The Smiths. The loves of my life. My favourite band since I bought this album when I was just turning 15. It was the band that turned my life around in such a dramatic way. A band that changed me like no other. Growing up with only cornfields, cows and hicks (a word I had forgotten existed until this moment), a band that referenced unknown writers and played such intricate, yet accessible music was a revelation. They became my solace in a world I knew I would never fit into. While many bands helped me gain the courage to go out into the world, The Smiths were the band that gave me confidence that somewhere there was a world that I belonged in and I would some day find it.
But there’s something strange about loving the Smiths. It’s something that I mostly noticed when I first studied abroad in London. When I told someone that I loved Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce people just… stared. I later would understand that saying your favourite band was the Smiths was one of the most cliched things you could say. Apparently at some point the band had had a cultural comeback and it had been something I missed entirely. In some ways it almost became embarrassing to admit my love for them. A band with so much beauty and keep layers became something to not share. This is something I really do hate to admit because I am firm believer in loving whatever the hell you want when it comes to music.
For a long time I stopped listening to the band (which was a dramatic change from my university days when I would listen to each album in its entirety at least once a week). Thankfully there’s plenty of other music in the world to fill my time with, but no band has ever filled my heart the same way the Smiths have. I kept a copy of Simon Goddard’s The Songs That Save Your Life by my bedside table for over five years. Goddard’s book is a song-by-song analysis and backstory to every Smiths’ recording. I read the entire thing then proceeded to read it whenever I wanted to. I don’t think I could stomach doing that for any other band. But I think it’s very much overdue that I write about the debut album from this Manchester band.
The Smiths, along with Strangeways, Here We Come, is a pretty grossly over-looked album for an iconic band. Within recent years, I’ve seen countless articles pop up about how this 1984 album is their worst by far. As a completely biased woman, I can’t possibly pick a “weak” album out of the four. Because each is excellent and crap in different parts and ways. But to say The Smiths is the worst still baffles me even as I write this. But as the story goes, this is really the second version of the album. The first being recorded with producer Troy Tate (which can be listened to on bootleg). The producer on the final product was John Porter. This version of the album was released after being recorded in fits and starts – to no one’s satisfaction.
That being said, I’m quite fond of the way it sounds. It’s quite distinct from the middle two albums and certainly worlds away from the production on the fourth and final release. For the longest time, I never bought and Smiths albums on vinyl. I stuck to constantly playing the CDs I bought at Exclusive Company – I was completely convinced this was a band that I would only buy their albums if I found them used in a shop. I needed to be a part of a longer history of the physical record.
One day I was totally stunned when I saw the complete collection of albums, along with several other “Best Of…”s and Rank at a resale shop. Being pretty young at the time, I didn’t have all the money to buy the complete lot at the time. So I hid the albums. Yes, I was that dick. But it worked. Every two weeks after payday I would return and buy the next piece. Unfortunately, many of them are now damaged beyond playing ability (to put it politely, never ever ever ever ever let a drunk ‘borrow’ your record collection for five months). Thankfully this one survived relatively unscathed. Maybe it’s due to the unpopularity of the album. I’d like to think so because at least the album and I are on the right side of music justice.