June 1 – Joyce Fans First Choice…Even If Not Moz’s

Well, he’s probably not getting a card from Stephen Morrissey today but we don’t care – we’ll wish Mike Joyce a happy birthday! The drummer from The Smiths turns 61 today.

Joyce, like the rest of the band, grew up in Manchester but like Andy Rourke, he wasn’t friends with Morrissey and Johnny Marr initially, which may have led to some of the famous discord within the remnants of the band later on. Marr and Morrissey actually used a drummer called Simon Wolstencroft on their first recording session; lucky for Joyce, Wolstencroft didn’t want to join the band. He’d later go on to be a member of The Fall. Which meant auditions for a new drummer, and Joyce was the pick. He was a full Smith in time for their first actual recording session when they had a contract and was thus the only drummer in their discography. As Music Radar correctly pointed out, “he wasn’t a flashy player, but his bits were absolutely vital to the music.” And he learned on the job, so to speak. He says, “when I started playing, I had three styles of playing : fast & loud, faster & louder, and fastest & loudest. (being in) The Smiths was a shock.”

Even though the band broke up in 1987 with a lot of acrimony between the two front men, Joyce remained on good terms with Morrissey… briefly. He actually played on a couple of Moz’s singles, including “The Last of The Famous International Playboys.” But Morrissey got irked, and said of Joyce as well as Andy Rourke, “the unhappy past descend(ed) on me each time I hear their voice” so he stopped using them on his records. And that was before the courts got involved.

Not employed by The Smiths nor Morrissey, Joyce did some work on Julian Cope’s successful album Peggy Suicide, and drummed for the Buzzcocks. But then he, and his pal Andy Rourke, went over some bank statements, it would seem and decided they were being ripped off by the two front men of The Smiths. They sued, with Joyce seemingly being the most determined and aggressive in the battle. They sued Marr and Morrissey for an equal share of performance royalties (which differ from the songwriting ones) and won. Marr paid Joyce something in the range of 475 000 pounds (about $1.5M today) and that was that. Not so the Moz, who paid Joyce some, then appealed. He lost and then failed to show up for court when Joyce added another suit, and the drummer ended up getting over 600 000 pounds from the singer. Last decade Morrissey complained that “because of the default judgments, he continues to take my royalties.” Showing once again, a good business lawyer can be as vital to a band as a good drummer or record producer.

Joyce has been in a few bands this century including one called Vinny Peculiar, with Bonehead, ex-of Oasis in it, and hosted live music nights at Manchester bars for some time. But now he is married and says “my clubbing days are pretty much over.” He watches his beloved Manchester City football games and works as an online radio host. He also loves to cook and has appeared on British food shows. His particular favorite, Indian vegetarian meals. He recommends The Sanskruti restaurant should you ever end up in Manchester.

Oh, and is favorite band from his city? Hold onto your hats… it’s not The Smiths. He picks The Buzzcocks, “my reason for wanting to play the drums in the first place.” He says he was “fortunate and honored” to play with them.


May 22 – Moz’s Day, Remembering Rourke

Happy 64th birthday to rock’s great mopester contrarian – Morrissey! Love him or hate him, one has to say Steven Morrissey is a colorful and memorable character.

Although he did poorly in school, his librarian mother instilled a love of reading in him and he spent much of his youth reading (he particularly loved Oscar Wilde) and listening to pop music of the likes of T-Rex, Dusty Springfield and Roxy Music. “I lost myself in music at a very early age, ” he says. When his first band, the Nosebleeds, with Billy Duffy (later of the Cult) didn’t pan out, he spent a few years writing about music, getting a gig with the Record Mirror and penning a book on James Dean on the side. Then came the Smiths, the seminal Britpop band of the ’80s.

As rock historian Alan Cross says, before The Smiths, bands eschewing synthesizers “seemed to be suffering from an overdose of testosterone.” The Smiths changed that and Morrissey still is proud of the music, although chances of a reunion are slim to, now probably zero. Morrissey sand and penned the lyrics to their classic alt-rock anthems like “How Soon Is Now?” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This Before” while guitarist Johnny Marr usually composed the tunes. Throwing a monkey wrench in the band’s reunion chances, drummer Mike Joyce sued him over royalties he said were due him and won; Morrissey counter-sued and lost and said “the Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it and Mike destroyed it.” 

Since then, he’s put out 13 solo albums, three of which hit #1 in the UK, the most recent being 2020’s I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, with songs like the single “Love is on Its Way Out” . While lacking a #1 hit, he’s had 21 solo top 20 singles in his homeland, with memorable titles such as “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get”, “Novemeber Spawned A Monster” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” A man of contrasts, while private and “quintessentially English”, Morrissey always seemed embroiled in controversy with his anti-monarchy (on Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, “a celebration of what- 60 years of dictatorship!”… one would imagine he wasn’t on the guest list for King Charles coronation!), animal rights – he’s a vegan and typically won’t play shows in places selling burgers -, and sexuality. He says he doesn’t recognize terms like “heterosexual” or “homosexual” and is “humasexual– attracted to humans,” although he adds “not many!”.

He calls out the decadent star lifestyle but relocated to L.A. years ago and in the words of his biographer, Mark Simpson, he is “ the nicest man who says the nastiest things about other people.” Remarkably, a glimpse of the “nicest man” came out this week because sadly, any mention of The Smiths right now wouldn’t be complete without noting the sad death of bassist Andy Rourke three days ago. Rourke passed away from cancer at age 59. He had been an integral part of The Smiths sound, Bass Player magazine, for instance ranked his bass-work on the band’s very first single, “This Charming Man” as the 56th greatest bass performance ever. Rourke had worked with Morrissey early on in the post-Smiths era, but that fell apart when like Mike Joyce, Andy sued over what he felt was a shorting in his royalties by “Moz”.  They settled out of court, but not on good terms. Ironically, he and Marr kept in touch and played together for the first time post-Smiths at a cancer benefit concert in Manchester in 2006. He’d moved to New York City and married; his last performance was once again behind Johnny Marr in that city last year. His death came as a shock to most of the music community…which is where the uncharacteristically kind Morrissey showed up. He said of his ex-bandmate, “I just hope whereever Andy has gone to, he’s OK…He will never die as long as his music is heard. He didn’t know his own power and nothing he played had been played by someone else. He was also very, very funny and very happy,” adding “I guess at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that.” Words to live by from an older and seemingly wiser Stephen Patrick Morrissey.

March 23 – Good Thing Travis Didn’t Stay Home To Watch Coronation Street That Night

The Smiths hit it big this day in 1983, although they likely didn’t quite yet realize it. They played their first show outside of their hometown of Manchester, at the Rock Garden in London, 40 years ago tonight. The Rock Garden at Covent Garden was by then “the” place to be seen for an up-and-coming act; U2 played their first London show there and Dire Straits had a “residency” there before becoming famous. The show did the trick for Morrissey and Johnny Marr, the competing driving forces of the band. By that time, they’d become popular in Manchester, having played there for much of the past winter, but weren’t widely known outside of town. In the audience in London though, was Geoff Travis, the boss at Rough Trade Records. He’d started the label in his own record shop and had become the first “indie” label to have a 100 000 selling album in the UK, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers. By the time he got to see The Smiths, he was quite a force in British music despite running the label in a tiny record store. He liked what he saw and signed them right away.

Travis got them to record “Hand in Glove” and had it on the shelves as a 7″ single two months later. Although it didn’t make it onto the overall British charts, it did OK and made it all the way to #3 on the official Indie chart. After that, the rest is history as they say with them launching an incredible string of 14-straight singles that topped the Indie chart, starting with “This Charming Man” and finally wrapping up with “Girlfriend in a Coma” four years later. When all was said and done, they’d logged three platinum singles at home and 18 Top 30s overall on the regular (not just “indie”) charts there. In their five short years, they’d become one of the most influential bands of the decade with their jingly guitars, catchy riffs and gloomy lyrics.

By the way, Morrissey has said that there is only one “truly great British album” … Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure, which coincidentally came out 10 years to the day prior.

March 14 – Mr. Bitter Goes It Alone

Surprisingly motivated for someone who seemed so depressed and weary, Morrissey only waited six months after the final output from his band The Smiths to deliver his solo debut. Viva Hate arrived on this day in 1988.

Morrissey was of course the mopey yet witty singer and lyricist of that British sensation of the mid-’80s, but his dour disposition and cynical outlook on life had been tempered by the jangly, upbeat guitar work and compositions of Johnny Marr. People wondered how “the Moz” would fare without Johnny (not to mention bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce.) Turns out the answer would be “quite alright.”

Part of that lay in bringing in Stephen Street to work with him for the solo work. Street had been a longtime friend of the band, producing their finale, Strangeways Here We Come, and being a studio engineer on most of their other recordings. Morrissey brought him back to produce, and also work with him in an Elton & Bernie type partnership, although in this pairing the singer wrote the lyrics while the other, Street, composed all the music. Or at least claimed to… session guitarist Vini Reilly claimed to have co-written most of the album’s 12 or 13 tracks, but never proved it. Street also added some guitar work and took Rourke’s old role on the bass.

The result was an album that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Smiths catalog had it been labeled that way instead. It was full of interesting, often quite catchy and bright melodies and Morrissey’s trademark blend of depression, anger and humor running through the lyrics. Take “Hairdresser on Fire,” (a track only added to the North American edition after having been out as a single in Europe) with lines like “London, home of the brashy outrageous, free, you are repressed but remarkably dressed.” Titles like “Late Night Maudlin Street” and “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me” left little doubt that the departure of Marr hadn’t left Morrissey much cheerier. Then there was that track.

Few entertainers back then liked British PM Margaret Thatcher much; many wrote songs obliquely slamming her and her policies. But few if any were as crystal clear as this album’s “Margaret on the Guillotine”, calling it a “beautiful dream” and urging listeners to “make it real, make the dream real!” That apparently got the singer a personal interview with Federal secret service agents.

One thing he – or the label HMV (which not only was a British label but owned a large chain of record stores) – did well was pick singles. By almost universal agreement, Viva Hate‘s two standouts were the two picked for single release – “Everyday is Like Sunday” and “Suedehead” – “gorgeous” and “infectious” respectively in the opinion of allmusic. That site would grade it 4.5-stars, considering it very comparable to The Smiths except for the addition of some synthesizers; Q gave it 5 retroactively. At the time, most reviews were glowing as well. For instance, Rolling Stone gave it 4-stars saying “surprisingly the wailing soul’s solo debut is a tight disciplined affair” which “has picked up right where the Smiths left off.”

That it did. “Suedehead” hit #5 at home and #2 in Ireland. “Everyday is Like Sunday” got to #9 and #3 in those two lands and while neither charted as singles in the States, both got good airplay on alt rock and college stations – the latter one was KROQ’s #5 song of the year for instance. Overall, the album did what only one Smiths album had done to that point, hitting #1 in the UK. It was a top 10 in New Zealand (where it was re-titled Education in Reverse, as it was in Australia too); #32 in Canada and #48 in the U.S. where it went gold – the only non-compilation album of his to ever do that.

Morrissey’s career has slowly worked downwards since, in no small part to his self-created controversies about topics ranging from veganism to politics. He’s been in the news lately, with a new album, variously described as being titled Bonfire of Teenagers or Without Music the World Dies but is looking for investors to help him put it out after breaking with Maverick Records and parent company Capitol whom he says is trying to “sabotage” his career. The new record is said to have songs including “The Monsters of Pig Alley” and “Happy New Tears” and made news when Miley Cyrus, who’d added backing vocals to one track, asked to be removed from it entirely. But then, really, would we expect anything else from a man who’s made a 40-year career over being angry and mopey?

February 23 – The Week The Upstart Upended The Boss

A British David vs Goliath battle of sorts this day in 1985 saw the little guy winning. That was the day The Smiths hit #1 on the album charts over there…knocking “the Boss”, Bruce Springsteen off the top. Brits were buying Meat is Murder in bigger quantities than Born in the U.S.A. that week, which is a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.

You see, while Springsteen was an established superstar on one of the world’s biggest record labels, Columbia, The Smiths were quite new and on a tiny, indie label, Rough Trade. Britain has had its share of little, feisty indie labels as long as there’s been recorded music it seems, but they really took off when punk did, around 1977. Sort of makes sense, punk was supposedly rebelling against the establishment, so why not have a distributor that was doing the same. Or perhaps, many punk and alternative acts simply couldn’t get a deal with the biggies like Columbia, Warner Bros. or MCA. So many artists put out records on these little labels that the Official Charts began a separate chart for “indie singles” by 1980. This because, those little labels often had spotty distribution (some large chains didn’t want to be bothered stocking them, and merely shipping the records out across the whole land might have been difficult for some companies) and vastly smaller marketing budgets than the major labels did. Thankfully, there were a lot of independent record shops as well, and a few prominent media types like John Peel on the BBC who kept an ear to the ground and regularly played and promoted some of the up-and-coming acts.

The Smiths, as noted were on Rough Trade, and for you Canadians wondering, no, it wasn’t associated with Toronto punk-ish band Rough Trade but did take its name from them. It was started by Geoff Travis in 1976. Geoff at the time ran an indie record store in London’s Notting Hill district, and he seemingly had the idea of helping along some of the new acts that were customers of his put out records. Their first release was in early-’77, a single by Metal Urbain. That didn’t exactly set the sales tallies aflame, but Rough Trade was up and running. Soon after, they put out their first whole LP, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers. That one did catch on, and in fact got to #14 in the UK, a record for an indie release at the time, and sold past 100 000 copies – good enough for a gold record there. Pretty impressive for a company run from a High Fidelity-style shop! Travis also endeared himself to other indie music types by starting a distribution company that got indie records by other small labels like 4AD and Factory to the shops.

Soon after he’d signed Scritti Politti, who shared his leftist political ideas. Travis in fact tried to run Rough Trade as a co-op rather than a traditional corporation. Their fortunes were elevated greatly though when he came across and signed the Smiths in 1983. The Manchester quartet caught the public’s attention right away with the refreshing combination of Johnny Marr’s jangly guitars and Morrissey’s dour lyrics and vocal delivery. The Brit press went crazy for them, and their second single, “This Charming Man” – also on Rough Trade – went platinum.

Of course, The Smiths in-fighting kept their time in the spotlight to a few short years, and after they disbanded, Rough Trade would falter. By the end of the decade, it had gone bankrupt but Travis, never one to give up easily, resurrected it in the ’90s and had The Strokes among other acts on it.

The Smiths would have a couple more big albums, but not #1 ones, although one of their greatest hits albums did do so in 1992, but by that time Warner Bros. had their account. After Meat is Murder, the next indie album to top British charts was The Innocents by Erasure in 1988.

As for the “Goliath”, it’s probable Bruce Springsteen didn’t really notice his album dipping from #1 overseas. Although it spent one short week at #1 in the UK (though later it would return to the top that summer), it had spent seven weeks at #1 in the U.S. and was well on its way towards its 17X platinum sales there.

January 28 – Now Came 38 Years Ago For Angsty Generation

We’re not getting any younger, and it would seem neither is our music!” Generation X’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’” turns 38 today. The lengthy and moody “How Soon Is Now?” was put out as a single by The Smiths this day in 1985. And like many other cultural milestones, its importance took awhile to really be clear.

Even the band – or else their record label, Rough Trade (on this side of the ocean, Sire/Warner Bros. had them but they were on the small indie label in their native land) – didn’t seem aware of how good the song was. It was first released a in fall ’84… as a b-side to the single “William It Was Really Nothing”, which seems quite forgettable now. It was then included in Hatful of Hollow, the unusual second album from the Manchester quartet. Unusual because after only one regular album, they came out with Hatful… which was really a compilation album of standalone singles they’d released, b-sides and live recordings from appearances on the BBC’s John Peel show. It was only when fans began going crazy for it and radio began spinning it that the record company decided they had a potential hit and put it out as a single. Even then they struggled to get it right. While the full-length 6:45” version was released on a 12” single (and later a CD single), the song was shorn of much of the remarkable guitarwork for the 7” single, which was only about half as long.

Perhaps the greatness of the song was overlooked at first by those close to the band because it was atypical of the Smiths. Generally known for short, snappy pop songs driven by straight-ahead jangly guitars; their first British hit “This Charming Man” rather set a basic template for them. This song however, was lengthy, atmostpheric,slower and echo-ey. the music was composed by their outstanding guitarist Johnny Marr, who had a simple – well, rather difficult really – goal in mind: “I wanted an intro that was almost as potent as ‘Layla’”, he said. Among his inspirations for it, surprisingly, were Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley’s “It’s All Right.”

With his bandmates, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, they came up with the music, at that time called “Swamp.” Noteworthy was that for whatever reason, Marr ditched his normal Rickenbacker guitar for it in favor of a Les Paul model. Anyway, when that was done, producer John Porter earned his keep and then some. He decided it would sound better with a bit of reverb and effects. So he and Marr went through a process “that took an eternity,” to make it sound like the song we know. They ran the recording of the guitarwork and ran it through three amps simultaneously, with tremolo or vibrato set to different levels on each and recorded the resultant other-worldly echoing sounds. Not so easy to do, but well worth it!

Enter singer Morrissey a few days later who essentially improvised the nakedly honest, depressed lyrics. The first line, “I am the son, and the heir”, were inspired by a George Eliot novel he was reading that refers to a lad “born the son of a Middlemarsh manufacturer and heir to nothing in particular.” He did the song in just two takes, and Marr was in awe. “when he sang ‘of a shyness that is criminally vulgar’, I knew he’d hit the bullseye.”

Indeed he did. Marr recently correctly assessed that it was “our most enduring record. It’s most people’s favorite, I think.” What it wasn’t necessarily, was a smash hit. Although it did their fifth #1 hit on the British Indie chart in just two years (by the end of the decade and their career, they’d score 14 of those), overall it only got to #24 in the UK. Years later it would return to the charts and make it to #16 there. It also was a top 5 in Ireland, but in most other places, nada.

On our side of the ocean, the single didn’t sell much at all and since Sire didn’t bother releasing Hatful of Hollow at the time in North America, fans who wanted it on an album had to wait until it was tacked onto the next Smiths album, Meat is Murder. But even though it wasn’t getting played next to Michael Jackson or Huey Lewis on American hit radio, it had its rabidly loyal fans and quickly became a staple on college radio and the few pioneering alternative rock ones around. CMJ in fact logged it as the fifth most-played song of the ’80s on U.S. college radio stations while in L.A., KROQ ranked it as the 22nd top song of 1984. Toronto’s CFNY was even more enthusiastic. In 1999, they ranked it as the second-best song – ever. (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the one that topped it, in case you were wondering.)

The song was adopted as the anthem of a generation of disaffected, lonely youth and was described by British journalist Louise Segrue as “a triumph thanks to Marr’s genius layering of sliding and oscillating vibrato guitar…and Morrissey’s defiantly anti-pop lyrics.” Or more simply, as allmusic call it, a “masterpiece.”

If the song sounds familiar to you…but not quite, you may have watched a lot of TV last decade. Psychedelic Furs-spinoff Love Spit Love recorded a cover version of it in the ’90s for the movie The Craft which was later used as a theme song for the TV series Charmed.

October 31 – Johnny’s Guitar Never Marr-ed A Record!

Happy birthday John Maher! Doubtless some people had trouble pronouncing the last name correctly, so early on he decided to make it easier for people and go by Johnny Marr. The great Brit guitarist turns 59 today.

While we tend to quickly think of British ’80s new wave being all about the synthesizers, that’s an exaggeration by far – even real “synth pop” bands like A Flock of Seagulls tended to have some guitar in there. Then there was the critically-adored The Smiths, one of the pre-eminent and most influential of that whole bunch, which was more or less a conventional ’60s-style rock band with a fresh sound based on guitar – Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker to be precise. He says his job in the band was to “pare down” his style and “avoid rock cliches.”

The red-letter day for Marr (and fans since then) was in summer 1978, when he met Morrissey in Manchester at a Patti Smith concert. They seemed to get along, but nothing much came of it for four years. Then, on a whim one day, Marr went to Morrissey’s house, “no advance call or anything”, knocked on the door and suggested they start a band. Morrissey says “we got along absolutely famously” (that would not last long) and the next day, The Smiths took shape.

As we said though, that didn’t last long. The two opinionated and talented musicians soon got on each other’s nerves and were despising each other after about five years and four or five (depending on whether you consider Hatful of Hollow a proper album or just a compilation) albums. They ended long before the ’80s did, but shaped a lot of the Britpop to come in the ’90s, particularly Oasis. “There’s nothing he cannot do with a guitar,” said Noel Gallagher, “the man’s a … wizard!” No surprise Noel got Johnny to do guitar on his post-Oasis band High Flying Birds single “The Ballad of The Mighty I” then.

Marr’s guitar wizardry and apparently pleasant demeanour (except to Morrissey!) make him a much in-demand player. Even during the Smiths years, he was doing session work for the likes of Bryan Ferry. Within days of quitting The Smiths, he joined The Pretenders briefly, and later formed the band Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order. Along the way, he’s put out some solo records, played with and produced records for Modest Mouse and did the music for the movie Inception. He’s also friends with another well-regarded guitarist who likes Rickenbackers and came to prominence in the ’80s – Peter Buck. The two played together in some of R.E.M.’s 2008 tour shows. Of late, he’s played with The Killers several times including at Glastonbury in 2018, and Billie Eilish at the Brit Awards in 2020. So well-regarded is he that Canadian Carole Pope put out a song in 2007 called “Johnny Marr”. She says “I was actually getting nostalgic…about living on a certain street in Toronto in the ’80s. The Smiths were the soundtrack to that time.”

His skill and work ethic haven’t gone unnoticed. Rolling Stone recently ranked him as the 51st best guitarist of all-time, labeling him “a guitar genius for the post-punk era” who’s “a technician who could sound like a whole band”. The UK’s Radio X went one (or 43) better, ranking him the 8th greatest ever, behind mainly classic rock heroes like Brian May and Jimi Hendrix. Something he’d be sure to be pleased with, as they are among the list of his favorite guitarists, as well as Pete Townshend, Nile Rodgers and Keith Richards. Speaking of six-strings, while he’s considered synonymous with Rickenbackers, he also is a collector of the instruments, used a vintage 1960 Les Paul while with The The (which he later gave to Noel Gallagher, who in turn broke it over a fan’s head at a concert) and now has his own signature Fender Jaguar model.

Besides fame, did he take anything from his time in The Smiths? Yep- he became a vegetarian, and now a health-conscious vegan. As he put it, “it’s not a good idea to have a #1 album called Meat is Murder and be seen eating a bacon sammie!”

June 24 – Morrissey Was ‘People’s Kind Of People

People were paying attention to The Smiths 37 years back. Or, should we say People were paying attention to Morrissey of The Smiths 37 years ago. Because on this day in 1985, that supermarket checkout favorite publication ran a feature article on Morrissey… only one month after running an extensive cover story on Madonna. While Madonna was hot, sexy and controversial at that time, “the Moz”, as his friends call him, might not seemed like an obvious selling point for a mass market American magazine. After all, he was a surly guy who fronted a band only a select few college students seemed to know about in the U.S. at that point.

Nevertheless, the magazine introduced its readers – something in the general range of six million or so then – to the counter-culture darlings in an extensive write-up. They titled it “Roll Over, Bob Dylan and Tell Madonna the News – The Smiths Morrissey is Rock’s Latest Messiah!”. One might just suspect neither Jesus nor Morrissey would love that title, but it surely grabbed people’s attention. The story noted how hot they were already in the UK and that they were touring the States for their Meat is Murder album (which had been released three months prior and already topped the Brit charts.) they gave some background on the singer/songwriter including that “for three years he sat in his bedroom, filling notebooks with words… by day, he’d been a schoolboy track star, by night sought sustenance in the feminist writings of Susan Brownmiller and Molly Haskall.” Which they noted , fueled rumors of him being gay (a bigger deal back then) which he refused to confirm although he did say his childhood and teen memories were “totally morbid” and involved “uninteresting episodes with girls.” Other little bon mots thrown out by Morrissey included that he thought “Michael Jackson has outlived his usefulness,” but he liked Duran Duran and he thought “most records portray life as it isn’t lived.” that led People, the magazine, to suggest people, the crowds, to find him “unacceptably honest” and that songs of sexual rejection would lead them to bad memories of their own. Certainly songs like the great “How Soon Is Now?” or “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” weren’t exactly in line with much of the perky-’80s vibe pop radio favored at the time.  All in all, they deemed him “articulate and calculating” and the fitting “spokesman for a generation sagging under rampant unemployment.”

Did it all help? Well, it likely didn’t hurt sales for The Smiths, but they weren’t taking a run at Madonna at the cash register or ticket office despite it. Meat is Murder failed to crack the American top 100 (it did make the Canadian top 40 – likely a function of more alternative rock stations there than a wider readership of People) . However, it did show Morrissey to be more prophetic than he might’ve seemed then in one way. “The U.S. is not asleep,” he proclaimed. “It is a hotbed of radicalism.” Looking at the world of today, they might have been snoozing… but he might have been right. By the way, in a weird turn of events which could well have amused the Smiths frontman, while most People covers featured movie stars or pop ones like Madonna, this particular issue had a mostly black cover saying “I knew Josef Mengele!”.

May 19 – Solo Careers, Here We Come?

Separate ways here they came – The Smiths wrapped up recording their final album, Strangeways Here We Come this day in 1987. Few other bands split as quickly or permanently. Although their record company wouldn’t announce the band’s split until that fall, as music historian Alan Cross says “the band ceased to exist the moment Marr left the studio.”

Tensions had been high between Morrissey and Johnny Marr for months. Morrissey, surprisingly, wasn’t happy with their commercial success to that point (which seems odd given his apparent disregard for doing anything to make himself popular or avoid controversy), while equally surprising, Marr, the superb guitarist who gave them their sound was tiring of the jingly Rickenbacker guitar sounds song after song and wanted to broaden their range. He did get his way a wee bit, bringing in a synthesizer to add some string-like effects on a couple of songs, an autoharp which he played on “I Won’t Share You” and he even got Morrissey to play piano on “Death of a Disco Dancer.” They battled over the band’s plans for a tour and the “last straw”, according to Marr, was when Morrissey insisted on putting a cover song Marr hated on the B-side of the lead single, “Girlfriend in a Coma”. “Moz” got his way and won the battle, but arguably lost the war. They did a ’60s cover, “Work Is A Four-letter Word” and had it as the b-side. The song was done originally by blue-eyed soul singer Cilla Black. Marr said “that was the last straw! I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs!”

He left the day the recording finished for L.A. , “so off I went and I never saw Morrissey again.” The album did well but didn’t break any new ground for them, hitting #2 in the UK but selling less than their previous album, The Queen is Dead. In North America, it hit #27 in Canada and #55 in the U.S., their best-showing to date but still not representative of the influence and appeal they had at home. “Girlfriend in a Coma” got to #13 there, their fifth-straight top 20 hit (it also gave Douglas Coupland the title for a popular ’90s novel) and the characteristically gloomily-titled “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me” and “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” also did OK for them in Britain, although neither gained the “classic” status that their fans decreed on most of their earlier hits.

Morrissey was quick out of the gate, releasing his first solo album in 1988. To date, he’s put out 13 solo studio albums, with mixed commercial results – three hit #1 in the UK, but others have struggled to sell. Johnny Marr’s gone on to be a part of several other bands and back up acts like the Pretenders and Bryan Ferry on guitar. Strangeways, for the record, is a notorious Manchester jail.

February 20 – Ordinary Name Hid Extraordinary Sound

Few bands have done so little yet become so popular. The Smiths only existed for about five years and put out four studio albums (some might argue five, since the Hatful of Hollow compilation was essentially an album’s worth of standalone singles and previously-unreleased demos) but they remain one of the most deified and influential of British bands. They put out their first , self-titled album on this day in 1984, a few months after signing to indie label Rough Trade Records and releasing a couple of moderately-popular singles.

The Smiths set the template for the band’s career, mixing Morrissey’s oddly emotive-yet-droning voice and downbeat lyrics with Johnny Marr’s upbeat, jingly guitar sound quite unlike anything heard since the Byrds or outside of Athens, Georgia and came at a time right around when synthesizer use was peaking in pop. The album was recorded in just two weeks, and produced by then-fledgling producer John Porter (who’d been a member of Roxy Music in the ’70s.) The Manchester band thought they could’ve done better with more time and more money, but fans seemed pleased enough with the fresh sounding release. It quickly rose to #2 on the UK charts and the lead single, “What Difference Does It Make?” hit #12 on the overall singles chart and was the band’s second #1 “Indie” single, spending nine weeks on top of that chart, the second longest run of the decade. It was the only single actually launched from it, but the release did include their previously-released “Hand In Glove”, which had built their name up earlier hitting #3 on the Indie chart.  The album quickly went gold at home and was a minor hit in Canada and Australia. Curiously, although the band seem known for short, snappy ditties, all ten tracks of their eponymous release logged in at over three minutes, a couple came close to 6”.

At the time Rolling Stone paid attention despite the band’s underground status on this side of the Atlantic. They reviewed it and graded it 4-star, saying “Morrissey’s songs probe the daily ache of life in a gay-baiting world” but it sounded “surprisingly warm and entertaining” thanks to Marr’s “chiming guitars.” Later on the publication would rank it as the 51st best debut album of all-time; the UK’s The Guardian put it as the 73rd best album ever.