The Roots Of… The Smiths

No great band is born without a struggle and no great records are born in a vacuum. For every artist whose ideas makes your wig spin there are a huge pile of influences – from specks of colour to swathes of sound – that delivered them to that point. And this is where The Roots Of… comes in. Each week we’ll take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from those influences…


The story of Manchester’s finest is, of course, the story of two men: Morrissey and Marr. On one side, gutter punk, hi-gleam glam and art rock – on the other, folk, funk and rock and roll and electro. Just imagine what could happen if you boshed those two together! Oh, you already have.

Born to boogie
Both Morrissey and Marr had a huge love for Marc Bolan, whether in his hippy-folk Tyrannosaurus Rex or glam-rock T Rex incarnation. Indeed, the first record Marr ever bought was Bolan’s 1971 smash, Jeepster. In 1975, a 16-year-old Morrissey would ask an already past-his-prime Bolan for an autograph. Bolan refused, but the incident didn’t leave any lingering scars. “I can’t cleverly theorise about Marc,” Morrissey wrote years later. “I just loved him.”


Meanwhile, in America
The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop & Stooges had a massive impact. Morrissey fell particularly hard for Velvet’s singer Nico, later declaring her voice to be like, “the sound of a body being thrown out of a window.” Marr says he spent, “an entire winter” playing guitar along to The Stooges’ first album. In a neat twist, a reformed Stooges would go onto support Morrissey in LA this summer.

Super fan-dom

The pre-punk glam-trash heroism of The New York Dolls had such a massive effect on Morrissey that, in 1981, he wrote a book about them. At the end of the 1970s the singer would help found the UK wing of The Cramps fan club. Morrissey so loved American freak-pop duo Sparks that, aged 15, he wrote a fantastically impassioned letter to the NME about them, a technique he had begun with his letter’s about the Bowie-like glam-rocker, Jobriath.

Source of the Nile
Johnny Marr’s unique guitar style is based in what could be seen as two opposing forces; English and Irish folk music and American funk. This brilliant stew includes UK folk-revival heroes like Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy as well as American folk-rock legends The Byrds. Marr loved the electro feel of Nona Hendryx and he bows to no one in his admiration for the Chic musician and producer Nile Rodgers – so much so Marr named his own son after him.

Genius steals

In The Smiths’ song ‘Half A Person’ Morrissey sings, “I went to London and I booked myself into the YWCA”, a direct reference to Elvis Presley’s 1968 track ‘Guitar Man’ which includes the lyric, “I hitchhiked all the way down to Memphis, got a room at the YMCA”. Johnny Marr says he leaned on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ for the guitar part in ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. In that same song Morrissey references Joan of Arc in similar way to another hero, Patti Smith, did in her song ‘Kimberly’. Meanwhile, in ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, Marr’s guitar part draws on the Rolling Stones cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Hitch Hike’, a song that, itself, was an inspiration for The Velvet Underground’s ‘There She Goes Again’. The amazingly circular life of pop in full effect there.