock band The Smiths lately (I know, I’m a bit late) as well as the solo work of its lead singer Morrissey, and I made a really cool discovery the other day. While listening to random singles from the band, I came across a song that right away sounded familiar. The power chord riff, the kind of creepy-sounding guitar slide—yes, I knew this song. I had heard it on the radio in the past and had always wondered who it was by. That guitar was so cool.
Well, it was by the Smiths. (The song is “How Long is Now?”.) This was all the more reason for me to like them, but interestingly, this song is not representative of the Smith’s sound. The band really had a lighter, less guitar-heavy sound—in some ways very pop-ish, as much as I hate to say so. I’m not normally a big fan of “popular”-sounding music, but I like the Smiths’ members’ perspectives, alternative bent, and of course Morrissey’s lyrics.
“How Long is Now?,” however, actually sounds more modern to me—less 80s and more 90s or even early 2000s. That being said, of course Morrissey’s lyrics are always the same, honest and painful. And they are part of the reason why “How Long is Now” is in many ways my favorite Smiths song. Although the sound of it is unusual for the band, it is very unique for its time period, and the lyrics are words I think I could have written myself, especially the first verse and the bridge.
“I am the son / And the heir / Of a silence that is criminally vulgar”
“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.”
That bridge, man. Morrissey gets me. And I’m just one of thousands of people who think that.
So in light of these exciting (for me at least) discoveries, I’m going to share three things about The Smiths and Morrissey that make me pretty happy.
1. Morrissey’s lyrics.
This is pretty self-explanatory if you read Morrissey’s lyrics. He is painfully honest as well as ironic, literary, incredibly funny, and ambiguous. I don’t think most fans are exactly sure what some of his songs mean. But some are drastically funny, such as “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” When I finally realized just what Morrissey was doing with the lyrics—what he was trying to get across—I cracked up, and I laugh at the song every time I hear it. How can you not laugh at these lyrics: “From the ice-age to the dole-age / There is but one concern / I have just discovered / Some girls are bigger than others.” Morrissey is hilarious.
I also love the song because of . . .
2. The Smiths’ (or Johnny Marr’s) great music.
Johnny Marr wrote some really simple and catchy pop melodies, which normally turn me off. However, many of these are very haunting and beautiful and cool. Take “How Long Is Now?” for instance; or, for more a more typical sound, listen to the instrumental of “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” It is positively lovely, and that fade-out in the beginning? Brilliant. Or “Barbarism Begins at Home”: I have not heard a cooler bass line than that one. So I guess I should give Andy Rourke some credit too. Really all the guys deserve credit.
3. Morrissey’s interesting rockabilly inclinations in his solo work.
The Smiths had a bit of a rockabilly sound too (explained by Morrissey’s and Marr’s appreciation of 1960s pop), but I notice this especially in Morrissey’s solo work: listen to much of Your Arsenal and you’ll hear it, or “Sing Your Life,” a pop song if I ever heard one, from Kill Uncle. The guitar is light and clear, not crunchy or distorted as with heavy rock and metal, and also very jangly and reminiscent of early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly. His band even dressed like 1950s greasers (yesss!!!).
(And I have to mention, Morrissey himself wore women’s shirts. Kudos to him for being bold.)
It’s amazing that this stuff sold in the early 90s, but also pretty cool. Morrissey certainly has a sound all his own, and that appeals to people. That fact makes me happy.
Please check out The Smiths if you haven’t already. The band was a bit on the pop side, but very unusual for its time, very “anti-rock-star,” and has had a deep influence on subsequent alternative music. Give Morrissey a listen too.