PSA: Before starting this post, I would like to disregard Morrissey’s current state of being for just a few minutes and let you know that this post is solely regarding the music and effect of The Smiths as a collective band.
The first time I remember hearing The Smiths was at the end of middle school. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out was on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. I remember thinking, that’s an interesting voice and being intrigued by the lyrics I can now only describe as sparkling. “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” I had never heard anything like it in a song. Morrissey’s lyrics sparkle, and I thought that from the moment I first heard them.
At that point in my life, I loved music but wasn’t much of a deep thinker. I listened to music solely for its sound, as background noise while I worked on homework (which, don’t get me wrong, I still do). Music often went in one ear and out the other, literally. I never questioned or examined lyrics. I never focused on what made the song great, or what cultural impact it had made.
This isn’t to say that those are the only reasons to listen to music. It’s not. But I realize now that these are some of the main reasons I love listening to music: because it is both a therapeutic and an intellectual experience. It can be enjoyed with or without deep thought, and both scenarios are equally magical.
I don’t think I had ever been truly taken away by a song until I heard The Smiths. When I discovered them, however, many of Morrissey’s lyrics meant nothing to me. I still thought boys were gross; the closest I’d gotten to romance was being asked to a 7th grade dance while grabbing my lunchbox from my locker (and I didn’t even say yes).
Over the years, his lyrics have grown more and more relevant as I experience and go through new things (e.g.: Sixteen, clumsy, and shy). But regardless of their relevance to my personal life, I have found Morrissey’s words so meaningful because, well… they actually mean something.
Listening to The Smiths was like a rite of passage into maturity for me. Once I began listening to them, my childhood began to end, not so much because of lyrical content, but because of the way they were written. These songs were saying so much more than those that took over the top charts. They were poems disguised as songs, flooded with imagery and rhyme and anecdote. I had never heard anything like it.
Of course, there have been so many other things that have helped shape my mind and thinking, but once I began to listen to The Smiths, I really began thinking for myself. I began rethinking ideas and asking more questions. I became curious and interested and more willing to learn because I finally realized that everything — from song lyrics, to color choices in film, to syntax throughout a novel — can be analyzed and questioned.
And, of course, The Smiths opened my eyes (no pun intended) and led me to some of my favorite music which, in turn, has led me to even more. I’ve been given a great dose of music history from both of my parents, but after this discovery, I felt a huge deal of freedom to explore on my own, thus leading to many other wonderful discoveries (many of which are, frankly, far better and more compelling than The Smiths).
I’d even say they were the group that (unintentionally) taught me how to listen to music, because it wasn’t just lyrics that captivated me: it was the sound that played alongside them. Hearing the haunting final riffs during the last 30 seconds of Well I Wonder and Pretty Girls Make Graves is like a religious experience every time I listen to them (thanks, Johnny Marr❤️). Or the strange, back-and-forth guitar that opens How Soon As Now and repeatedly creeps up on you throughout…so good. (By the way, check out this fantastic video on that song if you want to learn about some of the influence and history behind it.)
The Smiths are no perfect band. Some of Morrissey’s lyrics are questionable, and there are certainly a few songs by them that I don’t care for. But what was so profound and important about my discovery was that it was something new. This alternative, jangly, sometimes-upbeat-and-sometimes-depressing music was something I’d never heard before. It made me think, if I’ve gone my whole life without hearing this…what other music am I missing out on? And I’ve never looked back since.
I realize there’s lots of very specific connotation surrounding The Smiths. From the few films I’ve seen in which they are the protagonist’s favorite band (e.g. Perks of Being a Wallflower and 500 Days of Summer), they are often a very troubled character. They’re lonely, traumatized, a hopeless romantic, or all three combined.
Perhaps my love for The Smiths means that I, too, am lonely, traumatized, and a hopeless romantic. But I’d also like to think that I’m a critical thinker, a person asks questions, and a person who is interested in learning more about the world and the people around me. And I can thank my discovery of Morrissey and The Smiths for much of that.
Now, for your daily dose of deep lyrics, I present to you:
Some Of My Favorite Morrissey Lyrics
Take me out tonight
Where there’s music and there’s people
Who are young and alive — There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (I’m sure we can all relate to this one right about now.)
No it’s not like any other love
This one’s different
Because it’s us — Hand In Glove
They were born
And then they lived and then they died
Seems so unfair
I want to cry — Cemetry Gates
Under the iron bridge we kissed
and although I ended up with sore lips
it just wasn’t like
the old days anymore — Still Ill
The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down — William, It Was Really Nothing
and, finally, my #1 favorite:
In my life
Why do I smile
At people who I’d much rather kick in the eye — Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
My Top Ten Smiths Songs
They’re in order, but I do change my mind all the time. Enjoy.
As for why I wrote this post: I was struck by inspiration to write this which hasn’t happened all that much lately, so I decided to take advantage of it. I never feel qualified to talk about music and always get nervous to share my opinion because of my lack of formal music training and music theory knowledge. But I am slowly learning more and gaining a greater musical perspective, and since I have a lot of experience listening to The Smiths, I felt confident enough to write this post.
I really liked writing it, and I’m actually somewhat proud of it, so maybe this’ll be the start of a new blog series in which I discuss some of my other favorite music. Or not. Sometimes I get lazy, as you know. 😉 Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Happy Wednesday!