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. 

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

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2

“Half a Person” (1987)

“Call me morbid, call me pale / I’ve spent six years on your trail.” A fragile shiver of a song – their funniest, saddest, most affectionate moment. Morrissey’s the stranger on the bus who tells you his life story – he runs away to London, he discovers all his small-town problems have come with him, he flees to the YWCA and tries to sign on as a back-scrubber. Morrissey and Marr wrote “Half a Person” face-to-face in a few minutes, ducking into the studio stairwell. “The best songwriting moment me and Morrissey ever had,” Marr told Smiths scholar Simon Goddard. “We were so close, practically touching. I could see him kind of willing me on, waiting to see what I was going to play. Then I could see him thinking, ‘That’s exactly where I was hoping you’d go.’ It was a fantastic shared moment.” It’s a moment we all share when we hear “Half a Person.” Any 10-second snippet of this song has more joy and anguish than most bands’ careers; the Smiths tucked it away on a B-side. Keats, Yeats and Wilde would all be proud.

Best line: “Sixteen, clumsy and shy / That’s the story of my life.”

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1

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (1986)

Well, of course. This is the Smiths’ triumph, as it would be any band’s triumph. Morrissey sings about not having a home, but generations of fans have found some kind of home in this song. It’s all here – the passion, the pain, the pleasure, the privilege, the double-decker bus, the victory of love over death (even the clumsiest, most painful fumbling-in-the-underpass kind of love). It’s bitterly comic, yet life-affirming and wildly romantic, with Johnny Marr overdubbing himself into a one-man orchestra of guitars and synthesized strings. The whole song is a mix tape of perfect moments, like that softly moaned “ooooh” into the final chorus. It’s their most beloved standard – Andy Rourke once called it “the indie ‘Candle in the Wind.'”

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” remains the ultimate tribute to the friendship behind it. Johnny Marr and Morrissey – two lonely Manchester kids who found each other and hatched a plan to go down in musical history, against all odds. Listening to it now, you’d never guess that the friendship (and the band) had only a year left to run, sadly. But like all the great music the Smiths left behind, this song is a light that never goes out and never will.

Best line: “And if a ten-ton truck / Kills
the both of us / To die by your side / Well, the pleasure, the privilege is
mine.”

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