The Over/Under: The Smiths


MAGNET senior editor Matthew Fritch once camped out for 13 hours to have Morrissey sign his copy of the “Interesting Drug” single; this was topped only by a more dignified encounter with Johnny Marr. He is closing in on Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce even as he types out the five most overrated and five most underrated Smiths songs.

:: The Five Most Overrated Smiths Songs
1. “How Soon Is Now?” (1984)
An innovative, mold-breaking sonic experiment for the stodgily jangly Smiths? Nah. Sounds like Johnny Marr stepped on a few effects pedals, leaned his Rickenbacker against the amp and left the studio to get a pint. Not a bad song by any means, but “How Soon Is Now?” has long outlived the initial impact of its tremolo-encrusted riff. Stop sampling it. Stop covering it (badly). If this guitar line sounds fresh to you in 2009, the Kinks’ discovery of electric-guitar distortion on “You Really Got Me” 20 years prior is going to blow your fucking mind and it will take the combined efforts of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dick Dale, Dinosaur Jr, Jimi Hendrix, Smashing Pumpkins and Chet Atkins to reassemble your rock ‘n’ roll paradigm.

2. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (1984)
Over the course of this song, Morrissey is miserable because: a) he is no longer drunk; b) he found a job; and c) the sight of two lovers makes him feel lonely. This is a reasonable scenario until we realize that, at that time, Morrissey: a) doesn’t drink alcohol; b) has never been employed; and c) is celibate by choice. Aside from this logical disconnect, the song represents Morrissey’s worst, self-parodic self-pity and is further handicapped by one of Marr’s most wilted-sounding compositions. Mentally delusional and emotionally defeated, it’s like the sad feeling you got when you were six and your Sea Monkeys died.

3. “Shakespeare’s Sister” (1985) and “Pretty Girls Make Graves” (1984)
Each of these Smiths songs got a (pretty terrible) band named after them, so somebody must have rated them pretty highly. “Shakespeare’s Sister” is a trainwreck; it literally sounds like a locomotive derailed after striking a herd of water buffalo crossing the tracks. One listen to the Troy Tate demo of “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” and you’ll realize it’s an unsalvageably uncool oompah song at its core. Both these tracks feature unhinged Morrissey moaning, a topic I will address in detail next week during a discussion of “November Spawned A Monster.” Wait for it!

“Shakespeare’s Sister”:

“Pretty Girls Make Graves (Troy Tate Demo)”:

4. “Girlfriend In A Coma” (1987)
I once thought this song was funnily macabre, a musical counterpoint to Harold & Maude or Weekend At Bernie’s II. Today, I suspect that not only is Morrissey responsible for his girlfriend being in a coma, he also wouldn’t mind pulling the plug. It only takes him two minutes and two seconds to go from “I know, I know, it’s serious” to “Let me whisper my last goodbyes.” Needless to say, had Morrissey directed Million Dollar Baby, the film would’ve ended much sooner.

5. “Panic” (1986)
Because 23 years later, the war is over and the DJs have won.

:: The Five Most Underrated Smiths Songs
1. “Back To The Old House” (1984)
This is an excellent example of Marr’s ability to write complex fingerpicked melodies that would sound just as lovely and ornate if played on piano. (Back off, Christopher O’Riley.) I like to think that Marr handed Morrissey the tape of his instrumental guitar demo for this song with a note attached to it: “Don’t fuck it up.” Morrissey didn’t. He recognized the vocals needed to take a relative backseat, and he turned in an appropriately subdued melody. If the lyrics were more typically hyperpersonal, “Back To The Old House” would be as iconic as “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” It’s perfect the way it is.

2. “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” (1987)
I suppose the lyrics convey a positive message to all you hard workers out there, but the real genius of this song is that it hardly breaks a sweat. By conservative estimate, it’s 70 percent chorus. The verse is a crudely made wooden footstool for the bejeweled chorus, which appears three times; then there’s a five- or 10-second gap (really, there’s nothing there) before the chorus appears for a fourth time! What can I say? It’s a really good chorus.

3. “Vicar In A Tutu” (1986)
Not exactly overlooked, but considering there could’ve easily been seven singles off The Queen Is Dead, “Vicar In A Tutu” is a relatively dark horse from those sessions. Given the album’s blunt-object approach to protesting royalty (the title track), it’s a bit of a shock that Morrissey chose to attack the hypocrisy of the church with such deft humor. In particular, the imagery of the cross-dressing clergyman sliding down the church banister elicits a perfectly exasperated-sounding “My God, the vicar in a tutu.” This light touch is extended to the lilting melody and efficiently Byrdsy guitars.

4. “Still Ill” (1984)
If a song appears on two separate Smiths best-ofs, can it really be underrated? I offer “Still Ill” as a counterpoint to the above condemnation of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” the better-known of Morrissey’s flat-out admissions of serious depression. “Still Ill” is indignant, charged and funny to a degree. (At least I think “England is mine, it owes me a living” is meant as a nonserious demand.) Marr forces Morrissey to keep up with a guitar riff that spans four bars and an unrelenting flurry of notes. Marr’s busy songwriting pushed Morrissey where he needed to go, providing a foil that’s been noticeably absent from his subsequent solo career.

5. “Paint A Vulgar Picture” (1987)
By this point, I’ve been exposed as a Marr loyalist in the ongoing saga of the Morrissey/Marr so-called “severed alliance.” (I’m referring to the hated Johnny Rogan book of that title, which Morrissey once referred to, brilliantly, as The Sausage Appliance. However, please note I’m not so overzealous as to include Marr instrumentals such as “The Draize Train” on the underrated list.) Marr had to wait five years to get a guitar solo in a Smiths song, and it appears on “Paint A Vulgar Picture.” It’s glorious. It tells another story within the song. Small woodland creatures live and play in the space occupied by its purposeful notes. But Morrissey shines here, too, with the tale of a fading pop star and battles with record companies in which the fans are the ultimate casualties of continuously repackaged greatest-hits and compilation albums. I wish it weren’t so prophetic. I wish it weren’t so prophetic. I wish it weren’t so prophetic. I wish it weren’t so prophetic. I wish it weren’t so prophetic.

Coming next Tuesday: Fritch picks the five most overrated and five most underrated Morrissey songs.

30 replies on “The Over/Under: The Smiths”

what happend to “this charming man”

you know when local radio plays “how soon is now” that it is definately OVER.

what happend to “this charming man”

you kow when local radio plays “how soon is now” that it is definately OVER.

All subjective IMO. I was in High School when The Smith were putting out these albums and I do mean albums. All these song mean and this band means more to me and those in and around my age group than you could possible understand. to dissect music is a music writer job. I too have done so. but the smith all around for those of us who love them are very special and we all do have our favorites.

Cemetery Gates and I Won’t Share You…both lyrical masterpieces and, sadly, they didn’t make the underrated list – criminal!

This one, I am right on board with. “Back To The Old House” is one of my favorite Smiths tunes. And “Paint A Vulgar Picture” is one of the most prophetic songs in nerd history. Great job this week!

Girlfriend in a Coma, YES, yes, it is extremely overrated BUT I draw the line there. I will not allow you to debase ‘How Soon Is Now?’ You must apologize immediately for that slight against hu… hu…humanity.

Turning to the facts, on page 85 of Morrissey & Marr: The Sausage Appliance:


With the American dream postponed and his dole money squandered on Patti Smith excursions, Morrissey decided to seek a job. It was to prove one of his biggest mistakes to date. At the end of November, he secured a post with the Civil Service and was so appalled by the suffocating atmosphere and meniality of the tasks shoved before him that he quit within a fortnight. Upon returning to the Civil Centre, he became embroiled in an argument with a disgusted DHSS official who concluded the diatribe with the biting rejoinder, “People like you make me feel sick.” It was a humiliating moment and a woeful insight into the contempt often experienced by the unemployed. More salutary evidence of official disapprobation followed when Morrissey learned that his weekly beneft had been reduced to a paltry £5. His crime had been leaving the unsatisfactory Civil Service job for “no good reason”. He was now in a worse position than if he hadn’t taken the irksome job in the first place.


Seems to fit quite perfectly with the lyrics of that great Smiths song, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable now”.

And how does this guy know Moz never once got drunk before he wrote that song?

Panic is overrated? hmmmm…

How Soon Is Now?
it’s a freaking classic, mate. how does one overrate a classic? Oh god, a really good song that got popular and sampled and played and played. well, shit, that means we have to stop liking it now, right? please. so freaking typical.

Why isn’t the Smith’s instrumental song “MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING” on anyone’s list?

Couldn’t agree more on the overrated, but even though they are one one of my favorite band…………..Isn’t ALL there work a bit underrated and dismissed by most?

Morrissey really is a dirty old whore. On top of the shameless pile of compilations, he hasn’t made a decent record since 1994 or so. He was good with Johnny Marr though, until he fucked that up.

I like How Soon Is Now, but I prefer to hear Marr’s jangle and arpeggios. He really was a lovely player.

glad to see “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”, get some love and respect, it’s one of my all time favourites

It’s radio DJs he was singing about, not turntablists. In 2009 there are few less irrelevant jobs than radio DJ.

You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby, is hands down one of my very favourite Smiths songs. Totally underrated. Totally agree. An amazing chorus, and a fantastic Marr lick.

I can’t disagree too strongly with the underrated tracks selected, but the reasons for the overrated tracks are quite idiotic. “Because 23 years later, the war is over and the DJs have won” — what has that got to do with the quality of the song? It’s a tremendous cop-out to disparage a song for not accurately prophesying the future, or for something like “logical disconnect,” and I suspect the only reason why the author didn’t have anything more interesting to say about lyrics or melody is because . . . he hasn’t actually got anything interesting to say. Stranger things have happened.
Also, to the guy who said “you know when local radio plays ‘how soon is now’ that it is definately OVER”: if local radio is so OVER why on earth are you listening to it? Just to keep score? Local radio is 99% over in my area (NYC) too and that’s why I don’t listen to it. If the morons responsible for programming it happen to play a decent song every now and then, I’m certainly not going to use that as a reason to decide the song must suck. Letting other people (particularly people you don’t even like!) determine your taste is pretty sad if you’re older than age 14 or so.

Funny, there isn’t a Smiths song I don’t like but one of my least favorites is actually the so-called ‘under-rated’ “You Just Haven’t…” In fact, just this morning, that song was in my head and I was thinking that weird since it’s not one I particularly I find it also interesting so many agree with the assessment. As far as under-rated, I’d include “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” – which was only recorded as a Peel Session, and not for an album or single (even the band under-rated it…or maybe just couldn’t improve upon that version!) Likewise, when it comes to “Back to the Old House”, the Peel Session version is definitely superior to the single version (*because* it highlights Marr’s guitar.) Oddly enough, I just saw Morrissey this past week and the song that probably resonated best (to me) was the somewhat obscure Smiths song “I Keep MIne Hidden” over the solo material and other Smiths songs he chose to play (including “How Soon is Now” which I still love, but could think of many others Smiths songs I’d rather hear him do live before that one.)

I would have included rubber ring and well I wonder on the underrated list and HSIN is not overrated it’s just overplayed. Another overrated song is What Difference Does it Make.

:: The Five Most Overrated Smiths Songs
1. “How Soon Is Now?” (1984)

Ridiculous. I can stop reading Magnet now.

I play guitar in a Smiths tribute band and I agree with Glenn about this night has opened my eyes being well underrated. The song is shockingly good and is a classic and anyone who can listen to it without it sending a chill down their spine needs to have a word with themselves! On the same note another well underrated song is that joke isn’t funny anymore, listen to that and tell me it doesn’t do something to you!
check us out at

and for another teaser how about Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me! repetitive riff with scary lyrical content! masterpiece!

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