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The Very Best of The Smiths is yet another compilation album released in 2001. It had no input whatsoever from Morrissey or Johnny Marr, who both complained about their back catalogue being ransacked again. 'The Smiths: Singles', released in 1995, at least had an old cover designed by Morrissey and collected their singles together for the first time. 'The Very Best of The Smiths' is a fairly blatant attempt to wring a bit more money out of The Smiths back catalogue and doesn't offer anything new apart from the 'single edits' of two songs, Ask and Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me. If you have these songs in previous forms and you bought the singles compilation there isn't an awful lot to make this worthwhile. To make matters worse, WEA had to design a cover themselves so they stuck Carry On star Charles Hawtrey on the front. Presumably they had a meeting and decided that this was not a million miles away from the sort of thing Morrissey would do.
Anyway, The Very Best of The Smiths is a cynical money making exercise that had bugger all to do with the long defunct group BUT the music is of course still The Smiths and still brilliant. In terms of content it's not a bad introduction at all to the group.
A song inspired by an incident where DJ Steve Wright played a Wham song immediately after a sombre news report of the Chernobyl disaster. "More news on that terrible incident when we get it...and here's Wham with I'm Your Man!" Morrissey's general distaste for mainstream radio of the era is palpable in this song. The shallow lowest common denominator of the medium is attacked in a very catchy and arresting song with a chorus of children joining in with Morrissey to sing "Hang the DJ!".
THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE
A very harmonic and enjoyable pop song augmented by strings which finds Morrissey in a very whimsical mood and asking a familiar question.
"And when you want to Live
How do you start ?
Where do you go ?
Who do you need to know ?"
The Boy With A Thorn In His Side is a light but pleasant song that can be read in a number of ways. The most popular theory is that the thorn in question is the music industry and the boy is Morrissey. Morrissey ends the song with with some unusual trademark vocal contortions.
HEAVEN KNOWS I'M MISERABLE NOW
One of the most famous Smiths songs and one that greatly enhanced their somewhat unfair reputation for being gloomy miserablists. "I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour but heaven knows I'm miserable now," sings Morrissey. The song is actually quite funny lyrically and inspired by Morrissey's brief and comical attempts to survive in the real world and hold down a job before he was famous. It's self deprecating with a maudlin air of resignation.
Morrissey ruminates on shyness and love in a comical and breezy pop song that features backing vocals by Kirsty Maccoll. Includes some fun Morrissey lyrics:
"Spending warm Summer days indoors
Writing frightening verse
To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg"
Not the greatest Smiths song ever but it's pleasant enough when you listen to it and quite catchy.
BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN
Described by Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr as their version of The Rolling Stones' 'Jumping Jack Flash'. The song has a very distinctive intro by Marr and is quite fast and aggressive for a Smiths song. Morrissey's voice is speeded-up, distorted and even used as his own backing vocals. His lyrics are very clever and funny as usual:
"Now I know how Joan of Arc felt
As the flames rose to her roman nose
And her Walkman started to melt"
Bigmouth Strikes Again is a very catchy and enjoyable song.
HOW SOON IS NOW?
"I am the son and the heir," sings Morrissey. "Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar." One of the group's most famous and best known songs. It's powered by a legendary guitar riff by Johnny Marr that you would probably recognise if you heard it. The song is a very arresting and brilliant epic and Morrissey performs one of his best ever vocals. A contender for the best Smiths song.
THIS CHARMING MAN
An early Smiths song that remains of their best known tunes. Johnny Marr's jangly guitars have never sounded quite so enjoyably, er, jangly, and Andy Rourke's bass also helps to make the song a really good one. A wall of sound, sixties style pop song with great lyrics:
On a hillside desolate,
Will nature make a man of me yet?"
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
Another fizzy sixties style slice of pop that features a guitar masterclass from Johnny Marr. A lot quicker than many Smiths songs. 'What Difference Does It Make?' has immediate and hooky riff running through the whole thing and is good fun even if Morrissey never really makes good on the opening line "All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known..."
WILLIAM IT WAS REALLY NOTHING
"The rain falls hard on a humdrum town," sings Morrissey on this song, which takes places in a very stereotypical Smiths landscape. It's a short, breezy, pleasant but nothing incredibly earth shattering tune. Morrissey goes a bit music hall/Carry On with lyrics about marriage proposals and large girls who are desperate to get a ring on their finger.
SOME GIRLS ARE BIGGER THAN OTHERS
"As Anthony said to Cleopatra," sings Morrissey. "As he opened a crate of ale." A lovely and jangly piece of music by Johnny Marr saves this song, which was taken from 'The Queen Is Dead'. A rare case where Morrissey didn't quite come up trumps with the piece of music given to him.
GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA
One of the best songs ever recorded by the group. Johnny Marr's haunting music is backed by an orchestra and Morrissey infuses his wonderful vocal with all the rich melodrama of a sixties black and white kitchen sink drama. The song is very affecting, especially when Morrissey sings "Let me whisper my last goodbyes" near the end.
HAND IN GLOVE
The first ever single released by the group, Hand In Glove is a very distinctive pop song with a homemade feel. It's good fun and a template for the Smiths world where the outsider is celebrated and melodrama and self-deprecating humour go hand in hand.
"Hand in glove,
The sun shines out of our behinds,
Yes, we may be hidden by rags,
But we've something they'll never have."
THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT
My favourite Smiths song. By turns sad and funny with wonderful music by Johnny Marr. Morrissey dreams of being run over by a double-decker bus, as you do, with the object of his affection and spins out some typically poignant lyrics:
"And in the darkened underpass
I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last
(But then a strange fear gripped me and I
Just couldn't ask)"
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, LET ME GET WHAT I WANT
A very short and simple acoustic song that is quite brilliant. The sort of thing the Smiths always did very well.
"Haven't had a dream in a long time
See, the life I've had
Can make a good man bad"
You might have heard a snatch of this song in the last ever episode of Ricky Gervais' 'Extras'.
THAT JOKE ISN'T FUNNY ANYMORE
A slow reflective song with a lovely guitar fadeout by Johnny Marr. Morrissey sings about the gulf between his public and private image. A haunting, clever song with sublime acoustic guitar work. It's dreamily ambient and in the top tier of Smiths songs.
I KNOW IT'S OVER
Taken from The Queen Is Dead, this is a poignant and epic slower song about the end of an unrequited or imagined relationship. "It never really began but in my heart it was so real." It's a really interesting song that spins on and on in an inventive manner with lovely music and a long, complicated lyric. Includes the famous Morrissey lines:
"It's so easy to laugh
It's so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind
SHIELA TAKE A BOW
A breezy pop song with sexually ambigous lyrics and a very catchy and hummable tune thumping through it. Morrissey's lyrics are pleasantly amusing as the 'Shiela' in question is implored to "boot the grime of this world in the crotch dear." This is one of those precise, fun pop songs that The Smiths could run off in their sleep. The use of the name Shiela is probably a tribute to playwright Shelagh Delaney, a double Smiths cover star.
I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN'T FINISH
Taken from Strangeways Here We Come. Not the best Smiths song by any degree. It's quite glammy and louder than many of their other tunes but not especially distinctive. There is no immediate quality or catchy chorus and subsequently the song just sits there being average without being dreadful nor paying off the listener. Features a snatch of Morrissey talking to producer Stephen Street near the end.
Taken from The Smiths first studio album which, although widely praised, was criticised later by Morrissey & Marr as being poorly produced with a slightly muffled sound. Morrissey's voice was a bit heavier in those days but it's by no means a bad tune if not the prettiest song they ever recorded. The theme of free spirits in an unemployed landscape and general low-rent melodrama is expressed in lines like:
"Under the iron bridge we kissed,
and although I ended up with sore lips,
it just wasn't like the old days anymore."
"Young bones groan," sings Morrissey. "And the rocks below say: Throw your skinny body down son !" A breezy and enjoyable waltzer that (wisely) doesn't overstay its welcome. The song has a strange and atmospheric quality and was regarded by Morrissey to be one of The Smiths more underrated songs. A very offbeat but enjoyable faster song. Inspired by a Virginia Woolf essay. Siobhan Fahey used the title for her new group when she left the (cough) mighty Bananarama.
SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD UNITE
One of the first Smiths songs I ever heard and I decided, almost immediately, that Morrissey was probably a genius just for ryhming the words 'future war' with 'Channel 4'. This is another top pop song that encourages the alienated and undertrodden to unite and take over. Morrissey's eccentric vocal gymnastics are highly enjoyable in this song which features obtuse and clever lyrics:
"(Six months is a long time)
Tried living in the real world
Instead of a shell
But before I began ...
I was bored before I even began"
LAST NIGHT I DREAMT THAT SOMEBODY LOVED ME
Very much a blood relative of 'How Soon Is Now?'. The song has an atmospheric intro of baying hordes that morphs into pianos and strings. It's a melancholic epic. I think Morrissey said once that this might be his favourite Smiths song. The central theme of time passing but with no change in one's personal circumstances is perfectly encapsulated in the lyrics:
"Last night I felt
Real arms around me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm"
Not the most immediate and loveable song but a very bold and moving piece of work.
STOP ME I YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
I still love you, oh, I still love you
...only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love."
Taken from The Smiths last studio album, Morrissey seems to suggest he is getting a bit fed-up with the whole thing...but only a little. It's a great pop song though with a wonderful riff from Johnny Marr driving the whole thing. Great fun. The video for this was quite famous and consisted of Morrissey cycling around the backstreets of Manchester with a few lookalikes.
So overall, The Very Best of The Smiths has great content that deserves nothing less than five stars. Strictly in terms of songs, it's a good introduction to the group. My major quibble would be the hokey design which had bugger all to do with Morrissey. Smiths completists might be tempted by a 'single' version of a couple of songs but it doesn't make a great deal of difference in my opinion. Anyone new to the group would be better off buying 'The Smiths: Singles' which is an equally excellent introduction to the group but with the added bonus of a lovely unused Morrissey designed cover featuring Diana Dors from the cult film 'Yield To The Night'.
The first of the two 'Best Of' albums by The Smiths features in my view some of their best tracks. In 'How Soon Is Now' they used one of the best guitar riffs in any pop song and typically of many Smiths songs the lyrics built over this exquisite sound appear completely disconnected from it.
Other timeless classics include 'Panic' exhorting all to 'Hang The DJ - because the music he plays means nothing to me and my life' . The sublime 'This Charming Man' opens the album and stes the tone for some wonderful tracks which only the Smiths could have done. 'What Difference Does It Make?' is included full of sweeping ringing guitar and in similar vein 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others' and 'Shoplifters Of The World Unite' . The Smiths world must have been a strange one existing between morbidity and paranoia seemingly fighting against an unseen enemy at all times.
A personal favourite the almost laughably singalong 'Girlfriend In A Coma' combines Johnny Marr's guitar at its cheeriest with Morrissey at his saddest. The effect is unparalleled in modern pop music.
Sadly The Smiths are no more though Morrissey and Johnny Marr have enjoyed success since their demise. We can only hope for a reconciliation and reunion one day.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Boy With The Thorn In His Side
3 Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
5 Bigmouth Strikes Again
6 How Soon Is Now
7 This Charming Man
8 What Difference Does It Make
9 William It Was Really Nothing
10 Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
11 Girlfriend In A Coma
12 Hand In Glove
13 There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
14 Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
15 That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
16 I Know It's Over
17 Sheila Take A Bow
18 I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
19 Still Ill
20 Shakespeare's Sister
21 Shoplifters Of The World Unite
22 Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
23 Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before