It all started with my brother. I was just a kid in the 1980’s and most of my musical knowledge at that time sprouted from my older brother’s record collection. An album he absolutely cherished in late 1986 was The Queen is Dead by The Smiths, who I’ve heard of earlier when he purchased their previous album Meat is Murder. I didn’t pay any mind to Meat is Murder since I foolishly passed it off as another group in his British collection – like another Duran Duran or maybe similar to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Boy was I dead wrong.
I was still listening to Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration album in late ’86 (and loving it) when I decided to see what my brother was raving about. It was a vivid memory – me on the living room carpet with our Sony studio headphones plugged into our Sansui record player spinning The Queen is Dead. Once I had reached “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” it was as if I had a “music reawakening.” Up to that point, I was heavy into the Post Punk and Synthpop albums from the UK . My brother had spent months saving up for certain albums, so he was extra careful to purchase very good records and enjoy them thoroughly, but I had never seen him so enamored with a band or an album so quickly and so fervently as with The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead. At the end of listening to that record, I finally understood why. The band’s excellence is unmistakable. And from that began my lifelong love affair with Alt Rock, Indie Rock, and, more importantly, The Smiths.
Fast forward 27 years and I have just finished reading Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of the Smiths 1982 – 87 for a second time. Drawing on numerous interviews with band members and colleagues, rehearsals retained by drummer Mike Joyce, and archives of The Smith’s studio sessions, this book chronicles the group’s musical evolution, from their first proper meeting in 1982 to their final studio recording five years later, and containing an immense amount of info behind every song, radio, TV, and concert appearances, so much so that it deserved a second reading. Especially enjoyable was going through all of guitarist Johnny Marr’s quotes and opinions on how a particular song was produced, which type of music influenced him, and the difficulties in managing the band with Morrissey.
Written by Simon Goddard, a British journalist and author, Songs That Saved Your Life was first published in 2002 but the author was dissatisfied with the way the first publisher presented his material. Now with Titan Books acquiring the rights to the book in 2010, Simon gives us a newly revised edit with a cleaner song/studio chronology, an updated prologue and epilogue, and the book title he had always intended since the original publisher chose a different one. The result is a definitive catalog and an invaluable resource of all things Smiths and is an absolute must-have for any fan of the group.
The Smiths were together for only five years, and released just four albums and eleven non-album singles, making every track in their brilliant and short career that much more precious, but the music they left behind distinguished them as one of the greatest bands of all time. Their legacy can be traced down through The Stone Roses and Oasis to today’s young Brit Rock bands. For me, this is not just any run-of-the-mill group that gave me something I’ve heard before. No, this is the band that changed the way I listened to music forever. Therefore, this is the band that changed my entire life for the better. And for that, thank you Morrissey and Johnny Marr – I am forever in your debt. On that note, let’s end this post with one of their more beautiful songs – “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”:
Author: Simon Goddard
Publisher: Titan Books