Top 10 Songs by: The Smiths

13 November 2018

  • Someone said that you only really like a band if you have real trouble deciding what your top 10 songs of theirs are. Good point. It turns out that not as many acts meet that criterion as I would have thought. But when I remember one, I make up a playlist for it…

10. Asleep

“It’s the Smiths at their starkest, musically, little more than a piano to accompany Morrissey declaring his desire to die. It could be tacky or tasteless, but instead it’s delicate and empathetic: ‘Don’t try to wake me in the morning/ For I will be gone.’
Michael Hann

9. What Difference Does It Make?

“One of the Smiths’ most enduring songs. Morrissey’s wailing falsetto in the outro remains deeply glamorous.”
Chris Payne

8. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

“There’s no ramp up, no ramp down—just two minutes of pure depression, simple and easy. Plus, because it’s such a compact set of musings on the cruelty of life, it even rewards replays. I had a friend in college who always, no matter what, played Please Please Please twice back to back because he said once was never enough. Feel like having a cry but don’t want to get up to change the record? Throw this bad boy on repeat and get to weeping. Wrapped in Morrissey’s baritone croon, you’ll explore whole new levels of depression by letting this song just wash over you like a lukewarm and slightly damp blanket.”
Marah Eakin

7. Hand In Glove

“The words sound like the music, and the music sounds like the words – it’s a beautiful thing.”
Johnny Marr
“I think the record is so absolutely perfect in every respect that if it just dribbles away I shall be ill, probably for ever.”
Morrissey

6. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

There Is A Light clocks in at just over four minutes, but something about its directness makes it feel half that length. The desperation of its lyric may seem overly dramatic, but it’s a necessary tool that demonstrates a universal point: in our darkest hours, it is usually not a grand breaking dawn that redeems us, but rather the faith we have in the tiniest flicker of hope.”
David Mead

5. Reel Around The Fountain

“Again, the wit was there, along with a delicious understatement (‘Fifteen minutes with you/ I wouldn’t say no’) that makes love and lust and despair seem human rather than, as so often in pop, superheroic. Reel Around the Fountain was arguably the Smiths at their most perfect – a band who understood the dynamics and complexities of both music and life.”
Michael Hann

4. How Soon Is Now?

“Of all The Smiths’ records, the group’s guitarist Johnny Marr rated How Soon Is Now? as possibly their ‘most enduring’. Marr, who was just 20, wanted ‘an intro that was almost as potent as Layla.’ What he conjured remains instantly recognisable: a fleet of wildly oscillating guitars, whirring like helicopters taking off, pierced by a wailing guitar slide. Morrissey had a flair for opening lines. With ‘I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar, I am the son and heir of nothing in particular,’ he manages to be at once autobiographical and universal, direct and poetic, combining a delectable Oscar Wilde-esque turn of phrase (‘criminally vulgar’) with a reference to George Eliot’s great Victorian novel Middlemarch (‘To be born the son of a Middlemarch manufacturer, and inevitable heir to nothing in particular’). Rarely has crippling social anxiety sounded so charming.”
Sam Taylor

3. This Charming Man

“The ‘hillside desolate’ following [an] initial squeal of problematic homosexual delight, before 1983, virtually unseen in music, and never before on an indie record, just adds to the perversely warm feel of the song. Johnny Marr’s beautifully twangy and bouncy guitars (legendarily layered and overdubbed 12 times) are so complex and intricate from that impossible-to-play signature opening riff to the wah-wah spin of the chorus’ end, that they complement the lyrical undertones of the track wonderfully brightly to an almost too perfect point – and this is about, oooh, 12 seconds in?”
Oliver Rose

2. The Headmaster Ritual

The Headmaster Ritual pairs some of the band’s most intricate, propulsive guitar work with Moz’s elegant, ethereal ‘da-da-da’ ad-libs. And man, you thought Pink Floyd hated the British school system? If Roger Waters tackled teachers with the subtlety of a bulldozer, Moz one-ups him like a wrecking ball, swinging freely and gleefully through the air while railing against ‘spineless swines [and] cemented minds.’
Joe Lynch

1. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

“The one that always cheers me up is Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. The moment I hear the opening chords it never ceases to put a smile on my face. Johnny’s guitar tunings sound amazing and the way Morrissey delivers the lyrics is astonishing. The lyrics always strike a deep chord with me too because at the time I was ‘looking for a job and then I found a job’ – and as predicted, I felt thoroughly miserable and depressed. The one highlight of chopping wood all day was getting to go home and listen to music, and whenever I played this it was like the whole band coming together to create this alchemic piece of pop just for me!
Kurt Wagner


All Top 10s in this series…


 

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