Big UK Debate: Were the Smiths the Best or Worst Band of the Last 30 Years?

This appeared in The Telegraph.  Discuss and/or fight.  First, the pro.

Thirty years since their first single, Hand in Glove, The Smiths remain the greatest band not only of their time but of any time since. No one else in these past three decades has written music as harshly beautiful, or lyrics as moving (or indeed as funny – see Frankly, Mr Shankly). They could get more poetry into a mere title than most bands get into a whole lyric sheet. Shoplifters of the World Unite. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.

Now the con:

Has any band has ever been so melodically limited, so calculatedly joyless, such as waste of a good guitarist, or fronted by such an inexplicably self-important frontman? (That memorable “Wears Pepe” jeans advert from 30-odd years ago – set to the muscular chug of How Soon Is Now? but sans vocals – was a tantalising reminder of the talent elsewhere in the band.)

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Big UK Debate: Were the Smiths the Best or Worst Band of the Last 30 Years?

  • May 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm
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    I sit on the fence for this one. In the early '80s with the heavy sounds of the synthesisers filling the air, the SMITHS were a breath of fresh air. The party went on for too long and somebody finally opened a window and in came the Smiths. They gave us a handful of memorable songs, "How Soon is Now", "What Difference Does It Make" etc. The problem is when you put them up against the gold standard of a rock group like the Beatles that you see their deficiency. The quantity of good songs is not there and the shortness of the songs always left you hungry for more. On their own individual recording projects they have never come up to the standard of the Smith songs. Other groups of that period like The Human League, Tears For Fears, New Order, Depeche Mode to name a few – all with at least one classic album are just as good if not better. The "cult" and charisma of Morrissey and to some degree Johnny Marr seem to me what has only kept them on the public horizon.

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  • May 14, 2013 at 2:28 am
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    I think their legacy and importance has strengthened over time. There seems to be a constant demand for anything Smiths related, thus the endless cycle of books, special issues, and Morrissey appearances. Every generation seems to discover them because their music resonates. For a band that was only around for 4 years, that's a huge statement.

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