The backstory: “A huge facet of what were about was missed out on in America”
Though an essential Smiths release, Louder Than Bombs initially caused some consternation among fans, primarily because its tracklist duplicated a significant amount of The World Won’t Listen. However, the record’s backstory is rather more complicated, because Louder Than Bombs was never intended for the UK market. It was aimed purely at US collectors, acting as an upgraded edition of The Smiths’ previous rarities and radio sessions collection, Hatful Of Hollow, a title which, at that point, had never been issued in North America.
With that in mind, The Smiths’ US label, Sire, viewed Louder Than Bombs as an opportunity to acquaint the band’s stateside fans with material that had previously been off limits to them, except via expensive, hard-to-source imports. Accordingly, Louder Than Bombs eventually ran to a generous 24 tracks, plugging holes in the band’s discography for The Smiths’ US fans – but also creating a few gaps for their die-hard home supporters.
The release: “The ultimate Smiths statement, it compiles most of their peak moments”
Sire released Louder Than Bombs as a cassette and double-vinyl set on 31 March 1987 (a CD edition would follow in May). It was reviewed with gusto by the US music press (Spin magazine wrote, “This well-sequenced double album collection of new recordings and single sides previously unavailable on a US LP is the ultimate Smiths statement as it compiles most of their peak moments”), whose endorsements helped the album earn a gold certification.
Back in the UK, however, Rough Trade soon realised that The Smiths’ domestic fanbase was disappointed to learn that Louder Than Bombs was designed as a US exclusive. Not only did the collection feature enough differences to The World Won’t Listen for them to consider it a must-have in its own right, but the album was also housed in a fabulous gatefold sleeve, the image of Morrissey’s favourite Salford-born playwright, Shelagh Delaney, adorning an album cover that ranks highly among the best Smiths’ artworks.
The verdict: “I thought ‘Louder Than Bombs’ was great”
As a result, Louder Then Bombs immediately became popular on import with the band’s ardent British fans, causing Rough Trade (who were keen to avoid high import prices) to give the album a full-scale domestic release in May 1987. Selling the double-disc collection for the price of a single assuaged those fans who had already forked out for The World Won’t Listen, and Louder Than Bombs duly scored UK chart action, cracking the lower reaches of the Top 40 and going gold in the process. Its diligent compiling even attracted praise from the band themselves.
“Singles were one of the most important things that brought us together, a love of the classic 7” pop format,” Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr told Guitar Player magazine in 1990. “Those were the records I grew up with. A huge facet of what we were about was missed out on, because singles culture is so ineffectual in America. But I thought Louder Than Bombs, the singles collection, was great.”
The differences: ‘Louder Than Bombs’ versus ‘The World Won’t Listen
There’s no denying the similarities between Louder Than Bombs and The World Won’t Listen, but self-respecting fans of The Smiths really do need both collections. Nine songs are duplicated across the two tracklists and six songs from Hatful Of Hollow also appear on Louder Than Bombs, while there are a couple of different mixes (such as the single version of Ask) on the original The World Won’t Listen. Nonetheless, both releases are beautifully sequenced, their respective sleeves are equally iconic, and there are enough differences to make both attractive to collectors.
Here are some of the key differences between the collections, specific to songs on the Louder Than Bombs tracklist: