Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Who Are The Smiths? An Introduction To The Legendary Indie Band
Alamy Stock Image
List & Guides

Who Are The Smiths? An Introduction To The Legendary Indie Band

Ever wondered who The Smiths are? Together for a mere five years, their impact on music has been timeless – as new fans continue to discover.


They were hailed as the saviours of guitar-driven pop during the 80s, yet The Smiths have endured way beyond the band’s heady, five-year lifespan. And it’s not hard to hear why. Guitarist Johnny Marr’s glorious melodies and the band’s dextrous interplay renders their music timeless, while frontman Morrissey’s erudite lyrics and sensitive outsider stance continue to win friends and influence new generations of listeners. So if you’re among those wondering who The Smiths are and what turned them into the band they became, then read on…

Listen to the best of The Smiths here.

Who Are The Smiths? An Introduction To The Legendary Indie Band

Who was in The Smiths?

The Smiths’ classic line-up featured Morrissey (vocals), Johnny Marr (guitars), Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums). However, for around six months in 1986, following the release of their third album, The Queen Is Dead, the group temporarily added an extra guitarist, Craig Gannon. The latter musician played on The Smiths’ hit singles Panic and Ask, and also performed on the band’s UK and US tours during 1986.

Where were The Smiths from?

The Smiths were from Manchester, though their families were of Irish descent. Before the band got together, they barely knew each other, save for Marr and Rourke, who had played together in two local groups, White Dice and Freak Party. In an interview with Designer magazine, Johnny Marr later said, “We were a bunch of strangers to all intents and purposes – who then became incredible friends… we came together to make that music.”

Why did the band call themselves The Smiths?

Definitive accounts vary as to why the band called themselves The Smiths, but what is certain is that Morrissey and Marr had decided on the name early in the process of putting the band together. “Smith” is the most common surname in the UK, and it’s generally accepted that the band called themselves The Smiths because they wanted a simple, accessible name at a time when a lot of contemporary groups were choosing long and/or esoteric names, such as Echo And The Bunnymen, Duran Duran and Haircut 100.

Smiths biographer Tony Fletcher also suggests that “in the process of choosing a single-syllable, definitive-article name, they were subscribing to the lineage of British rock legends: The Who, the Stones (by common abbreviation), The Kinks, The Clash, The Jam, and so on, and the possibility they might eventually be considered part of that rich tapestry”.

Why are The Smiths so famous?

The Smiths are famous because they were a truly pioneering band. Firstly, as well as being a charismatic (and highly distinctive) vocalist, Morrissey was arguably the most gifted lyricist of his generation, while Johnny Marr was a uniquely tasteful, talented guitarist and an exceptional song arranger. Along with a terrific rhythm section comprising Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, the group were a singular unit with a broad appeal beyond simply “indie” music fans. The Smiths also made guitar-based music popular again in the early-to-mid 80s, when most bands making hit records were reliant upon synthesisers and the era’s glossy production techniques.

What are some famous Smiths songs?

Some of the most famous – and most-loved – of The Smiths’ songs include the band’s first UK Top 40 hit, This Charming Man; their first Top 20 hit, What Difference Does It Make?, and How Soon Is Now? – the latter song instantly recognisable because of Marr’s remarkable tremolo-driven guitar riff. But though The Smiths were an amazing singles band who racked up no fewer than 15 UK Top 40 singles during their five-year lifespan, some of the best Smiths songs, such as The Queen Is Dead, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Reel Around The Fountain, weren’t even chosen as singles. That’s how good they were.

What are some famous Smiths albums?

“Quality” is the watchword with The Smiths, meaning that all four of the band’s official studio albums, their self-titled debut album, Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come, are essential purchases that feature timeless songs, though most critics have crowned The Queen Is Dead as their masterpiece.

However, the band recorded so many fantastic songs that their compilations, Hatful Of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen and Louder Than Bombs – which gather up BBC session recordings, non-album singles and B-sides – are also mandatory, as is their sole live album, Rank.

Why did The Smiths break up?

The Smiths broke up due to a combination of exhaustion, internal disagreements and differences of opinion over their musical direction. Long-term fans still mourn the decision today, but – like The Jam five years earlier – The Smiths called it quits while they were still on top of their game, and left a stellar catalogue of music which is still delighting new fans to this day.

Will The Smiths ever reform?

The simple answer is: No, The Smiths will not reform. Since leaving the group, both Morrissey – beginning with his debut solo album, Viva Hate – and Johnny Marr – beginning with Electronic, the project he launched with New Order’s Bernard Sumner – have masterminded successful solo careers, while Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce have played with artists ranging from Julian Cope to Public Image Limited, Pretenders and Sinéad O’Connor.

Numerous offers have been made to entice the band into reuniting over the years, but it’s never happened, and Andy Rourke’s death, in May 2023, means that The Smiths’ classic line-up can never reform.

Which bands have The Smiths influenced?

In a 2013 retrospective, BBC News described The Smiths as “the band that inspired deeper devotion than any British group since The Beatles”, and that’s hard to dispute. Their DNA can be detected in most landmark guitar-based groups that have succeeded them, from The Sundays and The Stone Roses through to The Cranberries, Blur, The Libertines and even US anglophiles The Killers. Indeed, The Smiths can even boast of having Noel Gallagher among their superfans. In a 2003 BBC interview, the Oasis guitarist and songwriter enthused, “When The Jam split, The Smiths started, and I totally went for them.”

Why are The Smiths popular again?

Ironically, while The Smiths’ music is aligned with authenticity and for swerving the production trends of the day, the digital revolution has aided the latest upsurge in the group’s popularity. In fact, The Smiths’ legacy continues to grow with successive generations. Their songs have racked up 275 million Spotify plays (and counting), while they have also become unlikely superstars on TikTok, where their most lovelorn songs, such as Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and This Night Has Opened My Eyes, have been taken to heart by a whole new army of sensitive Gen Z fans who simply can’t get enough of these charming men.

More Like This

Best Record Store Day 2024 Vinyl: 20 Releases You Need To Buy
List & Guides

Best Record Store Day 2024 Vinyl: 20 Releases You Need To Buy

Incendiary live recordings and an unreleased David Bowie album are essential purchases among the best Record Store Day 2024 vinyl releases.

Best Albums Of 2024: 10 Essential Releases Of The Year
List & Guides

Best Albums Of 2024: 10 Essential Releases Of The Year

From waves of neo-psychedelia to lashings of pop-punk ire, the best albums of 2024 prove this year has been packed with watershed moments.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up