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Every single by The Smiths, ranked from good to great

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Emily Reynolds
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Every single by the Smiths, ranked

Right, so, let’s get it out of the way before we even start: Morrissey is bad now. Morrissey keeps saying bad things, as he has done for the last several years, and shows zero signs of stopping. He’s the final boss in a video game consisting only of avoiding racist dads.

Which makes it pretty easy to forget that The Smiths, the band he used to front before he became a walking UKIP poster, were actually alright. They had good politics! Good music! Good lyrics! They were good!

So, to commemorate a time that died long ago and will remain dead forever thanks to the endless fucking whining and moaning of Morrissey, yer racist dad, here are all the Smiths’ singles, ranked. 

Every single by the Smiths, ranked from good to great

17. ‘This Charming Man’

Okay, yes, this is objectively a great song. Objectively this may be the quintessential Smiths song - jangly, obtuse and self-referential lyrics, pithy and short. But that ubiquity has also, basically, destroyed it. Can you hear this song and not be immediately transported to a crap student indie night, your horrible shoes stuck to the horrible floor with horrible beer? No, you cannot. And for that reason, it is the worst song. Sorry and please do not @ me.

=15. ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’/’Sheila Take A Bow’

Meh. Decent, but meh.

14. ‘Panic’

One of the very best thing about Smiths singles, aside from the fact they are all technically brilliant, is how short they are. My hypothesis: there is no perfect pop song longer than three minutes. ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys: 2 minutes 53 seconds. ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls: also, coincidentally, 2 minutes and 53 seconds long. ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA: 2 mins and 45. The theory works, lads.

Anyway: ‘Panic’ is short and punchy and great, and has only been slightly ruined by the hindsight that has turned “hang the DJ” from a non-conformist rally cry into something that sounds a bit like a UKIP manifesto pledge that gets made fun of on Twitter.

13. ‘How Soon Is Now?’

Much like ‘This Charming Man’, ‘How Soon Is Now?’ has morphed from a quite-good pop song into something else: an anthem for people who want to mythologise their own lack of love life. This, obviously, is annoying as hell.

Still bangs, though. 

12. ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’

Morbid lyrics, jaunty oompah-intro, AND just over 2 minutes long. Good.

11. ‘Ask’

With the Kirsty MacColl backing vocals and “shyness is nice” lyrics, this is one of the Smiths’ twee-er songs. By all accounts this should be as floppy and wet as a cheese and ham sandwich at a picnic. But somehow it really does still bang.

10. ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’

The thing about ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’: everyone seems to think it’s a mega serious, miserable drone about…well, being miserable. Which, I guess, is fairly reasonable given it’s the literal name of the song.

But beneath the slightly gloomy surface are some of Morrissey’s sharpest, funniest and most self-deprecating lyrics. A great reminder that he didn’t always take himself so seriously.

9. ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’

Within the Smiths’ oeuvre, there are a bunch of pretty clear sub-genres. Joke songs like ‘Frankly, Mr Shankly’ and ‘Vicar in A Tutu’; the actual, genuinely soul-destroying ones like ‘I Know It’s Over’; the “I am uncomfortable with the topic at hand being put to music” ones like ‘Suffer Little Children’.

Then there are the “I am desperately yearning for something or someone, and though I don’t know who or what that is, I know that there is something missing in my life and I yearn, I pine, to find whatever that thing is”.

So yeah, this is the best one of them.

(Side note: I was once threatened with ejection from a National Express coach for putting my headphones in and singing along - I thought quietly, but actually very, very loudly - to this song. This has absolutely no bearing on how good it is but I am relieved to have finally been able to publicly share my truth.) 

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8. William, It Was Really Nothing

Because of who he is as a person, Morrissey has kind of…made the Smiths completely and totally about him and his ego, which means we often forget just how brilliant Johnny Marr’s songwriting was. “William, It Was Really Nothing” is the absolute pinnacle of the jangly-guitar thing that has since been so often reproduced.

7. ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’

Everyone forgets ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a top 10 Smiths song list. BUT IT’S SO GOOD. The references alone (Billy Fury, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, Tennessee Williams) are peak Morrissey-when-he-was-actually-good.

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6. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

Perfect for sitting in your room thinking “nobody is EVER GOING TO LOVE ME” for almost exactly five minutes. Which - be real - is why we all liked the Smiths to begin with, right?

=3. ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’/’What Difference Does It Make?’/’Bigmouth Strikes Again’

The Smiths are often accused of being a twee band (see entry eleven, Ask). And there is good reason for that – ‘80s Morrissey was skinny, bespectacled, shy and frequently carried a big bunch of flowers in his back pocket. So far, so undergraduate philosophy student who likes Jean Luc Godard.

But in ‘What Difference Does It Make?’, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’, we get a glimpse of the bitter, spiteful, spunky Morrissey that made his early solo work so compelling. HE’S MAD AS HELL (sort of annoyed) AND HE ISN’T GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE (will write hundreds of songs about the same thing over the course of his three-decade-long career).

2. ‘Hand In Glove’

The actual, non-’This Charming Man’, quintessential Smiths song, this is the perfect mix of Johnny Marr genius (his “redolent minor chord wash weeps with a rain-soaked hopelessness”, said Smiths biographer Simon Goddard, pretty eloquently) and oblique, suggestive lyric that epitomised Morrissey’s early work. Goddard summed up the song as a “bleak proclamation of doomed happiness…a shattering left-hook of self-loathing, loss and desperation”. And who can truly say they don’t love self-loathing, loss and desperation? Not me.

1. ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’

Misery! Despair! Loneliness! Rejection! Overblown string arrangements! Literally everything that is good about The Smiths contained in five perfect minutes. It’s also CRIMINALLY underrated, making it the best “this is my favourite Smiths song” to start arguments and ruin articles. You’re welcome. 

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Emily Reynolds

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