The Smiths / The Smithes
Fan Post by Josh Denny
I hate listening to the radio. Outside of sports broadcasts, I always plug in an old iPod classic and turn on one of the 5000+ songs I have at my disposal. However, I will say the philosophy of the radio is utterly infallible: It’s a mass communication system that can reach millions of people cheaply and easily, and spreads a multitude of information and ideas across the Earth. But my general distaste for radio is the result of three things: I hate listening to 15 minutes worth of commercials, I can’t choose the music, and every station just rotates the same 50 songs for the entirety of their broadcasts. That last point is the most infuriating, and the most prevalent on 80s hits stations. It’s also the reason 80s music is regularly dismissed by the general public.
Every 80s hits station plays something that could’ve been featured in an awful 80s teen movie like Can’t Buy Me Love. As an era boasting some of the most popular musical acts of all-time, (think Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Springsteen, Whitney Houston), it’s astonishing that these stations don’t play better music. Hell, those 5 artists would make a kick-ass station by themselves.
But my real issue with 80s radio stations is this; they ignore so many great artists like The Smiths, REM, Talking Heads, The Replacements, The Cure, Depeche Mode, etc. Hair metal, solo Phil Collins/late era Genesis, and soulless pop music that feels like it was produced by James Spader’s character from Pretty in Pink are the only things I ever hear. Rather than branching out and playing something raw and emotive, 80s stations continue to play inauthentic, corporately concocted music that caused so much disdain against the established musical hierarchy that the entirety of the 1990s was dedicated to deliberately upsetting that established status quo by groups like Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine (duh), Pearl Jam, Radiohead, and many, many more.
As I previously mentioned, I believe radio is to blame for the post-modern perception of 80s music. But it’s not only the radio. Great music from the 80s has a severe PR problem that nobody really cares to solve. It seems that unless you actively seek it out (or have a really cool older sibling/cousin), great music will continue to fall through the cracks while the music pumped through the airwaves maintains its exposure. One of the groups affected by this is The Smiths, a group I barely knew anything about throughout my time in college. My only exposure to The Smiths was their constant appearance in articles, essays (namely in Chuck Klosterman’s IV) and lists like Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums. Despite reading dozens of opinion pieces on The Smiths, the only things I remembered about the group (before researching for this album) were: the lead singer’s name is just Morrissey, they’re very emo, The Queen is Dead was named the greatest album ever by NME, and Kurt Cobain sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a Morrissey-esque voice on Top of the Pops to protest their policy of only allowing live vocals and barring live instrumentation.
As for The Smiths’ first album, The Smiths, I found it an utterly entrancing musical experience that only improves with multiple listens. It’s a dour and immersive album, pulling the listener in with concise and (slightly) jangly guitar and keeping their attention with Morrissey’s genuinely haunting vocals. The lyrics are depressing, morose, and have an intense sensation of utter loneliness and longing desire that reaches out and nearly ensnares the listener, before returning to the sullen sadness contained within itself. Though I could not identify with all of the intense emotions felt on the record, I most definitely empathize with them, as the group creates an intense mystique between Johnny Marr’s instrumentation and Morrissey’s evocative lyrics and performance. Stand-out tracks include “Reel Around the Fountain,” “Miserable Lie,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “What Difference Does it Make?,” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything.”
I’m incredibly dismayed that I did not find this album sooner, as I wish I could’ve explored it earlier in my college days. It’s become a rite of passage during the college experience to discover The Smiths, but groups like this still need more exposure to find a new fan base that will reinvigorate interest in them. Much like The Smiths’ debut album, music is a deeply personal and emotional medium. Experiencing that level of emotion in music gives us a deeper insight into the artist, music as an idea, and the world at large.