Despite Morrissey’s recent contemptible political outbursts, the music he made with The Smiths was just otherworldly. Initially I thought it was just childish whining, but The Smiths very quickly became one of my most revered bands. Three albums in a row are all intensely beautiful: Hatful Of Hollow, Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead are all equally brilliant, the first being the favorite (by a very, very narrow margin). It’s part of my Top 10 albums of all time.
May 1982: Johnny Marr, an 18 year old guitar player, decides upon starting a (new) band. Through a mutual acquaintance he gets into contact with the 5 year older Steven Morrissey. They have their musical taste in common and immediately get along. They decide to start a band together. Within a couple of days they write their first ever song together, Don’t Blow Your Own Horn. It didn’t stop there, they kept on writing and recording everything on a portable cassette player.
The band name was chosen in the summer of 1982: The Smiths. According to Morrissey that particular name was chosen because “it was the most ordinary name and I thought it was time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces”. Around the same time Steven Morrissey decided he wanted to be called Morrissey from then on (losing his first name).
At the end of 1982 the definite line-up of The Smiths was complete. With the band’s first demo recordings under his arm Morrissey went over to Tony Wilson’s already legendary Factory Records. Wilson rejected the band, something he must have regretted later on. Using a second demo, the band was also rejected by EMI. The band started to perform some shows, among which one at the (in)famous Haçienda in the band’s home town of Manchester.
Next, the band contacted Geoff Travis, president of the indie Rough Trade Records. Travis wanted to test the waters with the release of a single: Hand In Glove was released in May of 1983 and marks the first ever release by The Smiths. The same month the band played a show in London, which was witnessed by a producer of the John Peel Show, who invited the band to play their first John Peel session.
A contract with Rough Trade Records was signed between Geoff Travis on the one hand and Morrissey and Johnny Marr on the other (both Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke weren’t invited and consequently never signed). The band went to work on their first album. The first version was rejected and the band were forced to re-record the album using a different producer. These recording were deemed satisfactory. After the release of the singles This Charming Man (the genius single and the first release that showed the promise the band held) and What Difference Does It Make?, The Smiths were taken more seriously and a true following was developing. The several radio performances for John Peel and David Jensen, for BBC Radio, provided the band with a lot of goodwill.
On February 20th, 1984, the debut album by The Smiths, simply called The Smiths, was released, to be followed by the singles Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and William, It Was Really Nothing (both not on the debut album) later in the year.
Even though many really wanted the debut by The Smiths to be the next wonder of the world, it just wasn’t. It was too smooth, too clean, too ordinary. A missed opportunity, which was luckily erased within nine months.
Hatful Of Hollow
Even though Hatful Of Hollow essentially is a compilation album, it was the first album on which the band truly showed it magic. Comprised of the first single and the two 1984 singles, including their B-sides, and parts of the radio recordings for the John Peel Show and the David Jensen Show, the album showed a hungry band, that melted nostalgia and weltschmerz with beautiful vibrant music and lyrics, that are remembered word for word by many.
Contrary to the debut, the songs on Hatful Of Hollow are full of life. That also rings true for the five songs that were released on the debut album. What Hatful Of Hollow clearly demonstrated was the growth of the band as a live unit and the brilliance of Johnny Marr and Morrissey as composers. The new songs show incredible growth.
The growth certainly applies to the music, but Morrissey’s lyrics are wonderfully beautiful as well. The unease, the self pity, the disbelief, the lyrics are filled with them. I think it’s stunning, but at the time I felt Morrissey’s moaning was irritating, which wasn’t sung by the best singer in the world (at all) who took his role of the sensitive boy with the tormented soul a bit too seriously.
- I don’t dream about anyone
(William, It Was Really Nothing)
- I would go out tonight
But I haven’t got a stitch to wear
This man said, “It’s gruesome
That someone so handsome should care”
(This Charming Man)
- I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
I am the son and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
(How Soon IS Now?)
- Let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
There’s more to life than books you know
But not much more
- I was looking for a job and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now
In my life, why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?
In my life, why do I smile
At people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?
(Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now)
- I would rather not go
Back to the old house
There’s too many bad memories
Too many memories there
(Back To The Old House)
- Good times for a change
See, the luck I’ve had can make a good man turn bad
So please, please, please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want this time
Haven’t had a dream in a long time
See, the life I’ve had can make a good man bad
So for once in my life let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time
Lord knows, it would be the first time
(Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want)
The combination of the lyrics and Morrissey’s singing with the beautiful, powerful and subtle guitar playing by Johnny Marr have turned this album into a unique listening experience, which still fascinates to this day. The album is alive, moving and would serve as an introduction to a brief, yet impressive career. During a period of three years The Smiths were the best and most exciting product coming out of England.
Prior to the album two singles were released. Following the album’s release the single How Soon Is Now? was released, this time as an A-side.
- Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
(released on May 21st, 1984)
- William, It Was Really Nothing
(released on August 20th, 1984)
- How Soon Is Now?
(released on January 28th, 1985)
All songs written by Johnny Marr and Morrissey.
- William, It Was Really Nothing *
- What Difference Does It Make? #
- These Things Take Time $
- This Charming Man ^
- How Soon Is Now? &
- Handsome Devil #
- Hand In Glove *
- Still Ill ^
- Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now *
- This Night Has Opened My Eyes ^
- You’ve Got Everything Now $
- Accept Yourself ~
- Girl Afraid &
- Back To The Old House ^
- Reel Around The Fountain #
- Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want &
|#||John Peel session, 05/18/1983|
|$||David Jensen session, 06/26/1983|
|^||John Peel session, 09/14/1983|
|~||David Jensen session, 08/25/1983|
- Morrissey – vocals
- Johnny Marr – guitar, harmonica, mandolin
- Andy Rourke – bass
- Mike Joyce – drums, tamborine
With help from:
- John Porter – percussion on How Soon Is Now?
After Hatful Of Hollow
It didn’t take long for The Smiths to turn into the most important (indie) band of the 1980s, especially in the UK. Interestingly, the band never became that popular in The Netherlands. Unjustly so, I might add. In 1985 and 1986 two more brilliant albums would follow, Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead. After some more singles and the last album it was all over in 1987.
What do you think of The Smiths and Hatful Of Hollow in particular? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Smiths release their first masterpiece: Hatful Of Hollow. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
The Smiths – Glastonbury Festival 1984 image: twitter.com
The Smiths – Hand In Glove – First single image: amazon.co.uk
The Smiths – The Smiths image: radiozero.cl
The Smiths – Hatful Of Hollow image: amazon.com
The Smiths – 1984 image: thefusionmag.com
The Smiths – Hatful Of Hollow – The singles image: discogs.com/apoplife.nl
The Smiths – Live – The Tube 03/16/1984 image: bbc.co.uk