Thanks to Morrissey and Johnny Marr’s extremely distinct styles, The Smiths’ influence has traveled far into the modern music world. Morrissey’s heartbreaking lyrics became a major influence for the emo rock, which emerged in the mid-nineties and are regularly hailed by new comers and legends of the genre. Johnny Marr, on the other hand, has had an influence all over the alternative rock genre, including his membership as a guitar with indie rock icons Modest Mouse.
Give this a spin via Spotify or Tidal here and discover a piece of The Smiths’ legacy in the music of today. Check out our The Queen Is Dead Musical Lead-Up Playlist featuring The Smiths inspirations here.
Morrissey- “Suedehead”- When The Smiths broke up, Morrissey almost immediately responded with his first solo album, releasing it only eight months after the band’s last album, Strageways, Here I Come. “Suedehead” largely feels like a Smiths song from their early career but is more whimsical than his deeply introspective songwriting of the time. Steven Street, the engineer or The Queen Is Dead, is featured on guitar and bass and accurately mimics instrumentation that could have been donated by Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, respectively.
American Football- “Never Meant”- American Football’s debut album was donated to the world in heartbreak. After recording the album during a summer between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next, the band broke up before the album was released, only for it to be celebrated as one of the most cherished emo albums of all time. Morrissey’s influence is evident in the lyrics, especially with phrases like “you can’t miss what you forget”.
Bloc Party- “Banquet”- Bloc Party’s Kele Okerere has cited Morrissey as a lyrical influence to his band’s music, but I think The Smiths’ influence is most evident in the firmly strummed chords of “Banquet”. Kele and guitarist Russell Lissack trade off playing the melody using a strumming pattern that sounds like it was lifted from Johnny Marr’s fretboard.
The Dears- “Lost in the Plot”- As soon as vocalist Murray Lightburn lets out the first lyrical phrase of “Lost in the Plot”, it’s impossible not to think about The Smiths — his voice almost sounds like a replica to Morrissey. The most interesting part of the song around the 2:05 mark with an groovy electronic interlude accompanied by some Johnny Marr-inspired guitar playing.
The National- “Anyone’s Ghost”- When I first started listening to The Smiths, I was caught off guard in the best way from Morrissey’s beautiful baritone. It was angelic, broke the line between masculine and feminine ranges, and took unexpected creative risks. Matt Berninger of The National gives off a similar first impression when listening to The National. In “Anyone’s Ghost”, it contributes so well to its subdued tone about damaged youth and loss of love.
Red House Painters- “Uncle Joe”- When Mark Kozelek first began writing music, he started a band called God Forbid, where many of its instrumentals were coated in a chorus effect and mimicked an energy to “A Boy With A Thorn In His Side”. Unfortunately, not much material surfaced from that project, but Kozelek really hit a goldmine and became a melancholy mastermind with Red House Painters. “Uncle Joe” uses Morrissey’s straight-forward lyrical direction in singing about loneliness and mental illness— he feels trapped inside his mind and has no one around him to help. If you adore Morrissey’s most heartbreaking moments, journey through Mark Kozelek’s career and prepare your soul and tissue box.
Death Cab for Cutie- “Debate Exposes Doubt”- Many of Ben Gibbard’s lyrics teeter-totter between shyness and confidence, similar to Morrissey, but in “Debate Exposes Doubt”, Gibbard crashes into a wooden bar after being exhausted of life and time. Even though he’s down, he rediscovers his self-confidence after witnessing what he dislikes about perfection, something Morrissey was always in search of but often struggled to uncover. The vocal reaches that Gibbard makes towards the end of the track are reminiscent of Morrissey on “Miserable Lie” when he screams “I need advice! I need advice!”
Alvvyas- “Next of Kin”- Alvvays is a fantastic jangle pop band from Toronto who balances the influences of Morrissey and Marr to produce an easygoing but complicated direction. When listening to the song’s main riff, you’re inspired to bounce up-and-down, but after songwriter Molly Rankin confesses she betrayed her lover and lost him “in the river” to find another, you’re forced to rethink your actions. The Smiths mastered this technique like no other band, and Alvvays’ twist on it is equally deceiving and catchy.
Radiohead- “The Bends”- Even though “The Bends” is the second track on Radiohead The Bends, it feels a lot like “The Queen Is Dead”— it has a mysterious sound clip to start it off; it’s first strums are loaded with adrenaline, and Thom Yorke enters the scene of the track with ambitious vocals expressions. Yorke’s lyricism doesn’t revolve around the potential murder of the queen, but he does wish to go back to a time where things easier and good things were happening, just like “Take Me Back to the Dear Old Blighty” in “The Queen Is Dead”. To add, Radiohead played a fantastic cover of “The Headmaster Ritual” during a live stream featured on their website while they recorded In Rainbows, so they also love The Smiths.
Johnny Marr- “European Me”- Since the demise of The Smiths, Johnny Marr has collaborated with many prolific rock musicians as a studio musician, special guest during live shows, bandmate, and bandleader. His most recent output has been released under his own name, and “European Me” shows how he’s grown since then. While Morrissey may be hanging in sorrow often times, Marr seeks to look straight ahead and is confident that he will be safe, no matter what step he takes.
Brand New- “Jesus Christ”- As I stated earlier, Morrissey’s influence has had the most profound effect on the emo rock genre. Jesse Lacey, the songwriter behind Brand New, admires his search for emotion, confusion within the power struggle of the world, and coy humor in self-aggrandizing his own confidence. “Jesus Christ” challenges the role of Jesus, similar to Morrissey’s focus on Margaret Thatcher, as if Jesse is talking to the man himself and were present at his crucifixion. He asks if he should look for a sign from Jesus to confirm he has hanging by wood and nails, but in the end, it’s useless— maybe we will always “sleep inside of this machine”.
The Magnetic Fields- “Book of Love”- The Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs alludes to satire as soon as you read the album title— everybody’s mind jumps to the same thought, and that’s exactly the point. Stephin Merritt’s songwriting can appear as a perfectly balanced equation of humor and true affection, and “The Book of Love” is a prime example of it. He objectifies love into a book that’s approachable, has lessons of how to love it, and even has it’s share of “dumb stuff”, but when it is read between him and is lover, they forget about all of its flaws. He and his lover just desire to connect and be together, and “The Book of Love” is the key to sweet harmony. I’m not sure Morrissey would have made sense of anything in the book; he would probably fail at making his own and, instead, search for it in the people around him.
Belle & Sebastian- “Mayfly”- Similar to The Smiths’ “What She Said”, vocalist Stuart Murdoch sings from the perspective of something else, Mayfly. Here, we don’t know a gender or any personal details associated with Mayfly, but we do know both it and Stuart have seen betrayal and felt sadness in love. The beauty of this ambiguous subject is Murdoch is able to blend his sexuality and discuss his internal dialogue through any orientation he wants, similar to Morrissey.