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It’s Time The Tale Were Told
The Smiths To Be Subject Of New Documentary
By Rob Beeson
(more articles from this author)
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It has just been announced in the UK that The Smiths are to be the subject of a new documentary due to be shown in November. Some fifteen years after their acrimonious split, why are The Smiths now suddenly interesting again?

To recap, the band widely considered to be Britain’s finest during the 1980s revolved around the marriage of one Stephen Morrisey’s beautifully witty lyrics and Johnny Marr’s masterful guitar. They were prolific, but recorded only four studio albums between 1983 - 87, all of which were both successful critically and commercially. The split came in 1987 before the release of final album “Strangeways Here We Come,” with Morrisey and Marr later blaming interfering music journalists for their falling out (although bassist Andy Rourke’s heroin problems can hardly have helped).

Almost twenty years on from their first release, the memory of The Smiths has been clouded by a very public court case involving a dispute over royalties and Morrisey’s spectacular falling out with Britain and its press (stemming from what now seems the perfectly acceptable brandishing of a Union Jack in 1992). Johnny Marr’s apparent reluctance to get too involved with anything or anyone has limited him to working with New Order’s Bernard Sumner in Electronic, The The, and more recently The Pet Shop Boys.

All this adds up to a rather sad postscript for a group who, next to fellow Mancunians New Order, can legitimately claim to be the most inspired of their generation. But what is it about a grown man dancing on Top Of The Pops with flowers down his trousers whilst wearing National Health glasses and a hearing aid? You need only ask Oasis’ songwriter and leader Noel Gallagher, whose band is as much inspired by The Smiths as they are The Beatles and The Sex Pistols. Type in “The Smiths” on Napster or any other file sharing network and you will find covers from acts as diverse as Jeff Buckley, The Deftones, J Masics, Billy Bragg and The Dream Academy.

It seems that the group, and particularly their perceptive and articulate frontman, were always destined for both greatness and tragedy. Their debut was hugely anticipated, but whilst it was generally well received by both the press and music buyers, Morrisey was branded as sick by some for his treatment of The Moors murders on “Suffer Little Children.” Further accusations were thrown Morrisey’s way in 1986, this time of racism following the release of “Panic” (on which young Stephen repeatedly encourages us to “Hang The DJ”).

The final straw came in 1992 when, having continued with a successful solo career, the singer decided to wave a Union Jack flag at a London crowd - again another perceived act of racism. Sympathy must surely be afforded here as the Union Jack later became synonymous with the Britpop craze that engulfed Britain within the mid nineties. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reclusive voice of a generation now lives in LA, far away from the British press and, sadly, without a recording contract.

For all the ugliness The Smiths have had to endure since their untimely demise in 1987, we must of course remember the highlights, of which there were so many: 21 blistering singles including the brilliantly lovelorn “How Soon Is Now?” and the infinitely beautiful “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” along with four classic albums. It is also worth pointing out that The Smiths were among the first bands to pride themselves on ensuring their B-sides were of similar quality to the single they accompanied, a trait later enforced by Oasis and the band often most likened to The Smiths - Suede.

So perhaps the decision to make a documentary about this very British band is really quite an obvious one. Indeed, the first words uttered on their debut album were the inspiration for the title of this very piece.

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