In the early 1980’s, the British music scene was changed irrevocably when Stephen Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce came together to form The Smiths. With mould-breaking lyrics and influences that range from folk to punk, The Smiths are considered to be one of the most unique and influential bands of the last half-century.
Despite the fact that they were only together for a few years, their legacy continues as they are still attracting new fans to this day. Whilst their biggest songs are known worldwide, here are ten of their most overlooked and underrated songs.
I Want The One I Can’t Have
A severely underappreciated gem from Meat Is Murder, this song has that signature feel of teenage angst that The Smiths are so famed for. Morrissey is at his ambiguous best in this song; whilst it would be easy to assume that the lyrics of this song are focussed on class inequality like the rest of the album, there are hints that it could actually be a crisis of sexuality that is keeping Morrissey from the lover he so craves. The song is also notable for Andy Rourke’s performance on bass. However, never to be overshadowed, the two arpeggio chords that Marr plays in the final bridge are reason enough alone for this song to make this list.
I Don’t Owe You Anything
The best Smiths songs are the ones where Marr’s melodies are in perfect harmony with Morrissey’s lyrics. Whilst it may seem like Marr takes a bit of a backseat in this tune, his understated guitar really provides the perfect backdrop for lyrics which centre around the pain of really caring for someone, who doesn’t appreciate you and is more interested in others. A relatable feeling indeed, this song truly encapsulates the pain of young unrequited love.
You’ve Got Everything Now
Considering their first album featured era-defining anthems such as This Charming Man and What Difference Does It Make, it is perhaps no surprise that this is a song often overlooked. This song follows the formula of the archetypal Smiths song; Morrissey crooning about a relatable melancholic topic (in this case, post-school disillusion) over the top of Marr’s unrelenting riffs. What’s not to love?
Back To The Old House
For my money, this is one of the best sad songs ever written. Honestly, if a guitar could weep, it would sound exactly like this finger-picking melody. This song is about regret and nostalgia and is a must for any break-up playlist. I don’t know if the fact this song never featured on an album (except for a couple of compilations) is a testament to the quality of The Smiths’ catalogue, or just evidence that they were really bad at choosing tracklists. Judging by the quality of a lot of their B-sides, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Since the dawn of time, fans of The Smiths have argued with people over whether The Smiths are painfully morose, or actually just have a morbid sense of humour. This is one of them songs that will have those who share Morrissey’s sense of humour laughing out loud. There is just something hilarious about the bluntness and absurdity of the lyrics: “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday/because you’re evil and you lie/ and if you should die/ I may feel slightly sad but I won’t cry.” Regardless of whether you like the lyrics or not, the chorus is undoubtedly catchy and the folk inspired guitar is sure to get your feet tapping.
An extremely melancholic song with a bouncing guitar, this is The Smiths at their juxtaposing best. Even the band themselves didn’t give this song the attention it deserved, as it was only deemed worthy of a B-side and was dropped from their live set almost instantly. Still, I think this song certainly deserves its place on this list. Sandie Shaw’s version is worth a listen too.
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
A lot of the early songs that The Smiths wrote were influenced by uncomfortable societal topics, and This Night has Opened My Eyes is no exception. Perhaps the closest The Smiths ever got to the blues, this is certainly a unique song in their discography that focusses on a mother leaving a child on a doorstep. No other song in this list paints images quite as vividly but, to be fair, I’m not sure there are many songs on any lists that do either.
Nowhere Fast features some of the most underrated guitar riffs that Johnny Marr has ever written. Whilst Morrissey is as witty and amusing as ever, this is one of the rare songs in The Smiths’ catalogue where Marr just absolutely steals the show. The video shows him playing chord progressions and arpeggios that even the best guitarists would wince at – all the while with a cigerrete hanging out of his mouth and look of indifference on his face, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Pure rock’n’roll.
Stretch Out And Wait
The lyrics in this one read like a John Dunne poem more than anything else. Set on a high rise estate, Morrissey uses all of his wit and cunning to tempt someone into sleeping with him. It is a unique song in terms of its subject matter, but with Morrissey’s lyrical acrobatics and undulating vocals, it is actually just another song where Morrissey reminds everyone why he is one of the most revered lead singers of all-time.
I Won’t Share You
This delicious slow song was the last song Marr and Morrissey ever wrote together. Some think that Morrissey is addressing Marr who, around the time of writing, was wanting to experiment more with solo music and other musicians. Of course though it is hard to say, since almost all of The Smith’s songs could be interpreted as a love song from Morrissey to Marr or vice versa. Regardless, this is a song that is sadly over looked on Strangeways Here We Come. It’s final lines “I’ll see you somewhere,/ I’ll see you sometime” make it a fitting ending to their final album, and a fitting final song on this list.
There you have it. Ten deep cuts from The Smiths to get your teeth into.
What would make your top ten list of deep cuts?
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great list, id add draize train and oscillate wildly, Marr really put his soul into those.