JOHN WALTERS: Out of the sort of liberation that punk brought to the model that that area was getting into, I should imagine that the most successful band that you’ve had on the programme recently must surely be The Smiths, who clearly don’t have a punky noise…style, totally different, but couldn’t have existed, probably, without punk, and you had them on very early on, May 1983, before they had a record out, after they first came from Manchester and appeared in London. Again, looking back to that Manchester gloom…there’s always been that melancholy solitude…a whimsical, ironic and rather witty approach to solitude in Morrissey’s stuff…Would you say, ‘Oh Morrissey, he’s my sort of chap’?
JOHN PEEL: I would like to think he was…I’ve only met him a couple of times. I just like the fact that I was hearing words being used in popular songs that I wasn’t used to hearing, just the use of language really pleased me as much as anything else: and his voice again was not a voice that you could immediately trace back to somebody else. I mean, he wasn’t trying to be Marc Bolan, he wasn’t trying to be Jim Morrison again..they just seemed to be another band that arrived from nowhere with a very clear and strong identity, and that is always attractive. [Peeling Back The Years, 1987]
I used to hate The Smiths. It was that dreary voice, spreading doom and gloom, and that annoying jingly-jangly guitar. Being forced to listen to a tape compilation of their hits recorded at the wrong speed while on the way to a Christmas party while I was working for the Civil Service did nothing to improve my opinion of them.
Yet there I was, two years later, trying to buy all the singles up before they were deleted, and watching all of a two-hour bootleg video compilation of interviews from Italian TV, and hanging on to every word. What changed? I think I can date it from the release of The Queen Is Dead, and Smash Hits telling me to buy it. The guy in the independent record shop in Stevenage winced at the title track, calling it ‘amateurish’, but by now it was too late. I was hoooked.
I sold this 12 inch for £1. I should have had my nadgers cut off for doing so. As you can see, the single covers themselves, without exception devoted to 60s icons, were an art form.
As for the song itself: who can say The Smiths are gloomy and depressing after hearing this? The delicate and allusive wordplay, the Motown-like beat, it was a classic of epic proportions. From the moment Johnny Marr’s guitar ushers in the solid, unwavering backbeat, you know you’re in safe hands. See Stephen swing lots of flowers here:
Of course, the boys themselves were the real deal, self-mocking (‘The sun shines out of our behinds’) and assured. All these tracks come from their eponymous debut, which still contains plenty of longueurs, but has the freshness of spirit and glamour of discovery in spades. Now I can’t imagine life without this band, and every play of their music brings new pleasures. They would come to haunt the Festive Fifty to a ludicrous extent, despite the fact that they were its philosophy in miniature: rooted in the past, yet travelling unknown continents all the time.
Buy: The Smiths, The Smiths