Ranking: Every Song by The Smiths from Worst to Best

All 72 songs that helped define a generation of misfits straight outta Manchester


    We revisit our definitive Smiths ranking as their debut turns 35 this week.

    Say what you will about internecine bad blood and the virtuous desire to keep the past in the past, but here’s the real reason we’ll never see Manchester legends The Smiths on stage together again: They’ve already accomplished everything they set out to do.

    In just five short years, between 1982 and 1987, the foursome of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce produced 72 songs whose youthful angst, literary humor, and yearning nostalgia became the slim canon that helped define subsequent generations of little misfits.

    On “Rubber Ring”, Morrissey wrote: “But don’t forget the songs/ That made you cry/ And the songs that saved your life.” On the following list, we pay these tracks an overdue visit; from the singles that defined their sound to the album tracks and B-sides that spread out with unexpected depth, we’ll unearth the hits and misses that made The Smiths the most singular band of the ’80s.

    –Tyler Clark
    Contributing Writer


    Buy: Pick up copies of your favorite Smiths albums at Reverb LP. Click here for more.

    72. “Golden Lights”

    “Ask” B-side (1986)

    The Smiths don’t have many train wrecks in their catalog, but this cover of a 1965 single by English singer-songwriter Twinkle is the sublime exception that proves the rule. Part of that disappointment is owed to the jarring mismatch between band and source material, but Stephen Street shoulders some of the blame for sending Morrissey’s voice through a bizarre flange effect in the mixing stage. Producer John Porter was righteously miffed at that, and the band would never leave Street — or any other mixer, for that matter — alone with their work again. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Is life always like this, brother?/ Good for one side but bad for another”

    71. “The Draize Train”

    “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” B-side (1986)

    There’s a dubious origin story attached to the third and final Smiths instrumental. As Len Brown recounts in his Meetings with Morrissey, Moz simply refused to write words for the song because he thought “it was the weakest thing Johnny [Marr] had ever done.” That’s an extremely priggish move to pull on your guitarist, but in this particular instance, well, let’s just say he had a point. –Collin Brennan

    70. “Meat Is Murder”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    One of the rare Smiths song Morrissey still consistently plays live, “Meat Is Murder” is a vegetarian anthem that outlines the beliefs he literally brings to his meat-free shows. While Moz pushes his rhetoric, the rest of the band replaces their normally lively arrangements with a wallowing nightmare of ethereal drag. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “And death for no reason is murder/ And the flesh you so fancifully fry/ Is not succulent, tasty, or kind”

    69. “Work Is a Four-Letter Word”

    “Girlfriend in a Coma” B-side (1987)


    If Johnny Marr is to be believed, this is the song that cemented The Smiths’ breakup; the guitarist famously told Record Collector in 1992 that he “didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.” The Smiths’ second cover song is a perfectly serviceable rendition of the 1968 blue-eyed soul B-side; however, given its infamous effect on the band and “contractual obligation” quality of the harmonies, there’s a reason this one ranks near the bottom of the list. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “I don’t need/ A house that’s a showplace/ I just feel/ That we’re going no place/ When you say that/ work is a four-letter word”

    68. “Oscillate Wildly”

    “How Soon Is Now?” B-side (1985)

    Talk about false advertising. If the band had called this “How Soon Is Now?” B-side “Noodle Around Tepidly” or “Morrissey Needed a Nap but We Still Had Some Studio Time, So…” it might’ve gained a few spots for honesty. They didn’t, though. Shame. –Tyler Clark

    67. “Miserable Lie”

    The Smiths (1984)

    Though “Miserable Lie” belongs to the earliest crop of Morrissey-Marr collaborations, this precocious post-punk tune bears many hallmarks that would later come to define The Smiths: lost innocence, inter-class love affairs, and a half-and-half pairing of sexual deviance and domestic squalor. It’s also got ambition to spare, as evidenced by the jarring tempo change that shifts it from a ballad to a banger around the one-minute mark. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “The dark nights are drawing in/ And your humor is as black as them”

    66. “Money Changes Everything”

    “Bigmouth Strikes Again” B-side (1986)


    The plodding instrumental that accompanies this “Bigmouth Strikes Again” B-side just oozes Smiths swagger. “Money Changes Everything” is capable of retaining the eerie attraction The Smiths create even without Morrissey’s classic croon. –TJ Kliebhan

    65. “Jeane”

    “This Charming Man” B-side (1983)

    The Smiths generally had a difficult time staying on the same page, but “Jeane” is an early example of intra-band dynamics playing to their advantage. Marr had essentially written the song as a Drifters rip-off, but Morrissey wisely recognized that it yearned to rock harder and encouraged his guitarist to — in the grand tradition of punk — play faster. There’s not a lot of meat on poor “Jeane”’s bones, but she’s a stomper with some nice surface-level appeal. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “I’m not sure what happiness means/ But I look in your eyes/ And I know that it isn’t there”

    64. “What She Said”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    The success of “What She Said” is directly tied to the driving and salient rhythm Mike Joyce maps on the drums. Accompanied by Marr’s blistering screech of a guitar riff, the whole band pushes the pace as fast as they can for this quick two-and-a-half-minute track. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “How come someone hasn’t noticed/ That I’m dead/ And decided to bury me/ God knows, I’m ready”

    63. “I Keep Mine Hidden”

    “Girlfriend in a Coma” B-side (1987)


    Recorded during the same mop-up session as “Work Is a Four-Letter Word”, this slight ditty about the virtues of hiding your emotions doubles as a snide critique (reportedly of Marr) that you can almost picture Morrissey delivering with his eyes locked on his frenemy guitarist. In addition to tossing gas on the sparks in the already-tense room, the song also opens with a whistle solo that, once it gets stuck in your head, will do exactly the same to your brain. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “I keep mine hidden/ But it’s so easy for you/ Because you let yours flail/ Into public view”

    62. “Wonderful Woman”

    “This Charming Man” B-side (1983)

    It wouldn’t be Morrissey if this song were truly an ode to a wonderful woman, but the powerful, heartless woman who magically controls the man’s every desire is perhaps a better character anyway. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “Ice water for blood/ With neither heart or spine/ And then just to pass time/ Let us go and rob the blind”

    61. “Well I Wonder”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    Morrissey’s cadence is well on display in this ballad describing crossing paths with a romantic interest. Andy Rourke’s punchy bass infuses a much-needed feeling of urgency into what’s otherwise a classic Smiths slow-burner. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “Well I wonder/ Do you see me when we pass?/ I half-die”


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