The Smiths in 1985. Left to right:
The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982. The band consisted of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce. Critics have called them one of the most important bands to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s. NME named the Smiths the "most influential artist ever" in a 2002 poll. In 2003, four of the band's albums appeared on Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr, the group signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, on which they released four studio albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987). They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-album singles. They had several singles reach the top twenty of the UK Singles Chart and all four of their studio albums reached the top five of the UK Albums Chart, including Meat Is Murder which hit number one. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites. The band broke up in 1987 due to internal tensions and have turned down several offers to reunite.
The band's focus on a guitar, bass, and drum sound, and their fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk, were a rejection of the then-popular, synthesiser-based dance-pop. Marr's guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Morrissey's complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour.
In May 1982 Marr decided that he wanted to establish a new band, and subsequently turned up on the doorstep of Morrissey's house - 384 Kings Road, Stretford - accompanied by mutual friend Steve Pomfret, to ask Morrissey if he was interested in founding a band with himself and Pomfret. A fan of the New York Dolls, Marr had been impressed that Morrissey had authored a book on the band, and was inspired to turn up on his doorstep following the example of Jerry Leiber, who had formed his working partnership with Mike Stoller after turning up at the latter's door. According to Morrissey: "We got on absolutely famously. We were very similar in drive." Conversing, the two found that they were fans of many of the same bands. The next day, Morrissey phoned Marr to confirm that he would be interested in forming a band with him.
A few days later, Morrissey and Marr held their first rehearsal in Marr's rented attic room in Bowdon. Morrissey provided the lyrics for "Don't Blow Your Own Horn", the first song that they worked on; however, they decided against retaining the song, with Marr commenting that "neither of us liked it very much". The next song that they worked on was "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle", which again was based on lyrics produced by Morrissey. Marr included a tempo which was based on the Patti Smith song "Kimberly", and they recorded it on Marr's TEAC three-track cassette recorder. The third track that the duo worked on was "Suffer Little Children". Alongside these original compositions, Morrissey suggested that the band produce a cover of "I Want a Boy for My Birthday", a song by the 1960s American girl band the Cookies; although he had never heard of the song before, Marr agreed, enjoying the subversive element of having a male vocalist sing it, and the song was recorded on his TEAC machine.
By the end of the summer of 1982 Morrissey had chosen the band name "the Smiths", later informing an interviewer that "it was the most ordinary name and I thought it was time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces". Around the time of the band's formation, Morrissey decided that he would be publicly known only by his surname, with Marr referring to him as "Mozzer" or "Moz". In 1983 he forbade those around him from using the name "Steven", which he despised.
After remaining with the band for several rehearsals, Pomfret departed acrimoniously. He was replaced by the bass player Dale Hibbert, who worked at Manchester's Decibel Studios, where Marr had met him while recording Freak Party's demo. It was through Hibbert that the Smiths were able to record their first demo at Decibel, doing so one night in August 1982. Aided by drummer Simon Wolstencroft, whom Marr had worked with in Freak Party, the band recorded both "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and "Suffer Little Children". Wolstencroft was not interested in joining the band, so auditions were held to find a permanent drummer, which resulted in Mike Joyce joining them; he later revealed that he was under the influence of magic mushrooms during his audition performance. Meanwhile, Morrissey took the demo recording to Factory Records, but Factory's Tony Wilson wasn't interested.
In October 1982 the Smiths gave their first public performance as a support act for Blue Rondo à la Turk during a student music and fashion show, "An Evening of Pure Pleasure", at Manchester's The Ritz venue. During the performance, they played both their own compositions and "I Want a Boy for My Birthday". Morrissey had organised the gig's aesthetic; the band came onstage to Klaus Nomi's version of Henry Purcell's "The Cold Song" playing through the venue's sound system before his friend James Maker stepped onstage to introduce the band. Maker remained onstage during the performance, relating that "I was given a pair of maracas - an optional extra - and carte blanche. There were no instructions - I think it was generally accepted I would improvise... I was there to drink red wine, make extraneous hand gestures and keep well within the tight, chalked circle that Morrissey had drawn around me." Hibbert however was unhappy with what he perceived as the band's gay aesthetic; in turn, Morrissey and Marr were unhappy with his bass playing, so he was removed from the band and replaced by Marr's old school friend Andy Rourke.
In December 1982 the band recorded their second demo, this time at the Drone Studios in Chorlton-cum-Hardy; the tracks recorded were "What Difference Does It Make?", "Handsome Devil", and "Miserable Lie". This was used as their audition tape for the record company EMI, who turned the band down. During the rest of that month, the band continued to practise, this time at the upstairs of the Portland Street Crazy Face Clothing company, a space secured for them by their new manager Joe Moss. By Christmas they had created four new songs: "These Things Take Time", "What Do You See in Him?", "Jeane", and "A Matter of Opinion", the last of which they would soon scrap. Their next gig was Manchester's Manhattan in late January 1983, and although Maker would again appear as a go-go dancer, this was the last time that he did so. In early February they performed their third gig, at the city's Haçienda club.
The band next approached the record company EMI for a contract, but were turned down. Morrissey and Marr subsequently visited London to hand a cassette of their recordings to Geoff Travis of the independent record label Rough Trade Records. Although not signing them to a contract straight away, he agreed to cut their song "Hand in Glove" as a single. Morrissey insisted that the cover image on the single was a homoerotic photograph by Jim French which he had found in Margaret Walters' The Nude Male. The single was released in May 1983, and would sell well for the next 18 months although never made it into the UK Top 40. This coincided with the band's second gig in London, at the University of London Union. Present at the gig was John Walters, the producer of John Peel's Radio 1 show; interested, he invited the band to record a session for the programme. Peel expressed the view that "I was impressed because unlike most bands... you couldn't immediately tell what records they'd been listening to. That's fairly unusual, very rare indeed... It was that aspect of the Smiths that I found most impressive." Following this radio exposure, the band gained their first interviews, in music magazines NME and Sounds.
The Smiths then agreed to sign a record contract with Rough Trade, with Travis travelling up to Manchester to meet the band at their Crazy Face rehearsal space; there they signed the contract. Only Morrissey and Marr signed it on behalf of the band, and there was no discussion at the time regarding how the band's earnings would be divided up, something that would lead to the eventual argument over royalties which resulted in the 1996 High Court case. To produce the band's first album, Travis brought in Troy Tate of The Teardrop Explodes, and under Tate's supervision the band recorded their first album, provisionally titled The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, at the Elephant Studios in Wapping, East London. Rough Trade were unhappy with the album that the band produced and Troy's production of it, ordering the band to redo it with a new producer, John Porter.
The band soon generated controversy when Gary Bushell of The Sun tabloid alleged that their B-side "Handsome Devil" was an endorsement of paedophilia. The band denied this, with Morrissey stating that the song "has nothing to do with children, and certainly nothing to do with child molesting".
The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart. Aided by praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, the Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base.
In February 1984, the group released their debut album The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart. Both "Reel Around the Fountain" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" met with controversy, with some tabloid newspapers alleging the songs were suggestive of paedophilia, a claim strongly denied by the group.
The album was followed the same year by the non-album singles "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "William, It Was Really Nothing", which featured "How Soon Is Now?" on its B-side. Securing the band's first top ten placing, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" was also significant for marking the beginning of engineer and producer Stephen Street's long-term working relationship with the band.
More controversy followed when "Suffer Little Children", the B-side to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", touched on the theme of the Moors murders. This caused an uproar after the grandfather of one of the murdered children heard the song on a pub jukebox and felt the band was trying to commercialise the murders. After meeting with Morrissey, he accepted that the song was a sincere exploration of the impact of the murders. Morrissey subsequently established a friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, who is mentioned by name in the song.
The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows.
Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat Is Murder. This album was more strident and political than its predecessor, including the pro-vegetarian title track (Morrissey forbade the rest of the group from being photographed eating meat), the light-hearted republicanism of "Nowhere Fast", and the anti-corporal punishment "The Headmaster Ritual" and "Barbarism Begins at Home". The band had also grown more diverse musically, with Marr adding rockabilly riffs to "Rusholme Ruffians" and Rourke playing a funk bass solo on "Barbarism Begins at Home". The album was preceded by the re-release of the B-side "How Soon Is Now?" as a single, and although that song was not on the original LP, it has been added to subsequent releases. Meat Is Murder was the band's only album (barring compilations) to reach number one in the UK charts. In 2003, the album was ranked number 295 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Morrissey brought a political stance to many of his interviews, courting further controversy. Among his targets were the Thatcher government, the British monarchy, and the famine relief project Band Aid. Morrissey famously quipped of the last, "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England" ("torture" being a reference to the music that resulted from the project). The subsequent single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, although the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", was less successful, barely making the top 50.
During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording their next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single "Bigmouth Strikes Again". The single again featured Marr's strident acoustic guitar rhythms and lead melody guitar lines with wide leaps. Marr overdubbed synthesisers on several tracks such as "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side". Upon its release, The Queen Is Dead reached number two in the UK charts; it consisted of a mixture of mordant bleakness (e.g. "Never Had No One Ever", which seemed to play up to stereotypes of the band), dry humour (e.g. "Frankly, Mr. Shankly", allegedly a message to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis disguised as a letter of resignation from a worker to his superior), and synthesis of both, such as in "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "Cemetry Gates".
However, all was not well within the group. A legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. He later told NME, "'Worse for wear' wasn't the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit ... dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle." Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to his use of heroin. He allegedly received notice of his dismissal via a Post-it note stuck to the windscreen of his car. It read, "Andy - you have left the Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey." Morrissey himself, however, denies this.
Rourke was replaced on bass by Craig Gannon (formerly a member of Scottish new wave band Aztec Camera), but was then reinstated two weeks later. Gannon stayed in the band, switching to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles "Panic" and "Ask" (the latter with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals) which reached numbers 11 and 14 respectively on the UK Singles Chart, and toured the UK.
An arrest on drug possession charges almost led to Rourke being replaced by Guy Pratt for the band's North American tour later that year, until the bassist's work visa came through just before departure. While the shows were successful, heavy drinking and drug use by crew and band members other than Morrissey took a toll on the group, along with ineffective management and lingering disputes with Rough Trade, whom the band was seriously considering leaving for EMI, and Sire Records, their American label, who Morrissey felt did not do enough to promote the Smiths. After a date in St. Petersburg, Florida, he and Marr cancelled the remaining four shows, including a grand finale at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. After the following UK tour ended in October 1986, Gannon left the band, having played on six studio tracks.
The group's frustrations with Rough Trade had come to a head and so they sought a record deal with a major label. Marr told NME in early 1987, "Every single label came to see us. It was small-talk, bribes, the whole number. I really enjoyed it." The band signed with EMI, which drew criticism from their fanbase and elements of the music press.
In early 1987 the single "Shoplifters of the World Unite" was released and reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. It was followed by a second compilation, The World Won't Listen. The title was Morrissey's comment on his frustration with the band's lack of mainstream recognition, although the album reached number two in the charts. This was followed by the single "Sheila Take a Bow", the band's second (and last during the band's lifetime) UK top-10 hit. Another compilation, Louder Than Bombs, was intended for the overseas market and covered much the same material as The World Won't Listen, with the addition of "Sheila Take a Bow" and material from Hatful of Hollow which was yet to be released in the US.
Despite their continued success, tensions emerged within the band to threaten their split. Johnny Marr was exhausted and took a break from the band in June 1987, which he felt was negatively perceived by his bandmates. In July, Marr left the group because he erroneously thought an NME article entitled "Smiths to Split" was planted by Morrissey. That article, written by Danny Kelly, alleged that Morrissey disliked Marr working with other musicians, and that Marr and Morrissey's personal relationship had reached breaking point. Marr contacted NME to explain that he had not left the band due to personal tensions but because he wanted wider musical scope.
Former Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry was brought in to replace Marr, and the band recorded some material with him which was never completed, including an early version of "Bengali in Platforms", originally intended as the B-side of "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before". Perry was uncomfortable with the situation, stating "it was like they wanted another Johnny Marr", and the sessions ended with (according to Perry) "Morrissey running out of the studio". By the time the group's fourth album Strangeways, Here We Come was released in September, the band had split.
The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey's irritation by Marr's work with other artists and Marr growing frustrated by Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Marr particularly hated Morrissey's obsession with covering 1960s pop artists such as Twinkle and Cilla Black. Marr recalled in 1992, "That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs." In a 1989 interview, Morrissey cited the lack of a managerial figure and business problems as reasons for the band's split.
Strangeways, Here We Come peaked at number two in the UK and was their most successful album in the US, reaching number 55 on the Billboard 200. It received a lukewarm reception from critics, but both Morrissey and Marr name it as their favourite Smiths album. A couple of further singles from Strangeways were released with live, session and demo tracks as B-sides. The following year the live recording Rank, recorded in 1986 with Craig Gannon on rhythm guitar, repeated the UK chart success of previous albums.
The Smiths were the subject of a South Bank Show documentary produced by LWT and broadcast by ITV on 18 October 1987, four months after their break-up and three weeks after the release of Strangeways.
Following the group's demise, Morrissey began work on a solo recording, collaborating with producer Stephen Street and fellow Mancunian Vini Reilly, guitarist for The Durutti Column. The resulting album, Viva Hate (a reference to the end of the Smiths), was released in March 1988, reaching number one in the UK charts. In the following years, he invited several singers for backing vocals on several songs such as Suggs of Madness on "Picadilly Palare" and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders on "My Love Life". At the beginning of the nineties, he enjoyed a new popularity in North America, following his first tour as Morrissey. In 1994, he recorded a duet: Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees sang with him on "Interlude" which was released as a one-off single under the banner "Morrissey & Siouxsie". In 2006, he collaborated with arranger Ennio Morricone for the song "Dear God Please Help me". Morrissey continues to perform and record as a solo artist.
Johnny Marr returned to the music scene in 1989 with New Order's Bernard Sumner and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant in the supergroup Electronic. Electronic released three albums over the next decade. Marr was also a member of The The, recording two albums with the group between 1989 and 1993. He has worked as a session musician and writing collaborator with artists including the Pretenders, Bryan Ferry, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Black Grape, Talking Heads, Crowded House, and Beck.
In 2000 he started another band, Johnny Marr and the Healers, which enjoyed moderate success, and later worked as a guest musician on the Oasis album Heathen Chemistry (2002). In 2006 he began work with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock on songs that eventually featured on the band's 2007 release, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Modest Mouse subsequently announced that Marr was a fully fledged member, and the reformed line-up toured extensively in 2006-07. Marr also recorded with Liam Gallagher of Oasis. In January 2008, it was reported that Marr had taken part in a week-long songwriting session at Moolah Rouge recording studio in Stockport with Wakefield indie group the Cribs. Marr's association with the band lasted three years and included an appearance on its fourth album, Ignore the Ignorant (2009). His departure from the group was announced in April 2011. He subsequently embarked on a solo career and recorded two solo albums, The Messenger (2013) and Playland (2014). In addition to his activities as a musician and songwriter, Marr produced Haven's debut album, Between the Senses (2002).
Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have continued working together. They toured with Sinéad O'Connor in the first half of 1988 (Rourke also appeared on her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got). Still in 1988, they were recruited (with Craig Gannon) to Adult Net, but left the band soon afterwards. In 1988 and 1989, they recorded singles with Morrissey. In 1998 they toured and recorded with Aziz Ibrahim (The Stone Roses). In 2001 they formed Specter with Jason Specter and others. The band played in the United Kingdom and the United States, but did not prosper. Part of its 27 May 2001 show in New York can be seen at YouTube.
In the same year they recorded demos with Paul Arthurs (Oasis), Aziz Ibrahim, and Rowetta Idah (Happy Mondays) under the name Moondog One, but the project went no further. Towards the end of 2001, they played together in the veteran Manchester band Jeep. In 2005 they played with Vinny Peculiar, recording the single "Two Fat Lovers" (Joyce also appeared on the 2006 album The Fall and Rise of Vinny Peculiar). In 2007 they released the documentary DVD Inside the Smiths, a surprisingly affectionate memoir of their time with the band, notable for the absence of Marr, Morrissey, and their music.
Rourke and Joyce have also pursued their own projects. Joyce has recorded with Suede (1990); toured and recorded with Buzzcocks (1990-91); toured with Julian Cope (1992); toured with John Lydon and Public Image Ltd (1992); recorded with P.P. Arnold (1995); toured and recorded with Pete Wylie (The Mighty Wah!) (1996-98); toured with Vinny Peculiar and Paul Arthurs (2007); and toured with Autokat (2008-09). Joyce presented the Alternative Therapy radio show on Revolution 96.2 FM until the station changed format in 2008, later reviving it on Manchester Radio Online and Tin Can Media. He now hosts The Coalition Chart Show on East Village Radio, which streams from New York, and works as a club DJ.
Rourke wrote the music for three Morrissey B-sides released in 1989 and 1990 ("Yes, I Am Blind", "Girl Least Likely To", and "Get Off the Stage"). He has played and recorded with The Pretenders (featuring on Last of the Independents, 1994); Badly Drawn Boy (with whom he played for two years); Proud Mary (featuring on Love and Light, 2004); and Ian Brown (featuring on The World Is Yours, 2007). In 2007 he formed Freebass with fellow bassists Peter Hook (New Order and Joy Division) and Mani (The Stone Roses and Primal Scream); he remained active in the group until 2010 and appears on its only album, It's A Beautiful Life (2010).
Rourke co-founded the Manchester v Cancer concert series, later known as Versus Cancer, to raise money for cancer research. Concerts took place in January 2006, March 2007, February 2008, and December 2009. He has since concentrated on his radio career, beginning with a Saturday-evening show on XFM Manchester. More recently he has been a regular on East Village Radio, where his colleagues include Mike Joyce. Rourke relocated to New York in early 2009. Soon after arriving there, he formed Jetlag - a "DJ and audio production outfit" - with Olé Koretsky. The pair DJ at venues around the city; a selection of their remixes can be heard at Soundcloud.
Morrissey and Marr each took 40% of the Smiths' recording and performance royalties, allowing 10 percent each to Joyce and Rourke. As Joyce's barrister would later argue in court, the bassist and drummer were treated as "mere session musicians, as readily replaceable as the parts in a lawnmower". In March 1989, Joyce and Rourke started legal proceedings against their former bandmates, arguing that they were equal partners in the Smiths and each entitled to a 25 percent share of the band's profits on all activities other than songwriting and publishing. Rourke, who was in debt, settled almost immediately for a lump sum of £83,000 and 10 percent of royalties, renouncing all further claims.
Joyce continued with the action, which eventually reached the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division) in December 1996. Morrissey and Marr had accepted the previous year that Joyce and Rourke were partners. "The only contentious issue was whether Mr. Joyce was an equal partner entitled to ¼ of the profits arising out of the activities (other than songwriting or publishing) of the Smiths." Joyce's barrister, Nigel Davis QC, asserted that "it was not until after the bestselling band split up in 1987 that his client discovered he was getting only 10 per cent of the profits". Davis continued: "Mr Joyce never agreed to ten per cent, he never assumed he was getting ten per cent. On the contrary he thought he was getting 25 per cent."
Morrissey and Marr - who were represented separately at the trial - insisted that the royalty split had been explained to Rourke and Joyce, even if they were no longer sure when. As Marr's counsel, Robert Englehart QC, explained, "Some 13 years on it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the moment when the 40:40:10:10 profit split came into being ... But Morrissey and Marr acted throughout on the basis that they would be getting 40 per cent each of the net profits from the Smiths' earnings."
After a seven-day hearing, Judge Weeks found in favour of Joyce, ordering that he receive around £1 million in back-royalties and 25 per cent henceforth. The judge also volunteered character assessments of the four antagonists, which were highly favourable to Joyce and Rourke (who gave evidence in Joyce's support):
The judge also ranked the band members by IQ, with Marr "probably the more intelligent of the four", Rourke and Joyce "unintellectual", and Morrissey presumably somewhere in between.
Morrissey offered a different interpretation in an interview eight months later:
Asked some time before the trial whether he thought Rourke and Joyce had been short-changed, Morrissey responded: "They were lucky. If they'd had another singer they'd never have got further than Salford shopping centre." Morrissey's counsel, Ian Mill QC, conceded that his client's attitude "betrayed a degree of arrogance". Morrissey appealed against the verdict; Marr did not. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) in November 1998 and dismissed. Inspired by Joyce's success, Rourke sought legal advice on his own options. No further action appears to have been taken since that time. Rourke was declared bankrupt in 1999.
In November 2005, Mike Joyce told Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music that financial hardship had reduced him to selling rare Smiths' recordings on eBay. By way of illustration, Riley played part of an unfinished instrumental known as the "Click Track" (or "Cowbell Track"). Morrissey responded with a statement three days later revealing that Joyce had received £215,000 each from Marr and Morrissey in 1997, along with Marr's final back-payment of £260,000 in 2001. Morrissey failed to make his final payment because, he said, he was overseas in 2001 and did not receive the paperwork. Joyce obtained a default judgement against Morrissey, revised his outstanding claim to £688,000, and secured orders garnishing much of the singer's income. This was a source of ongoing inconvenience and grievance to Morrissey, who estimated that Joyce had cost him at least £1,515,000 in recovered royalties and legal fees up to 30 November 2005.
Both Johnny Marr and Morrissey have repeatedly said that they will not reunite the band. In 2006, Morrissey declared, "I would rather eat my own testicles than reform the Smiths, and that's saying something for a vegetarian." When asked why in another interview the same year, he responded, "I feel as if I've worked very hard since the demise of the Smiths and the others haven't, so why hand them attention that they haven't earned? We are not friends, we don't see each other. Why on earth would we be on a stage together?" In a February 2009 interview on BBC Radio 2, he said, "People always ask me about reunions and I can't imagine why [...] the past seems like a distant place, and I'm pleased with that."
In November 2004, VH1 screened a Backstage Pass Special episode of Bands Reunited showing host Aamer Haleem trying and failing to corner Morrissey before a show at the Apollo Theater. In March 2006, Morrissey revealed that the Smiths had been offered $5 million for a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which he turned down, saying, "No, because money doesn't come into it." He further explained, "It was a fantastic journey. And then it ended. I didn't feel we should have ended. I wanted to continue. [Marr] wanted to end it. And that was that."
In August 2007, it was widely reported that Morrissey had that summer declined an offer of $75 million - nearly £40 million at the time - from a "consortium of promoters" to reunite with Marr for a fifty-date world tour under the Smiths' name in 2008 and 2009. NME gave Morrissey as its source for the story.Rolling Stone cited his publicist. The offer was also reported at true-to-you.net, an unofficial fan site tacitly supported by Morrissey. It was later described as a "hoax", although it is unclear who was hoaxing whom.
In October the same year, Marr reignited speculation when he hinted on BBC Radio 5 Live at a potential reunion in the future, saying that "stranger things have happened so, you know, who knows?" Marr went on to say that "It's no biggy. Maybe we will in 10 or 15 years' time when we all need to for whatever reasons, but right now Morrissey is doing his thing and I'm doing mine, so that's the answer really." This suggested a change of heart, given that Marr had previously said reforming the band would be a bad idea.
In 2008, Marr resumed contact with Morrissey and Rourke while working on the remastering of the band's catalog. That September, Morrissey and Marr met at a pub in Manchester, and discussed the possibility of reforming the band. The two kept in contact over the next four days to further discuss the topic, and decided to exclude Mike Joyce from any prospective reunion and to wait until after Marr completed his commitments to the Cribs. Communication between the two abruptly ended while Marr was touring in Mexico with the Cribs, and the topic of a reunion was never brought up again. Marr said that he did not hear from Morrissey again until a brief email correspondence in December 2010.
In October 2008, The Sun, citing "sources close to the band", reported that the Smiths would reform to play at Coachella in 2009. Soon afterwards, NME scotched the story, also citing "sources close to the band", and quoting Johnny Marr's manager to the effect that it was "rubbish".
In June 2009, Marr told an interviewer on London's XFM, "I think we were offered 50 million dollars for three ... possibly five shows." He said that the chances of a reunion were "nothing to do with money", and that the reasons were "really abstract".
The closest Marr or Morrissey has come to any kind of reunion was in January 2006 when Johnny Marr and The Healers played at Andy Rourke's Manchester v Cancer benefit concert. There were suggestions leading up to the show that Morrissey might also be involved. Marr made it clear that this would not happen, but did perform "How Soon Is Now?" with Rourke. Marr and Rourke also performed "How Soon is Now?" together at the Lollapalloza Brazil festival in 2014.
Since the band split, its members have sanctioned the release of a live album (Rank, 1988), four greatest-hits collections (Best ... I, 1992; ... Best II, 1992; Singles, 1995; and The Sound of The Smiths, 2008), one miscellaneous compilation (Stop Me, 1988), and two box-sets (The Smiths Singles Box, 2008; and Complete, 2011). There has also been an unsanctioned greatest-hits collection (The Very Best of The Smiths, 2001). This is in addition to the compilations released during the band's lifetime (Hatful of Hollow, 1984; The World Won't Listen, 1987; and Louder Than Bombs, 1987).
As critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine has pointed out, "Several months after releasing their first album, the Smiths issued the singles and rarities collection Hatful of Hollow, establishing a tradition of repackaging their material as many times and as quickly as possible." Erlewine elsewhere observes that, "the anti-record company "Paint a Vulgar Picture" - on Strangeways, Here We Come - "has grown increasingly ironic in the wake of the Smiths' and Morrissey's love of repackaging the same material in new compilations."
Morrissey and Johnny Marr dictated the musical direction of the Smiths. Marr said in 1990 that it "was a 50/50 thing between Morrissey and me. We were completely in sync about which way we should go for each record". The Smiths "non-rhythm-and-blues, whiter-than-white fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk was a repudiation of contemporary dance pop", and the band purposely rejected synthesisers and dance music. However, from their second album Meat is Murder, Marr embellished their songs with keyboards. They sometimes used Sergei Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets as entrance music at live shows.
Marr's jangly guitar-playing was influenced by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Neil Young's work with Crazy Horse, George Harrison (with The Beatles), James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders, and Bert Jansch of Pentangle. Marr often tuned his guitar up a full step to F-sharp to accommodate Morrissey's vocal range, and also used open tunings. Citing producer Phil Spector as an influence, Marr said, "I like the idea of records, even those with plenty of space, that sound 'symphonic'. I like the idea of all the players merging into one atmosphere". Marr's other favourite guitarists are James Williamson of the Stooges, Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend of the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees. In a 2007 interview for the BBC, Marr reported that with the Smiths his goal was to "pare down" his style and avoid rock guitar clichés. Marr forbid himself from using power chords, distortion, lengthy solos, or "big rock chord changes", instead relying on sophisticated arpeggios to create his signature chiming guitar work for the band.
Morrissey's role was to create vocal melodies and lyrics. Morrissey's songwriting was influenced by punk rock and post-punk bands such as the New York Dolls, the Cramps, the Specials and the Cult, along with 1960s girl groups, and singers such as Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull, and Timi Yuro. Morrissey's lyrics, while superficially depressing, were often full of mordant humour; John Peel remarked that the Smiths were one of the few bands capable of making him laugh out loud. Influenced by his childhood interest in the social realism of 1960s "kitchen sink" television plays, Morrissey wrote about ordinary people and their experiences with despair, rejection and death. While "songs such as 'Still Ill' sealed his role as spokesman for disaffected youth", Morrissey's "manic-depressive rants" and his "'woe-is-me' posture inspired some hostile critics to dismiss the Smiths as 'miserabilists.'"
A study has found that the Smiths employed the greatest vocabulary range of all bands to emerge from Manchester, using more than 1,100 different words in their first three albums.
The group's cover artwork had a distinctive visual style and often featured images of film and pop stars, usually in duotone. Design was by Morrissey and Rough Trade art coordinator Jo Slee. The covers of singles rarely featured any text other than the band name, and the band itself did not appear on the cover of any UK release. (Morrissey did, however, appear on an alternative cover for "What Difference Does It Make?", mimicking the pose of the original subject, British actor Terence Stamp, after the latter objected to his picture being used.) The choice of cover subjects reflected Morrissey's interest in cult film stars (Stamp, Alain Delon, Jean Marais, Warhol protégé Joe Dallesandro, James Dean); figures from sixties British popular culture (Viv Nicholson, Pat Phoenix, Yootha Joyce, Shelagh Delaney); and anonymous images from old films and magazines.
The Smiths dressed mainly in ordinary clothes - jeans and plain shirts - in keeping with the back-to-basics, guitar-and-drums style of the music. This contrasted with the exotic high-fashion image cultivated by New Romantic pop groups such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran and highlighted in magazines such as The Face and i-D. In 1986, when the Smiths performed on the British music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test, Morrissey wore a fake hearing-aid to support a hearing-impaired fan who was ashamed of using one, and also frequently wore thick-rimmed National Health Service-style glasses.
The Smiths have been widely influential. Ian Youngs of BBC News has described them as "the band that inspired deeper devotion than any British group since The Beatles". Marr's guitar playing "was a huge building block for more Manchester legends that followed The Smiths", including The Stone Roses, whose guitarist John Squire has said Marr was an influence.Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher also cites the Smiths as an influence, especially Marr. Gallagher has said that "When The Jam split, the Smiths started, and I totally went for them." Singer Davey Havok of the band AFI cites the Smiths as an influence.
Q magazine's Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that the Smiths were "the one truly vital voice of the '80s" and "the most influential British guitar group of the decade". He continued: "As the first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms (their second album proper, 1985's Meat Is Murder, made Number 1 in the UK), they elevated rock's standard four-piece formula to new heights of magic and poetry. Their legacy can be traced down through The Stone Roses, Oasis and The Libertines to today's crop of artful young guitar bands."
Uncut magazine's Simon Reynolds wrote of the band: "Once upon a time, a band from the North came with a sound so fresh and vigorous it took the nation by storm. The sound was rock, but crucially it was pop, too: concise, punchy, melodic, shiny without being 'plastic'. The singer was a true original, delivering a blend of sensitivity and strength, defiance and tenderness, via a regionally inflected voice. The young man's lips spilled forth words that were realistic without being dour, full of sly humour and beautifully observed detail. Most recognised their debut album as a landmark, an instant classic."
The "Britpop movement pre-empted by the Stone Roses and spearheaded by groups like Oasis, Suede and Blur, drew heavily from Morrissey's portrayal of and nostalgia for a bleak urban England of the past."Blur formed as a result of seeing the Smiths on The South Bank Show in 1987. Yet even while leading bands from the Britpop movement were influenced by the Smiths, they were at odds with the "basic anti-establishment philosophies of Morrissey and the Smiths", since Britpop "was an entirely commercial construct." Mark Simpson has suggested that "the whole point of Britpop was to airbrush Morrissey out of the picture ... Morrissey had to become an 'unperson' so that the Nineties and its centrally-planned and coordinated pop economy could happen."
Playwright Shaun Duggan's stage drama William, Alex Broun's one-man show Half a Person: My Life as Told by The Smiths,Douglas Coupland's 1998 novel Girlfriend in a Coma, Andrew Collins' autobiography Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, Marc Spitz's novel How Soon is Never?, the pop band Shakespears Sister, the defunct art-punk group Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the Polish filmmaker Przemys?aw Wojcieszek's short fictional film about two Polish fans of the Smiths, Louder Than Bombs, are all inspired by or named after songs or albums by the Smiths.
As frontman of the Smiths, Morrissey subverted many of the norms that were associated with pop and rock music. The band's aesthetic simplicity was a reaction to the excess personified by the New Romantics, and while Morrissey adopted an androgynous appearance like the New Romantics or earlier glam rockers, his was far more subtle and understated. According to one commentator, "he was bookish; he wore NHS spectacles and a hearing aid on stage; he was celibate. Worst of all, he was sincere", with his music being "so intoxicatingly melancholic, so dangerously thoughtful, so seductively funny that it lured its listeners... into a relationship with him and his music instead of the world." In an academic paper on the band, Julian Stringer characterised the Smiths as "one of Britain's most overtly political groups", while in his study of their work, Andrew Warns termed them "this most anti-capitalist of bands".