More about: The Smiths
Hailing from the unrelenting streets of 1980s Manchester, The Smiths have become one of the most well-remembered and influential British bands of their era.
The combination of Morrissey’s unique vocal tone, chanting his raw yet poetic lyrics, alongside Johnny Marr’s awe-inspiring and legendary guitar riffs pioneered indie rock and made it the widespread sought-after genre it is today.
Some would argue that The Smiths are a band with an almost flawless discography. I agree, and that made this list extremely difficult to compile. The majority of fans have an undying appreciation for the entire discography, so the songs on this list are still universally loved by many...but aren’t quite hyped up enough for how good they truly are.
This song is as underrated as underrated gets. Originally the B-side to the 7” single of one of their most popular songs 'This Charming Man', 'Jeane' is a rarity in The Smiths' discography as it has only appeared on a few compilation albums since its B-side release.
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Johnny Marr’s thrashing chord sequence and Morrissey’s elongated vocal melody make this Smiths rarity an absolute joy to listen to that gains universal love from die-hard fans.
It’s thought that the title and the lyrics refer to Morrissey’s aunt named Jeane Sheppard. Knowing of Morrissey’s interest in Oscar Wilde, it should be noted that the bastard child of Oscar Wilde's friend (and possible lover) Lillie Langtry was named Jeane too. Maybe it’s a double meaning?
It could be argued that this song is even rarer than the previous in the list. Yet another 'This Charming Man' B-side, but this time only for the 12” single, the rarity of this song should be considered a crime.
Featuring a hauntingly beautiful guitar riff from Johnny Marr alongside some harmonica breaks in the chorus, 'Wonderful Woman' proves The Smiths guitarist’s musical genius.
Morrissey later said about the song’s poetic lyrics: "In a monotonous way, it's quite tongue-and-cheek. The wonderful woman is actually an incredibly vicious person but still at the end of the day she had this incredible magnetic ray to me.” It’s never been discovered who this wonderful woman is, but some believe it could be referring to his life-long artistic friend Linder Sterling.
'You’ve Got Everything Now'
Taken from the self-titled debut record, You’ve Got Everything Now' is a song about Morrissey’s disillusionment with adult life, his refusal to work and ultimately his envy of other people's success.
Whilst the lyrics contain somewhat relatable arrogance, the music on this track is sublime. It’s easy to notice Johnny Marr’s creative drive as he utilises various different guitar tones from pedals and combines them to make extremely unique sounds.
Whilst this piece talks about underrated songs, the truly underrated components of The Smiths are bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, who both shine through on this track with a brilliant bassline combined with excellent crashing drums.
'Pretty Girls Make Graves'
Another one from the debut, this song finds Morrissey telling the story of a teenage boy being pressured by his attractive, promiscuous girlfriend to have sex with her. After he refuses, the girl leaves with someone else. Morrissey laments he's "lost his faith in womanhood," then sings the opening couplet to The Smiths' first single, 'Hand in Glove'.
It’s a strange but interesting story to say the least. However once again, the true genius within this hidden gem comes from Johnny Marr. The dark and atmospheric guitar playing is absolutely stellar coupled beautifully with Andy Rourke’s bassline.
Not to mention the song has one of the greatest outros of all time. The moody guitar riff slowly fading out gives off an immense feeling of emptiness that perfectly complements the lyrics.
Taken from the 1984 singles, B-sides and radio sessions compilation Hatful of Hollow, 'Handsome Devil' is a song with a fantastically-heavy and upbeat guitar riff, again complemented brilliantly by Andy and Mike.
The lyrics for this track caused controversy in the 80s as Conservative MP Geoffrey Dicken’s crusade against child pornography went too far when he made allegations about Satanic ritual abuse causing nationwide panic. Therefore, it’s no surprise the MP labelled this song’s lyrics to be paedophilic.
Responding to a tabloid smear article relating to this when interviewed by NME, Morrissey hilariously responded: “This piece makes me out to be a proud child-molester and I don't even like children. 'Handsome Devil' is entirely directed towards adults.”
'These Things Take Time'
Taken from both the Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs compilations, 'These Things Take Time' is a B-side that demonstrates Morrissey’s ability to write extremely relatable lyrics.
Focusing on themes of insecurity holding someone back and causing difficulty maintaining relationships, it’s something many people have experienced – but are ashamed to admit it to this day. It proves Morrissey’s lyricism to be raw, emotional and ahead of its time.
The track is accompanied with a gorgeous guitar riff played with Johnny Marr’s signature Rickenbacker jangle tone. If you listen to the David Jensen session version from Hatful of Hollow, it's also much easier to hear and appreciate another phenomenal Andy Rourke bassline.
From the 1985 number one sophomore record Meat is Murder, 'Nowhere Fast' again demonstrates Morrissey’s ability to make the listener recognise emotions they didn’t realise they had: take the lyrics “I think about life and I think about death / and neither one particularly appeals to me”. Many will remember those words hitting hard when they first heard them.
Morrissey also weaves in his infamous anti-monarchy stance within the lyrics which sits nicely alongside themes of inequality promoted by the monarchy. Johnny’s rockabilly-inspired guitar riffs throughout this track is probably his best guitar playing on Meat is Murder - on par with 'The Headmaster Ritual'.
'The Boy with the Thorn in His Side'
I’m aware you’re probably shocked to see a track from The Queen is Dead on this list. That album and underrated don’t go together, and whilst this track being underrated is debatable – it should easily be one of the band’s most popular tracks.
Johnny Marr’s bright and jangly guitar playing paired with Morrissey’s angelic voice (possibly his best ever vocals) spitting out metaphorical venom towards the corruption of the music industry is absolutely astounding.
The guitar, bass and drums glue together so perfectly it sometimes sounds like the music is all one instrument. A true demonstration of The Smiths talent as a band.
The Beatles’ discography has 'Helter Skelter' as the hardest and heaviest song they ever did. The Smiths have 'London'. Johnny Marr really turned up his guitar amp’s gain for this track, and the result is extremely cool. Not to mention the beautiful clean guitar fill Johnny utilises at the end of the verses, making the track very musically colourful and a joy to listen to.
Whilst not being some of Morrissey’s best lyrics, the sentiment behind them is interesting which many who have moved to 'London' from various parts of the country will relate to.
'Half A Person'
'Half A Person' is one of The Smiths' most brilliant works. Morrissey’s voice of longing and passion blends perfectly with Marr’s chord progression of sheer melancholy, from a reverb-dripping guitar.
In a 1990 interview, Morrissey said the song was autobiographical. About the woman who writes the letter in the lyrics, he said, “Yes, that is all absolutely true. She does exist.”
Morrissey then later questioned this at a New York concert when he introduced the song saying, “This is about someone who’s not really a full person.” Then added sarcastically, “Who could that be? I’ve no idea.” I guess we’ll never know, but that’s the beauty of it.
'Paint a Vulgar Picture'
Like 'The Boy With the Thorn in His Side', 'Paint a Vulgar Picture' from The Smiths’ final record, Strangeways Here We Come, demonstrates Morrissey’s disdain for the music industry’s corruption.
The lyrics still stand true today with various records and artists being milked by the industry to create maximum profit. Take the lyrics “Best of / most of / satiate the need / slip them into different sleeves.”
Whilst it’s slightly hypocritical since there are now various rereleases and ‘Best Of’ compilations from The Smiths’ material, the sentiment remains true. Yet again, Johnny Marr truly shines on this track with another beautifully-played, heavy, doom-laden riff – not forgetting the great solo in the middle of the track.
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More about: The Smiths