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The Smiths: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

The Smiths 1984 Debut

The two figures at the centre of 1980s English indie-rock band The Smiths were an unlikely pairing. Vocalist Morrissey was socially awkward, literate, and camp, while guitarist Johnny Marr was an aspiring football player who trialed with Manchester City. Bonding over a shared interest in The New York Dolls, they formed The Smiths with bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce.

The Smiths’ career was short – they recorded their first single in May 1983 and Marr left the group in June 1987 – but influential. The band melded mid-1960s sounds with contemporary ideas from post-punk. Marr’s guitar playing was modelled on the jangle of The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. He avoided cliches like solos and power chords in favour of intricate arpeggios and jangling rhythms. Morrissey was a punk fan whose odd croon alternated between keen wit and morose self-pity.

Usually I only include studio albums on worst to best lists, but for The Smiths 1984’s Hatful of Hollow and 1987’s Louder Than Bombs are essential parts of their story. Both are compilations, but because The Smiths’ timeline is so compressed they play well as albums.

The Smiths Albums Ranked

#6 – Meat Is Murder

The Smiths Meat is Murder

1985
The Smiths’ second studio album captures an awkward transition between the stark simplicity of their early records and their more studio-based later efforts. Lesser songs like the funky rockabilly of ‘Barbarism Begins At Home’ and the uneventful title track are stretched out to epic lengths. Even the worst Smiths album has plenty worth salvaging – highlights include ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’.


#5 – The Smiths

The Smiths 1984 Debut

1984
The Smiths’ 1984 debut established their signature sound. It’s a straightforward recording that captures their live sound, rather than exploring the possibilities of the studio. It’s The Smiths at their starkest – there’s little humour from Morrissey, and the tone of their debut is established by bleak material like ‘Suffer Little Children’ and ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’. Many of these songs would sound better on the BBC sessions collated on Hatful of Hollow.


#4 – Strangeways, Here We Come

the-smiths-strangeways-here-we-come

1987
The Smiths’ final studio album was underwhelming after the triumph of The Queen is Dead. There’s plenty to like nonetheless – it’s arguably their most diverse studio album, ranging from the dramatic piano ballad ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ to the sparse ‘I Won’t Share You’. There’s plenty of lovable Smiths jangle on ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ and ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’.


#3 – Hatful of Hollow

The Smiths Hatful of Hollow

1984
The Smiths followed their debut with a compilation that collected their non-album singles and BBC sessions. The BBC sessions, captured in 1983 before their debut was recorded, often outshine the studio versions. The singles are sublime – ‘How Soon Is Now?’, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, and ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ are among The Smiths’ finest songs.


#2 – Louder Than Bombs

The Smiths Louder Than Bombs

1987
The Smiths released two singles compilations in 1987 – Louder Than Bombs is an American compilation that collects the band’s non-album singles and b-sides from 1983 to 1987. There’s some overlap with Hatful of Hollow, but non-album songs like ‘Panic’, ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’, and the gentle ‘Half A Person’ are career highlights.


#1 – The Queen is Dead

the-smiths-the-queen-is-dead

1986
The Smiths peaked on their third studio album The Queen is Dead. Legal issues with Rough Trade held up release for seven months, but when it finally emerged it was magnificent. The opening title track was the toughest that The Smiths ever sounded, while ‘There Is A Light Never Goes Out’ balanced tenderness and awkwardness. As always, there are plenty of literate and jangly songs like ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ and ‘Cemetery Gates’.

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31 thoughts on “The Smiths: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. Yes my friend! The Queen is Dead is their best. This was a very good band. But in those days (I was a teenager during the 80s) it was inevitable to choose the coolness of The Police, the hiper serious preaching of U2, the magic atmospheres from Joy Division and The Cure, the hype of INXS or the emotional sincerity from REM. But after all these years, The Smiths deserve a recognition.

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    • I was a little young at the time, but I think The Smiths were pretty big here in New Zealand. We were basically like an English colony until the early 1970s, so people could relate. I think tribalism has disappeared from music a bit – I’m free to enjoy all of those bands except INXS.

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  2. I hoovered up all of these albums and all of the singles in real time when they came out, and they were thrilling. These days, I have “Hatful of Hollow” and “Louder Than Bombs” together as a Smiths playlist, and that meets my needs, completely!

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    • Must have been exciting. I think there’s still lots of interesting music being made, but that music’s lost a lot of its cultural impact – like everyone’s in their own little niche and music doesn’t have the same power to excite and unify like it did.

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  3. I don’t know much about their albums…I don’t remember them getting a lot of airplay back then but… the song that sticks with me is How Soon Is Now?
    That intro is epic.

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    • I went bowling last night and they played How Soon Is Now? (they normally play retro 1980s stuff at the bowling alley so it fitted). It’s one of their best but also a little atypical – their typical sound is a lot janglier – Marr’s said that Roger McGuinn is one of his big influences.

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  4. I had one Smiths album that was a compilation called singles they had a ton of great songs on it and I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of their albums cuz I loved a lot of their singles. But I was so disappointed with everything else on the albums. The fantastic singles were in a different league than the album cuts. No matter how hard I try I can’t warm up to most of their other stuff. And what’s weird is that I like more of Morrissey’s stuff than the Smiths stuff. But same thing with him, the compilations are great but the regular albums aren’t so hot.

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    • The 1995 (?) compilation Singles was my first Smiths album too – I still have it, even though I have almost all of their albums on CD. It is terrific but I think there are a bunch of songs that are up to that standard – I’d include ‘Headmaster Ritual’, ‘Frankly Mr Shankly’, ‘Cemetery Gates’, and ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’ as album cuts that measure up to their great singles.

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  5. Best songs (Smiths AND Morrissey)

    What difference does it make
    Sweet and Tender Hooligan
    This Charming Man
    How Soon Is Now
    Sheila Take a Bow
    Panic
    Suedehead
    Boxers
    Everyday is like Sunday
    Alma Matters

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    • I’ve never really explored Morrissey’s solo career, mainly because I won his 2009 album Years of Refusal in a competition once, and I really didn’t like it. But it’s clearly unfair to judge an artist on an album 20 years deep in their career.

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  6. I can’t disagree with any of this, especially with the inclusion of the two compilations. Some of their best work wasn’t on their studio albums and only available on these two compilations. Great list.

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  7. You are not alone in placing The Queen Is Dead first, but as a devoted Smiths fan I have to disagree. It’s a hard life as a Smiffer and has been ever since Morrissey shot himself in the foot by calling a song Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, which gave the ignorant masses just the ammunition they needed. Anyway, back to the task in hand: I didn’t fall in love with The Queen… like I had with the first album and even Hatful of Hollow, and I don’t know why. The intensity of the first one now pushes it a little way down the list for me and my number one would be Strangeways, with those deliciously bitchy songs about ageing people and dead stars. Number two The Smiths. 3. The Queen. 4. Louder Than Bombs. 5. Hatful of Hollow. 6. Meat is Murder.
    It is typically perverse of Morrissey that while in Paint a Vulgar Picture he sneers at record companies for milking the fans with extra product, The Smiths were issuing compilations when they were only just out of nappies.
    I can’t listen to The Smiths every day – it’s bad for my mental health (seriously) but when I meet a fellow fan all these years later I am both delighted and mystified: I thought it was just me these songs struck a chord with.

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    • I have an ex-workmate who was a pretty obsessive fan, so they’re definitely around. I was too young to be into them at the time, and I’ve never obsessed about them. I’ve come to appreciate Morrissey more – at first I was all about Marr, and thought Morrissey was a sad-sack, but now I appreciate the humour, although I think sometimes he overdoes the bathos.

      We do agree with Meat last – I think that one ends limply.

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        • Duh, I just looked at your link and see not only did you post a Steely Dan one, but I actually commented on it. However, I didn’t give my own list, which is very different from yours. This is probably an age-related thing: I was in my music-fan prime when Can’t Buy a Thrill came out, and it really was an exciting departure from everything else. Do it Again and Reeling in the Years were fantastic, if almost too intelligent to be singles, while Fire in the Hole, Only a Fool Would Say That and Turn That Heartbeat constitute a rock-solid body for an album.
          So, 1. Can’t Buy a Thrill.
          2. Countdown to Ecstasy. Razor Boy, Bodhisattva, My Old School and The Boston Rag: great tunes, grown-up instrumentation and incredible lyrics.
          3. Gaucho. A big leap forward into their more jazzy maturity and again, the music is great and the lyrics streets ahead of anyone else’s. Hey Nineteen and Babylon Sisters hit me at a time when I was over 30 and I was meeting younger girls, with all those attendant problems.
          4. The Royal Scam. Last stand for the rock band as they mutated into middle-aged jazz buffs.
          5. Aja. Perhaps their most serious album. There’s not so much fun in the lyrics and it’s all heavy-duty session players.

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        • Yup, I was born in between Aja and Gaucho. With Can’t Buy A Thrill I do struggle with Palmer’s vocals a bit – takes it down a few notches for me. I think Pretzel Logic is actually my favourite sounding era – a nice balance between jazz and rock – but some of the songs are pretty weak.

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  8. It’s a brutal ranking to do considering it is a nigh immaculate discography and the gaps between the quality of the albums are so tight, but nicely done. I would have put Meat Is Murder in 3rd (behind your Top 2, with which I completely agree) and Strangeways as the last one. But, like I said, it is a tight ranking!

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