The Smiths, Morrissey, Marr: Rob Sheffield Ranks All 73 Songs - Rolling Stone
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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. 

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“Frankly Mr. Shankly” (1986)

An anthem for every pretentious famewhore poseur who ever decided it was time to quit the day job and become a legend. Like Prince in “Raspberry Beret,” Morrissey flounces through the workplace with the insouciance of a star who clearly wasn’t cut out for real life. Not a favorite of the other Smiths – too much music-hall burlesque – yet a catwalk for the singer, who declares he’d rather be famous than righteous or holy. Some people heard “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” as a dig at Rough Trade label boss Geoff Travis; Morrissey complains in Autobiography that “Geoff had zero appreciation for the songs that had saved him from life’s lavatory.”

Best line: “Fame fame fatal fame / It can play hideous tricks on the brain.” 

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“What She Said” (1985)

Now here’s a heroine who really deserves her own Smiths song. “What She Said” proves the lads noticed all those black-clad girls dancing in the front row – it’s a boy band’s tribute to their ride-or-die female fans, a la the Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” the Beatles’ “Thank You Girl” or One Direction’s “Girl Almighty.” This muse inspires the whole band to rock out, with one of the most non-tragic sexual encounters in any Smiths song: “It took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead to really, really open her eyes.”

Best line: “How come someone hasn’t noticed that I’m dead and decided to bury me? / God knows I’m ready.”

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

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“Is It Really So Strange?” (1986)

One of those classic Morrissey did-he-really-say-that? moments: “I got confused, I killed a horse, I can’t help the way I feel.” Beloved by American fans as the jaunty opening track on Louder Than Bombs, one of the most splendid compilations any band has ever released. (Yes, and then there’s “Golden Lights.”)

Best line: “Why is the last mile the hardest mile?”

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

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“Unloveable” (1986)

Marc Spitz’s 2003 novel How Soon Is Never? has a beautiful description of hearing the Smiths for the first time: “Everything I hated about myself became everything I loved inside of one hour.” “Unloveable” is exactly the kind of song he was talking about. You can hear a smile in the slinky guitar, as well as the way the singer purrs, “If I seem a little straaaange, well, that’s because I aaaam.” Johnny wrote this on guitar the same night he wrote “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” and then – as usual – dropped a cassette into Morrissey’s mailbox so the man could write his lyrics over the top.

Best line: “I wear black on the outside / Because black is how I feel on the inside.”

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“The Boy With the Thorn in His Side” (1985)

In the fall of 1985, this single was a turning point, a warning that these handsome devils were about to blow through the roof. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” broke new ground musically and emotionally, with Marr’s lavish flamenco-style guitars. Morrissey confessed that behind all his hatred, there was a plundering desire for love. (And behind that, more hatred.) His blissed-out moans in the final minute proved he didn’t need words to sing his life. They included it on The Queen Is Dead, even though it was already eight months old – it was just too good to leave out.

Best line: “When you want to live, how do you start? / Where do you go? / Who do you need to know?”

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“You’ve Got Everything Now” (1984)

“You are your mother’s only son and you’re a desperate one” – a perfect example of how Morrissey can seem to tell six or seven twisted stories in one line. (And what a proto-Taylor-Swiftian hook it is.) A weirdly underrated yet rocking highlight of the debut, where he celebrates the terrible mess he’s made of his life and probably yours. Sing along, everybody: “No, I’ve never had a job, because I’ve [dramatic pause] never wanted one!”

Best line: “I just want to be tied to the back of your car.”

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

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“Shakespeare’s Sister” (1985)

A psychedelic rockabilly horror show, with Moz’s wittiest anti-suicide lyrics. (“I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible” is a hell of a punch line.) “Shakespeare’s Sister” was an odd and impulsive choice for a single –it was their first real flop commercially – but a great one. The title came from Virginia Woolf’s feminist classic A Room of One’s Own – not the sort of thing pop stars were supposed to care about in 1985. “A very arch record to release at that time,” Marr said. “Quite audacious, a bit mad. That’s why I loved it.”

Best line: “I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar / It meant that you were a protest singer.”

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

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“What Difference Does It Make?” (1984)

For some crazy reason, the band disliked this one – Morrissey declared: “I thought it was absolutely awful the day after the record was pressed.” Nobody else has ever agreed. Their third single is a swooning plea of devotion, right from that killer opening line: “All men have secrets and here is mine.” Morrissey gives a falsetto pledge that he’ll leap in front of a flying bullet for you. Especially if you’re already sick of him – that gets him hot.

Best line: “The devil will find work for
idle hands to do / I stole and I lied and why? / Because you asked me to.”

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“Shoplifters of the World Unite” (1987)

More stealing, more lying. In a career where he’s always been fascinated with petty crime, Morrissey takes the money and runs, while Marr makes his guitar-hero power move, complete with a Sunset Strip-worthy hair-metal break. In the classic Top of the Pops performance, wiggling in his Elvis Presley T-shirt, Moz leers right into the camera as he demands, “Hand it over! Hand it over!” Andy Rourke looks slightly pained. 

Best line: “I tried living in the real world instead of a shell / But before I began / I was bored before I even began.”

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