13 STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
From the album Strangeways Here We Come (September 1987)
One of Marr’s greatest arrangements, this was a glimpse of how the group might have flourished with EMI. It would have made a superb valedictory single had post-Hungerford unease not scuppered its release.
LUKE PRITCHARD, THE KOOKS: It’s an underrated Smiths song. The beginning is quite progressive, then it becomes a simple, classic guitar pop song. It defines the sound that most people refer to as ‘indie’. The lyric is typical Morrissey. He’s singing about his favourite subject – himself – with that trademark wit. I went through a phase of listening to this song every night before I went to bed and it reminds me of innocent, happy times.
The Smiths are so important. They embodied the independent spirit, as well as patenting that classic ‘indie’ sound. They’re a band’s band, too – there’s so much to learn from them. Now that their music has had 20 years to marinate, their influence is more obvious than ever.
12 CEMETRY GATES
From the album The Queen Is Dead (June 1986)
Marr’s breezily acoustic figures naturally inspire Morrissey to graveyard elegy, musings on literary coffin-robbing and bookish oneupmanship. A perfectly placed comic interlude on their finest album.
JAMES MERCER, THE SHINS: I love the way Morrissey expresses melancholy. I moved to England in 1985 [aged 13] and left my friends behind and was so shy. I didn’t hang out with anyone outside school or class for the first year and I’d just come home and go to my room. I bought The Queen Is Dead soon after I got to the UK and it was a big deal for me. At that time I was craving something that expressed that sense of melancholy. It was so gentle. I needed somebody to just be accepting of me – you felt that the guy singing this song wouldn’t judge you.
I remember learning to sing properly after listening to Smiths records and they shaped my understanding of music. I was profoundly affected by them, and the way I perceived music was heavily altered. There was just no going back after The Queen Is Dead. You can’t undo that kind of influence.
11 HANDSOME DEVIL
B-side to “Hand In Glove” (May 1983)
Marr’s cut-throat riff prompts a lascivious lyric: “A boy in the bush is worth two in the hands/I think I can help you get through your exams”.
RICHARD HAWLEY: A great pop song. What I loved about them was that it was like listening to an endless chorus. I remembering hearing them for the first time as a kid, with headphones on in the dark, listening to Peel. It was fast and aggressive, but had a real beauty to it, too. To me, The Smiths were as far away from one-hit wonders as you could get. Pretty much every single they released was brilliant. You have to judge them on their whole body of work. They rank up there with the Pistols and The Clash in that a huge proportion of people who heard “Handsome Devil” or “This Charming Man” went out and started a band. There aren’t many bands who can say they’ve influenced people to that degree. That’s their greatest legacy. It’s not just great melody and lyrics. It’s an attitude.
I once auditioned for Morrissey as guitarist around the time of “Everyday Is Like Sunday”. I was very young and had only been in local indie bands up to that point. I remember sitting in the flat with fuck-all money and getting a call from Morrissey. I don’t think I made a great first impression because I smoked. But I started playing with his band. Then I made the fatal mistake of singing “One Night” by Elvis. He said “What are you singing for?” I said, “I thought you might need backing vocals.” That was the last of that!