The Smiths: All 73 Songs, Ranked
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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
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.”
“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.”
“Suffer Little Children” (1984)
The powerful finale to the debut LP is an elegy for the victims of a horrific local murder case, but the guitar drone really brings the song home.
Best line: “Oh, Manchester – so much to
“I Won’t Share You” (1987)
A beautifully stark autoharp ballad to cap off their final album – inevitably heard as the group’s break-up song. Good question: “Has the Perrier gone straight to my head? / Or is life sick and cruel instead?”
Best line: “I want the freedom and I want the guile.”
“Miserable Lie” (1984)
In the Eighties, “Miserable Lie” was the song you put on when the party was over and your drunk guests wouldn’t leave – the sound of Falsetto Morrissey shrieking “I need advice! I need advice!” can clear any room in seconds. Yet that’s exactly why some of us cherish it – especially the sublimely Mozzian come-on, “I know that wind-swept mystical air / It means I’d like to see your underwear.”
Best line: “What do we get for our trouble and pain? Just a rented room in Whalley Range.”
“Rusholme Ruffians” (1985)
Moz’s night at the fair doesn’t go so well – he gets beaten up by thugs while the local lasses lift their skirts. Yet he vows, “I might walk home alone / But my faith in love is still devout.” The excellent live version on Rank turns it into a rockabilly medley with Elvis Presley’s “Marie’s the Name (Of His Latest Flame).”
Best line: “Her skirt ascends for a
watching eye / It’s a hideous trait on her mother’s side.”
“This Night Has Opened My Eyes” (1985)
A grim tale of unplanned motherhood, adapted from the 1958 play A Taste of Honey, by one of his favorite writers, Shelagh Delaney. He kept stealing lines from this play in countless songs; as he admits in Mark Simpson’s essential Saint Morrissey, “Even I – even I – went a bit too far with A Taste of Honey.” That’s Shelagh taking a bow on the cover of Louder Than Bombs.
Best line: “The dream has gone but the baby is real.”
“I Don’t Owe You Anything” (1984)
Here’s where we start dipping into the truly great songs – though like so many tracks on the debut LP, “I Don’t Owe You Anything” suffers from drab production, running a minute or two long. They turned this ballad into a comeback single for Sandie Shaw, a 1960s pop star they idolized – as Morrissey said, she captured “the cheap and loud sound of east London skirty jailbait.” Please shed a tear for the generations of Morrissey fans who actually followed his advice on social success: “You should never go to them / Let them come to you / Just like I do.” Yeah, that worked out great.
Best line: “Bought on stolen wine / A nod was the first step.”
“Vicar in a Tutu” (1986)
Has any album ever been more expertly paced than The Queen Is Dead? “Vicar in a Tutu” is a delightful interlude of comic relief halfway through Side Two, a chance to catch your breath before the blockbuster climax. (Another serious song in that slot would have sandbagged the album.) Yet for all its skiffle slapstick—that “oh yeah yeah yeah yeah” in the middle – it’s also a compassionate ode to a cross-dressing cleric who yearns to parade through Holy Name Church in drag.
Best line: “As Rose collects the money in the canister / Who comes sliding down the bannister?”
“Sweet and Tender Hooligan” (1987)
A running theme through Morrissey’s work: Nothing gets his musical juices flowing like a smooth criminal.
Best line: “In the midst of life we are in debt / Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”
“These Things Take Time” (1984)
Another theme in Morrissey’s work: There’s something erotic about trains. “You took me behind a dis-used railway line” – oh, that works.
Best line: “The alcoholic afternoons we spent in your room / They meant more to me than any living thing on earth / They had more worth.”
“The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (1984)
The first song Morrissey and Marr ever wrote together, from the day in 1982 when Morrissey brought a few of his typed poems over to Marr’s attic. The riff was inspired by Patti Smith’s “Kimberly,” her celebration of a baby sister’s birth, except this is the tale of a bereft single dad watching his child sleep and vowing never to leave.
Best line: “I’m here and here I’ll stay /
Together we lie, together we pray.”
“Unhappy Birthday” (1987)
A hate song full of Neil Young-style acoustic guitar, raising a poison toast to all the Smiths’ sworn enemies: “Drink, drink, drink and be ill tonight.” Marr was such a Neil Young fan as a kid, he defied his school’s dress code by wearing a Tonight’s the Night badge. One of his classmates noticed it and introduced himself – he was a fan, too. His name: Andy Rourke.
Best line: “If you should die / I may feel slightly sad but I won’t cry.”
“Nowhere Fast” (1985)
“I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen,” Morrissey announces. Right on. How strange is it that Her Very Lowness is still clinging to her throne over three decades later? It’s as though the Queen keeps hanging on just to spite Morrissey – and when you think about it, that’s pettiness on a scale even a Smiths fan has to admire. Respect!
Best line: “If the day came when I felt a natural emotion / I’d get such a shock I’d probably jump in the ocean.”
“Pretty Girls Make Graves” (1984)
Having sex with Morrissey is like selling real estate: it’s all about location, location, location. Choosing the right trysting spot matters, whether that’s the iron bridge or the back of a car, the darkened underpass or the scholarly room. But “Pretty Girls Make Graves” might be the only song where someone tries to seduce him on a beach. No, it doesn’t work. Morrissey’s mysterious friend Anna Jablonska (a Polish girl he said wore “only authentically Victorian clothes”) is the female voice who interrupts with the sarcastic “Oh, really?”
Best line: “She wants it now and she will not wait / But she’s too rough and I’m too delicate.”
“I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” (1987)
One of their Bowie-est moments, going for the guitar flash of Aladdin Sane. Morrissey suffers another awkward flirtation – “typical me, typical me, typical me” – and sums up the experience as “absolutely viiiile.” In his Autobiography, he describes meeting Bowie for breakfast in 1992. “David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive.'”
Best line: “And now 18 months’ hard labour seems…fair enough.”
“Never Had No One Ever” (1986)
Raise your hand if you played this song the day you turned 20 years, seven months and 27 days old. The spacey groove shows off the band’s stoner side – as Johnny once said: “Cocaine has always been a disaster for people’s music, and alcohol ain’t too clever, either. But smoking pot till it came out me ears I never had a problem with. Pot, hash, was really good for the sounds, and I think you can hear that.” The singer, obviously, didn’t indulge.
Best line: “I’m outside your house / I’d hate to intrude.”
“Rubber Ring” (1985)
A lilting moment of unity between the band and the audience: “Don’t forget the songs that made you cry / And the songs that saved your life.” It’s something all four Smiths had in common – they were fans at heart. As the man said in 1999: “I remember buying David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ when it was Number 42 in the charts, and that was a truly extraordinary time for me. I was falling in love with the potency of the pop moment. That’s why I’m here.”
Best line: “When you’re drinking and laughing and finally living / Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.”
“The Headmaster Ritual” (1985)
Their most quintessentially Eighties-sounding track – Johnny’s guitar grabs and devours Echo and the Bunnymen, while Morrissey’s wordless half-yodel hook is the only time in his life he’s ever sounded a thing like Bono. (No doubt just because both these unruly Irish boys yearned to sing like Siouxsie.) For the first and last time ever, Marr offered his mate some lyrical advice, suggesting the line “bruises bigger than dinner plates” should be “bruises big as dinner plates.” It didn’t go over so well. “An eyebrow was very definitely raised at this point, and he went away to mull it over,” Marr told Mojo in 2004. “When we reconvened 24 hours later, he said he’d given it a lot of thought and was impressed by my observation. Then, of course, he went on to do sod all about it!” Johnny never tried that again.
Best line: “Sir leads the troops, jealous of youth / Same old suit since 1962.”
Craig Gannon joined as second guitarist for a mere six months in 1986, but with Gannon on board, the Smiths hit a historic hot streak that would have been impossible without him – like this blast of twin-guitar feedback. “London” tells the tale of a Northern boy who hops the train to escape his humdrum town. It’s part of their 1986 London trilogy, along with “Half a Person” and “Is It Really So Strange?”: three B-sides about scared Manchester kids moving south. As for Gannon, he fell from grace on their American tour – they left him behind at the New Orleans airport because nobody noticed he was missing. Such a Smithsian fate.
Best line: “You left your girlfriend on the platform / With this really ragged notion that you’ll return / But she knows that when he goes, he really goooooes.”
“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” (1985)
Yet another night of empty sex in yet another parked car with yet another heartless stranger – until our hero suddenly begins to suspect there’s a cosmic joke in the whole situation, and he’s the punch line. The song switches gears halfway through – after two minutes of gentle acoustic guitar, he sinks his teeth into that fantastic (and endlessly repeated) coda: “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, and now it’s happening in mine.”
Best line: “I just might die with a smile on my face after all.”
“A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours” (1987)
An eerie piano ramble to kick off their final album. Moz meets some wise ghosts who advise him, “There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream / And a lack of real spice in your life.” Then he makes the mistake of falling in love with a human who’s as messed-up as he is. The title is an oblique tip of the cap to Oscar Wilde’s mother, an Irish revolutionary.
Best line: “Phone me, phone me, phone me.”
“I Want the One I Can’t Have” (1985)
The gloriously off-key vocal kept this from being a single, yet it’s an underrated punk romp where he lusts for a nail-swallowing ruffian, with his typical subtlety: “If you ever need self-validation / Just meet me in the alley by the railway station.”
Best line: “He killed a policeman when he was thirteen and somehow that really impressed me.”
“Girlfriend in a Coma” (1987)
Barely two minutes long, “Girlfriend in a Coma” became a surprise MTV hit – except the video featured Morrissey singing alone, for the understandable reason that his band had just broken up. It’s a song about how grief drops on your head when you’re not ready, as he murmurs, “Bye bye bye bye baby, goodbye.”
Best line: “Let me whisper my last goodbyes / I know it’s seeeriooouuus.”
“Sheila Take a Bow” (1987)
Another Seventies glam homage, nicking the T. Rex-style beat of “Panic” and quoting Bowie at the end: “Throw your homework onto the fire.” Some fans were horrified at the totally unironic warmth of this single, but Moz sincerely roots for Sheilas everywhere to rise up and boot the world in the crotch.
Best line: “Take my hand and off we stride / La la la la la la la la / I’m a girl and you’re a boy.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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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