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The Smiths: All 73 Songs, Ranked

Morrissey and Johnny Marr lasted only five years as a songwriting team, but these Manchester lads left a lifetime’s worth of absurdly great songs behind

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

The Smiths, circa 1985. The band would break up two years later in August 1987.

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It’s time the tale were told: 30 years ago this week, the Smiths broke up, and the world has never stopped mourning their demise. There’s no other rock & roll story like theirs – going back to the day in 1982 when Johnny knocked on the door of the local literary recluse and announced, “I’ve come to form the world’s greatest band.”

So let’s break it down: all 73 Smiths songs, ranked from bottom to top. The hits. The flops. The glorious highs. The gruesome lows. The B-sides, the deep cuts, the covers, the songs that made you cry, the songs that saved your life. The good, the bad and the “Vicar in a Tutu.” All of it. An insanely ambitious, brutally definitive, scholarly, subjective, opinionated, passionate and complete guide to a songbook like no other. The ultimate argument starter. Every Smiths fan would compile a different list – that’s the whole point – so if your feelings get hurt easily, be forewarned: Honey pie, you’re not safe here. But it’s a celebration of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce – the Manchester foursome who made the dream real and changed the world. Here’s to the mind-blowing, back-scrubbing, Walkman-melting genius of the Smiths. 

73

“Accept Yourself” (1983)

In their all-too-brief existence, the Smiths blazed through dozens upon dozens of brilliant tunes. “Accept Yourself” is not one of them. From the cheesoid guitar riff (basically the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”) to Morrissey musing “How do I feel about my shoes?”, it’s the ghastliest gaffe they ever recorded, the most inept they ever stepped. The Mozzer commanding you to “accept yourself” is like Ozzy giving ballet lessons – he’s spent his noble career ignoring this advice, and the world of music is better off for that (even if Morrissey isn’t).

Best line: “I am sick and I am dull and I am plain.”

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72

“Barbarism Begins at Home” (1985)

The longest Smiths song at seven minutes, which is either a sign of how deeply they cared about child abuse or a sign of how desperate they were to fill out Side Two of Meat Is Murder. Unlikely slap-bass enthusiast Andy Rourke plays the funk, never exactly this band’s specialty.

Best line: “A crack on the head is what you get for asking.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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71

“Paint a Vulgar Picture” (1987)

A tacky badge of celebrity complaints, taking up too much space on their farewell album, Strangeways, Here We Come. Morrissey gripes about record companies, media whores, MTV and the BBC – but George Michael did it better a few years later with “Freedom! ’90.”

Best line: “The sycophantic slags all say /
I knew him first and I knew him well.”

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70

“Meat Is Murder” (1985)

Moooooo! Morrissey milks the audience’s pity for cows, for turkeys, but most of all for English rock stars facing the Difficult Second Album syndrome. Normally the most prolific of bands, the Smiths got caught short of tunes in the studio, so they whipped up this anthem on the spot. Despite the noble pro-heifer sentiments, “Meat Is Murder” remains a feast of unintentional comedy – as Oscar Wilde famously said of a Dickens novel, one must have a heart of stone to hear it without laughing. Morrissey still makes his back-up band play this every night while he leaves for his bathroom break, just in case anyone has failed to notice he’s having a bad time.

Best line: “Heifer whines could be human cries.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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69

“Work Is a Four-Letter Word” (1987)

When they showed up for their final studio session in May 1987, they were falling apart. Hence this version of a Cilla Black trifle from the 1960s, aimed at a loafing oaf of a husband – Morrissey’s idea, of course. “That was the last straw, really,” Marr fumed. “I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.” As Morrissey observed, “Cilla Black, unbeknownst to herself, actually broke the Smiths up, which is pretty much to her credit.”

Best line: “Loving you is driving me crazy
/ People say that you were

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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68

“I Keep Mine Hidden” (1987)

From the same band-killing session as “Work Is a Four-Letter Word,” the duo dashed off this quickie collaboration – the last song they wrote together. But it just wasn’t like the old days anymore; even the whistling solo sucked. It might be the sourest final recording of any great band – at least twice as bad as the Beatles’ “I Me Mine.” The next time Johnny Marr and Morrissey laid eyes on each other, it was years later – in a courtroom.

Best line: “I’m a twenty-digit combination to unlock.” 

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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67

“Golden Lights” (1986)

The Smiths revive a twee little 1965 hit by Britpop beehive starlet Twinkle, with their friend Kirsty MacColl singing along. For reasons nobody has ever explained, “Golden Lights” got enshrined on the Louder Than Bombs compilation, so it’s earned its legend as a song fans love to hate, although you have to give it bonus points for turning into such a hilarious disaster. Morrissey called it “an act of playful perversity.” Andy Rourke was more blunt: “It ended up like ‘Octopus’ Garden’ gone wrong.”

Best line: “You made a record and they liked your singing / All of a sudden my phone stops ringing.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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66

“Back to the Old House” (1984)

An acoustic lament for childhood innocence, wearing out its welcome within 30 seconds.

Best line: “When you cycled by / Here began all my dreams.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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65

“Death at One’s Elbow” (1987)

Not bad for a faux-zydeco shuffle about a love interest with the very un-Smiths-esque name “Glenn.” (Danzig? Campbell? Branca?) But people see no worth in this song and they’re mostly right.

Best line: “You’ll slip on the trail of my
besplattered remains.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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64

“Money Changes Everything” (1986)

And then there were the instrumentals. This guitar trudge was on the flip side of “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” Tragically, it was not a cover of the Cyndi Lauper classic (which Cyndi got from Atlanta punks The Brains) – oh, to hear Morrissey croon that one. Speaking of money, Johnny Marr gave this track to Bryan Ferry, who added words and turned it into the hit “The Right Stuff.” 

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63

“Well I Wonder” (1985)

Morrissey was still learning to sing in tune in the early days, and hearing him strain at it could get painful. Of all the songs on the first three Smiths albums, “Well I Wonder” is the only one they never attempted live.

Best line: “Please keep me in mind.”

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62

“The Draize Train” (1986)

Another instrumental. Many fans spent warm summer days indoors in 1986 trying to appreciate “The Draize Train,” just because it was the B-side to one of the century’s greatest singles, “Panic.” Franz Ferdinand hijacked the groove for one of the next century’s greatest singles, “Take Me Out.”

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61

“What’s the World” (1985)

The Smiths cover a song by their opening act – their mates in the Manchester band James, who went on to score the 1994 Britpop smash “Laid.” Recorded live in Glasgow, “What’s the World” got released as collector bait on the cassingle of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.” After the Smiths split up, James hit the pop jackpot, inspiring Morrissey to write a different kind of tribute: “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.”

Best line: “I’m looking for some words to call my own.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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60

“Oscillate Wildly” (1985)

We’re already leaping up in terms of quality – the truly dire songs are behind us. (We can smile about them now, but at the time they were terrible.) “Oscillate Wildly” was the first and best of their instrumentals, stretching out with pianos and cello. Morrissey shares the writing credit, though his only contribution was the clever title. 

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59

“Girl Afraid” (1984)

Maybe this one should have stayed an instrumental. The Smiths’ audience sometimes split into rival factions of Johnny Marr disciples vs. Morrissey fans. “Girl Afraid” is the kind of song Marr devotees felt deserved better: great guitar, shame about the singer. Moz is admittedly off his gloom game – for such a wordsmith, confusing “lay” and “lie” seems like a rookie mistake. The title comes from the classic 1945 bitchfest Old Aquaintance, starring one of his favorite Hollywood divas, Bette Davis. As he said, “I’m generally attracted to people who are mildly despised and Bette Davis was.”

Best line: “Boy afraid / Prudence never pays.”

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58

“Jeane” (1983)

An early B-side hardly anyone appreciated – not even the band, who dropped it from their set and left it off their compilations. They played “Jeane” with Sandie Shaw in their wonderfully bizarre appearance on the kiddie TV show Splat, the last time anyone tried to turn these sulky bastards into family entertainment. When a child on a double-decker bus asks where they’re going, Morrissey tells her, “We’re all going mad.” She replies, “I thought we were going to Kew Gardens?” 

Best line: “There’s ice in the sink where
we bathe.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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57

“Asleep” (1985)

Johnny’s piano is understated and elegant. The same can’t be said for the vocal, which curdles into cynically dumbed-down death schtick. Nice wind-blowing sound effects, though.

Best line: “Sing to me, sing to me.”

the smiths all songs ranked morrissey johnny marr andy rourke mike joyce

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56

“Wonderful Woman” (1983)

Another early B-side they discarded, a deliciously nasty tribute to Morrissey’s best friend and muse Linder Sterling. “In a monotonous way, it’s quite tongue in cheek,” he explains in Simon Goddard’s definitive Mozipedia. “The ‘Wonderful Woman’ was actually an incredibly vicious person, but still at the end of the day she had a magnetic ray to me.”

Best line: “Just to pass time / Let us go and rob the blind.”