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  • The Smiths Albums From Worst To Best
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2. The Queen Is Dead (1986)

1986's The Queen Is Dead is a masterful and fully realized record, equal parts crushing ridicule, wit, sentiment, politics, and poetry. Tough, uncompromising, and packed with difficult truths, it is everything you want in a Smiths record. Highlights abound. The searing title track is one of Morrissey and Marr's most ferocious exertions ever, featuring Moz's trademark withering wit: "Her very lowness with her head in a sling/ I'm truly sorry, but it sounds like a wonderful thing." This is bookended with the penultimate "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," nothing less than a modern standard that negates all of the band's inherent cynicism with one of the most touching pleas of unchallenged love that exists in any band's catalog. In between there are cross-dressing members of the cloth ("Vicar In A Tutu"), thinly veiled industry takedowns ("Frankly, Mr. Shankly"), and a final napalming of yet another bridge by someone who should know better ("Bigmouth Strikes Again"). This record encapsulates the Smiths' gestalt at its most magnificent.

For a band that lasted only five years and released only four official full-length albums, the Smiths’ catalog is a nightmare to untangle. The 70 or so songs the band eventually issued were consistently brilliant — an idiosyncratic amalgam of character studies, political insight, and life-changing anthems for the eternal outsider. In Britain, they were immediate and justifiable stars. But in the States, the action was more confused. While the unarguably wonderful manner in which the Smiths’ music has aged over time has burnished their greatness beyond dispute, it is difficult to express how alienating the challenge they presented to American audiences was during the mid-1980s. For a band exemplified by a prototypical British archness and the intentionally ambiguous sexuality of lead singer Morrissey, they engendered a dissonant confusion for mainstream audiences accustomed to “manly” acts like Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams. Even as ostensibly progressive bands like U2 and R.E.M. flourished on commercial radio, we were not quite prepared to reckon with the challenge of the Smiths’ frontman: a dyed-in-the-wool rock star who didn’t at least on some level reference his “love of the ladies.” If Boy George was easier to accept, it was because he was a simple caricature — a pure entertainer in drag, not that far from Milton Berle or Benny Hill. Morrissey was something different altogether: icy, acid of wit, and foreign in nearly every regard.

In spite of these obstacles, the Smiths held in their favor those great levelers that always tend to be most consequential: amazing songs and an inspired live show. The visionary A&R icon Seymour Stein was eager and smart enough to bring them aboard Sire Records, but by the time the Smiths began issuing albums Stateside, their catalog had already become a baffling miasma of differing UK and US variants. There were repetitive singles’ collections and a vast handful of alternate takes, rarities, and other sundry oddities of note. On “Paint A Vulgar Picture,” Morrissey himself comes across as appalled by the seemingly unchecked mercantilism implied by the persistent reconstitution of the group’s catalog: “Re-issue/ Re-package/ Re-evaluate the songs/ Double-pack with a photograph/ Extra track and a tacky badge.”

Full-lengths aside, the Smiths crucially possess the special designation of being perhaps the greatest singles band since the Beatles, issuing A- and B-sides so formidable as to inspire awe. The band was so utterly flush with great material that timeless classics such as “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “Panic,” “Ask” and “Shelia Take A Bow” never even bowled their way onto one of the Smiths’ official full-lengths. At the peak of their powers, they resembled nothing so much as the Fab Four, producing ingenious material at a breakneck rate that nearly defies credulity.

Unfortunately they were like the Beatles in other ways as well. That the Smiths ultimately spent nearly as much time suing one another in court as they did making music is regrettable but perhaps appropriate. The unstoppably wonderful songs that Morrissey and guitarist and key collaborator Johnny Marr created together were nearly always indictments of one kind or another, from the leering bigots depicted in “Hand In Glove” to the unfeeling employer in “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.” As a solo artist, Morrissey once memorably sang: ’Beware, I hold more grudges/ than lonely high court judges.” And goddamn if he hasn’t been true to his word. Twenty-five years after the fact, you get the sense that the man wouldn’t cross the street to pour water on his former bandmates if they were hairdressers on fire. Maybe no other artist has ever treated the tradition of rock and roll with quite such the litigious air as Morrissey. Everyone is on trial. Pardons are few and far between.

Ultimately, what we are left with is a fractious and frustrating catalog that nevertheless ranks easily alongside the best and most extraordinary in contemporary music. Of course, the Smiths are never far from our hearts or the news: Next month, Marr will release his first true “solo” album — and based on the music we’ve heard so far, the early reports, and even in his own words, it’s his most Smiths-ian work since parting ways with Moz; Morrissey, meanwhile, kicks off a U.S. tour this Wednesday on Long Island, NY, preceded tomorrow night by an appearance on Letterman. (And of course there are perennial calls for the band to reunite, always met with hilariously staunch refusals.) So what better time to look back on the mighty career of one of pop music’s best-ever outfits? Slight disclaimer: In order to accurately capture the band’s catalog, we have expanded this countdown to include (and combine into one writeup) the band’s two great, but highly similar singles compilations Hatful Of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs. No respectable record library would be complete without both of these collections. Of course, the same could be said of every other album in this slight but unforgettable discography. The Countdown starts here.

Comments (74)
  1. Meat is Murder as the worst Smiths album? What…?

    4. Strangeways
    3. The Smiths
    2. Meat is Murder
    1. The Queen is Dead

    None of this compilation bullshit.

  2. Wait… how is a compilation on there? Doesn’t that defeat the point of the list?

  3. I’m a big Smiths fan and a generally disagreeable person, but I cannot find fault with a single word of this.

  4. I have to say, every Smiths album at one point has been my favorite. The question is which one has spent the MOST time as my favorite, and I think it’s Meat is Murder. I was in Manchester last month in Craig Gill’s car, and dammit if he wasn’t playing “Barbarism Begins at Home”!

    • i was gonna say roughly the same thing, every smiths album is the best they ever made, and if you are a hater, the worst of course, but they are my favorite band of all time. period.

  5. “Queen: Greatest Hits” is my favorite Queen album

  6. I don’t think i deserve my own thread really, but as my favorite band i can neither agree or disagree with this list. i have never had to defend my love for the smiths to any friends, because i have disowned anyone that opposes what a great band they were.

    i was also gonna say ‘wonder what stereogum would say about morrissey’s best to worst would look like, but didn’t we already do that and ‘Kill Uncle’ was undeniably last? eh?

  7. you got it right this time – GREAT JOB xo

  8. just for the sake of being a dick: if you’re going to include two compilations (inexplicably tied for first nonetheless), don’t you have an obligation to rank all the albums AND compilations for one list?

    and meat is murder definitely has its big highs and big lows, but i thought it was pretty well established at this point that it’s better than strangeways and self-titled

  9. How come The World Wont Listen doesn’t appear on the list?

  10. I guess live albums don’t count, but my favorite part of their catalog was Rank.

    • One of the highlights of the entire Smiths catalog is hearing Moz and the boys do Elvis’ “His Latest Flame” and going into Rusholme Ruffians.

  11. Putting ‘Greatest Hits’ on a best albums list is lame, as far as those things go, but I’m okay with compilations of non-album tracks. Especially in cases like this. I know I don’t want to have a conversation about The Smiths with “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” or “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” or “William, It Was Really Nothing” or “Shoplifters of the World Unite” neglected. And when you think about it, all those songs were recorded in the same lenght of time that an average non-Ty Segall band will release one, maybe two albums. I’m a big believer in the concept of the cohesive album, but when you’re talking about a single band’s discography, as opposed to a general best albums list, it seems silly to object to considering compilations of non-album singles. Especially when the comps are as great as the two here.

  12. this list surely will get some sand peoples panties.

  13. Lists don’t matter with The Smiths. Can you imagine having “Barbarism Begins at Home” or “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” on your WORST album? Jesus, they would be most bands best! (Side note: The RANK version of “Still Ill” is one of the best things ever to be recorded).

  14. You can complain about the order all you want (Queen is Dead not number 1?) but they told us they were including the comps in the article, so where’s the beef?

    • I understand that, but if this is Stereogum’s logic, why not just put THIS album as number one:

      • thats the truth of it. the sound of the smiths is the best compilation, but really these lists should have no compilations, because if its full albums youre listing, then list full albums only.

  15. The BBC recording of What Difference Does It Make is easily in my top 5 Smiths songs. Very respectable list.

  16. Should have ranked the songs, the discography is too light on albums to rank. Five entries is not a list.

  17. O MELHOR ÁLBUM DE SMITHS É TODOS, CARALHO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  18. I love this list! I hate this list! I want this list inside me! I want to throw this list out of a moving car! I think this list speaks to modern times! I think this list smells like a new shoe! I could write a better list with my left hand! I want to invite this list to the prom and then NOT show up at the prom! I feel like I could travel around the world with this list! I always knew that one day a list would come along that really made me fart out loud, and this is that list! I keep looking at this list, and now I want to drink a soda! I find this list appallingly beautiful! I want to take this list high up from deep in the valley! I saw this list with Ryan Gossling! I got a feeling this list is the one!

    15. I feel like I could travel around the world with this list!
    14. I got a feeling this list is the one!
    13. I always knew that one day a list would come along that really made me fart out loud, and this is that list!
    12. I love this list!
    11. I hate this list!
    10. I think this list speaks to modern times!
    9. I find this list appallingly beautiful!
    8. I want to throw this list out of a moving car!
    7. I keep looking at this list, and now I want to drink a soda!
    6. I think this list speaks to modern times
    5. I saw this list with Ryan Gossling!
    4. I think this list smells like a new shoe!
    3. I want to take this list high up from deep in the valley!
    2. I want to invite this list to the prom and then NOT show up at the prom!
    1. I could write a better list with my left hand!

  19. I got into The Smiths very late… like, the last few years late. I somehow new “How Soon Is Now?”, a song I really loved, was them. But I never really pursued listening to their entire catalog. They were just outside of the scope of music I was listening to.

    For whatever reason, over the last few years I’ve been listening to more and more of their music, but usually just by checking out songs one at a time on YouTube. Seeing as how they were an incredibly strong singles band for their entire career, that seems kind of fitting. I still haven’t listened to an entire album front to back, so I can’t really comment on this list.

    • I, too, got on the Smiths wagon very late myself (like, a couple of years ago). Prior to that, I thought that Moz was just some whiny British guy. Then, I really heard his and the Smiths’ songs and figured out that he whines about the same things as I do. Go figure.
      Anyways, I love TQID and I Know It’s Over is probably my favorite Smiths song.

  20. I never really liked Meat Is Murder too much myself. I found the title track to almost be a Weird Al parody of the whole PETA movement – with its mooing cows and buzz saw noises – even though it’s quite clear Morrissey is insanely passionate about the cause (his Colbert interview further demonstrates this). It also doesn’t help that the first time I ever heard “How Soon Is Now?” was in The Wedding Singer.

  21. Stop talking about The Smiths for once and go on and say it, and shout it out loud, DAVID BOWIE HAS ANNOUNCED A NEW ALBUM!!!!!

  22. “But the highs on Meat Is Murder are unmistakably high: “How Soon Is Now” is about as near to a perfect Smiths song as you can get.”

    Dear USA.

    “How soon is now” wasn´t on the original, Rough Trade-version, of Meat Is Murder.
    It was a b-side. Never intended to be included on ANY album
    This is some typical manhandling from the Warner-US-re-releases in the 90´s.
    Turns the whole track listing on its head, and completely destroys the balance on the record.
    Rewriting history is always a bad decision.

    “It just goes to show, how little you know.”

  23. The Stereogum Albums From Worst To Best methodology:

    1. Pinpoint the generally agreed upon best album by a band;
    2. Manufacture a way to not rank said album at No. 1.

  24. “greatest singles band since the Beatles” – a hefty claim, but I think I agree.

    Your list is my list, however if we were being REAL nerds, we’d have to squeeze in the Sweet and Tender Hooligan EP someplace, which is very dear to my heart.

    Placing a pair of compilations in the No. 1 slot took balls, but true Smiths fans know there’s really no other way this could have gone down. Both Hatful and Louder are absolutely perfect – none of the proper full lengths are (“Suffer Little Children,” anyone?).

  25. The correct list:

    1. Meat is Murder
    2. The Smiths
    3. The Queen
    4. Strangeways

  26. The tracks themselves on The Queen are by far the best taken one by one, but their best album is still Meat Is Murder.

    The ORIGINAL version. Without recordlabel-added-track: How Soon Is Now, that is.

  27. The Smiths are the kind of band that would show up all over my favorite songs of all time list but would be hard pressed to make my best albums list – kinda like New Order (and I’m a huge fan of both).

    That being said, Meat Is Murder is probably their best proper album.

  28. Meat Is Murder is the worst Smiths album? Two compilations at joint number 1? This is like American analysis of Football (Soccer).

  29. I’m just gonna say what we’re all thinking: Johnny Marr’s finest performance was on that Modest Mouse album

  30. Do you realise that “Hatful” is a compilation of mostly live radio sessions for John Peel etc?

    Did you mean ‘The World Won’t Listen’ which was the English version of ‘Louder Than Bombs’ with less tracks? I could understand you combining the two if so but as it stands it makes no sense, particularly not as the “best Smiths album”.

    P.S

    Their eponymous debut is by far their greatest work.

  31. 1. Queen
    2. S/T
    3. Meat
    4. Strangeways

    Pretty cut and dry. Still not entirely sure where I’d place Bombs, but needless to say it’d be towards the top, if not #1.

  32. List is perfect. Great job.

  33. I agree with including Louder/Hatful as a single entity on this list, but, y’know, The Queen is Dead is fantastic, and a proper album. I suppose if it was in it’s rightful place there would be fewer comments. ;)

  34. Is the purpose of these “worst to best” lists to go against the grain? Because it sure seems like you guys are baiting some angry comments

  35. What a pile of pish.

  36. Interesting comments. I just always assumed that everyone greed The Queen is Dead was their best album. Like it was just a fact.

  37. 1). The Smiths
    2). The Queen is Dead
    3). Meat is Murder
    4). Strangeways, Here We Come

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