In 1984 The Smiths released their debut album. It passed me by. I’d seen the band on Top Of The Pops and to be honest they initially irritated me.
No one will believe this but I had privately considered the name “The Smiths” as a band name. I was messing around in my first ever “band” The Insaneberries (a pun on “In Sainsburys”). We weren’t a proper outfit, just me and a mate waiting for my Mum to go out on weekday evenings and we’d jam in the kitchen. I didn’t even have a drum kit, I played biscuit tins to accompany a guitar. Inspired only by instant things we saw in the kitchen, the songs were stupid but frantic, I can only recall “Pepsi Not Coke” a dumb but crazy blast, it was a learning curve – I was a 14-year-old kid.
I have never told anyone that I was considering The name The Smiths – this will sound / read like total bullshit but I swear it’s true. So, when The Smiths appeared out of nowhere I was quietly angry with the band for no logical reason. Naturally I didn’t like them. I also considered the name The The only to find this name had been “taken” too. Dang.
The Smiths were the first band I ever saw live (Birmingham Hippodrome, St. Patrick’s Day 1985). I never realised the band would become the respected artists they are seen as nowadays at the time – but it was a great gig.
So, why did I go and see The Smiths? Well – my opinion of the band changed by chance. In November 1984 I found myself in Virgin Records (the old smaller one on Bull Street Birmingham). The bands new “album” Hatful Of Hollow” was a new release and was £2:79 – incredibly cheap. The gatefold sleeve drew me in – it had a lot of tracks. I studied the sleeve and price for about 15 minutes. With some money in my pocket I took a chance.
The Smiths first proper album (not Hatful Of Hollow) passed me by. I still haven’t heard it in its entirety to this day. I have heard bits of it and it does suffer from a bogged down production. The album was too expensive, and – as stated – I didn’t like the band.
Hatful Of Hollow is a collection of Radio 1 sessions for John Peel, Kid Jenson & the like. It’s not a proper studio album. This does not stop it from being the bands best ever release. It captures, purely by accident the band at their utmost summit. It’s essential listening.
William It Was Really Nothing is the first track. It sounds tame but unique. There’s no doubting The Smiths sounded fresh. I was a single in its own right but not a personal favourite despite that charming wailing vocal at the end.
What Difference Does It Make? ups the ante. The sound rattles with more urgency – urgency in music can be a great thing. Also a single release I think? The band sound much better all of a sudden. Then – again – that wail at the end. The £2:79 is already looking like money well spent.
These Things Take Time pushes the bar further. Now The Smiths ARE sounding very good all of a sudden. Dreamy bold lyrics painting images of failed and slight debauchery. All of a sudden, as a 14 year old kid I’m connecting with the band. Just like Madness had fitted being a kid in Junior School so well – The Smiths were appealing to my natural state of mind as a growing teenager.
This Charming Man backtracks from the previous track. More direct, poppy even – but unique twee English pop / rock. I’m not a huge fan of the track but cannot deny its appeal.
Watching the light blue record label spin around and still studying the inner sleeve and printed lyrics I noticed the big chunk of dark mass vinyl that was How Soon Is Now.
Dense guitar with a stark unique sound boom out of my speakers. What is that sound? An instant classic on first listen. Lyrics flow like poetry. I can’t do it justice with words. A sprawling controlled epic.
Handsome Devil has a nearer punk urgency to it. Indie joy. Rough Trade had signed a band I was growing fonder of as each track dropped. Dark skips and a pushing sound with yet more great lyrics. “There’s more to life than things you know, but not much more”. An outstanding piece of music.
Hand In Glove fades in with distant harmonica. The band sound venomous despite the twee occasions. Anti-pop, and brilliant with it. Cocksure yet affected “the sun shines out of our behinds”. I’m getting to like this. By the time Hand In Glove fades i’m totally won over. They can have the name!
Then the defiance of Still Ill. Questioningly supreme. Vivid imagery. The Smiths sound like a solid band, all instrumentation sounds gelled in this beautiful sound. Morrissey wails at the end and neck hairs may pop up.
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now nails what people may dislike about The Smiths. It’s The Smiths personified. Vocals pushing the brilliant instruments into the background. Glum. It’s arguably too much. A favourite for many and again, another single, not a personal favourite.
This Night Has Opened My Eyes steers Side 2 into bliss after Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now has gone too far (for me). Soft, dark, left open to interpretation. It works. it works very well indeed.
Alienation bounds without looking for any attention on You’ve Got Everything Now . Lush lyrics and delivery. “But did I ever tell you by the way, I never did like your face”. Cutting yet never going too far, it’s perfectly pitched. I imagine 14 year olds all around England were nodding their heads in solitary – and agreement with me in late 1984 to this real classic.
Accept Yourself stutters along. Marr plays away in the background. The bass pins the dums. Gentle but still hitting the absolute right spot. “Time is against me now” even for a 14 year old ears this really resonated somehow. Magical.
Then Girl Afraid resonates even further. The total antithesis of “Bad Boys” by Wham and boy did we need it. Awkward teenagers around the country sighed a phew of release, you connected with the apparent sincerity The Smiths were playing out for us.
Back To The Old House washes for a wind down for the album as the needle skates towards the centre of Hatful Of Hollow. Influential surely for The Stone Roses. Understated music – but no worse for it.
Reel Around The Fountain then ambles in. All of a sudden we have an indie Zeppelin on our hands. Cementing all the album has showcased in one damn near perfect encapsulation. Lyrics echoing what all “awkward teenagers” were feeling. The sprawl charms, it sounds sincere, you feel it. The sound is tens of times better than the proper debut / studio album…. and these were just takes for Radio 1. Incredible. The Smiths stumble into glory that they almost certainly did not intend.
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want closes Hatful Of Hollow. The strings and vocal put a lid on what was a real eye / ear opener. The Smiths were our new anti-heroes putting so articulately well what we felt but couldn’t put into words ourself.
I do not feel The Smiths ever topped this “album”. I’m also chuffed they have never reformed. Leave the legacy the way it should be – it’s better that way?