The first time I ever heard The Smiths, was when someone at Warner Brothers Records gave me a promo copy of their first album right when it came out. I wasn’t sure what to make of them at first, but it was the opening track, Reel Around the Fountain, that I kept spinning over and over on my turntable. Something about the morbid, depressing, durge-like vocal of Morrissey seemed perfect for the year 1984. It was kind of hypnotic. Heaven knows it was miserable.
“Fifteen minutes with you Oh, I wouldn’t say no , Oh, people see no worth in you , Oh, but I do. Fifteen minutes with you , Oh, no, I wouldn’t say no , Oh, people see no worth in you I do. Oh, I … I do Oh, I do Oh, I do Oh. I do.”
I tried to turn some of my friends onto that song, but they just didn’t get it. They hated Morrissey’s voice at first, but then eventually gravitated to the more upbeat songs like This Charming Man, Hand in Glove and What Difference Does it Make. That wonderful guitar sound from Johnny Marr, made those tracks blast with pure pop pleasure. And above all, they were catchy!
I continued following the Smiths, picking up every album and 12″ single, both American and UK versions on Rough Trade and Sire Records. Their albums and singles had a distinctive and consistent visual style, with bright duotone, sometimes grainy images of film and pop stars. They were created by Morrissey and Rough Trade’s art director, Jo Slee (along with layouts by Caryn Gough), a collaboration that continued into Morrissey’s early solo years. The record covers rarely featured any text or photos of the band other than the Smiths’ name. The cover subjects reflected Morrissey’s interest in cult film stars, 60s British pop icons and unknowns from the same period. And every record credited the Cover Star on the back.
“The rest of the band had no involvement with the sleeves. I was more than happy for it to be that way. Because whenever I saw any sleeve art I was always delighted, impressed, and surprised. What Morrissey did was to take all these influences that meant something to him, from vastly different areas, and give them a continuity. Smiths fans could identify with them immediately.” – guitarist Johnny Marr.
A selection of some of the Smiths’ Cover Stars. Not definitive, but a few favorites from my collection:
“THIS CHARMING MAN”
Jean Marais from Cocteau’s film ORPHEE.
“WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?”
- Terence Stamp from the movie: THE COLLECTOR. Because of Stamp’s objection of his photograph being used, later pressings have Morrissey mimic Stamp’s pose and grin. The Morrissey sleeve remains the rarest because Stamp finally agreed and the original photograph was reinstated. The US release has the Morrissey cover only.
“THE SMITHS” LP
- Joe Dallesandro culled from Andy Warhol’s FLESH directed by Paul Morrissey.
“HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW”
- Viv Nicholson from her book, SPEND SPEND SPEND.
“WILLIAM IT WAS REALLY NOTHING”
- The first cover is a green photograph of a man sitting on the edge of a bed (comes from a 1982 advertisement for A.D.S. speakers, object on bed is a speaker).
“HATFUL OF HOLLOW”
- Uncredited photograph of a Cocteau model from a French magazine. The tattoo on his shoulder is a copy of a drawing by Jean Cocteau, from his book LE LIVRE BLANC.
“HOW SOON IS NOW?”
- Sean Barrett, still from the movie DUNKIRK.
“MEAT IS MURDER”
- Cover star culled from Emile de Antonio’s IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG. The words “Meat Is Murder” on the soldier’s helmet were originally “Make war not love.”
- Pat Phoenix from CORONATION STREET.
“THAT JOKE ISN’T FUNNY ANYMORE”
- Officially, from Jo Slee’s book “Peepholism”, it is an uncredited photograph of an Italian child actor from the sixties, taken from a tiny photo in FILM AND FILMMAKING magazine. But in reality, it supposedly comes from a Russian movie from 1965 titled “The Enchanted Desna”.
“THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE”
- Truman Capote photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1949.
“BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN”
- James Dean photographed in 1948 by Nelva Jean Thomas. Wrongly credited to David Loehr in the sleeve notes.
“THE QUEEN IS DEAD”
- Alain Delon from the film L’INSOUMIS.
“HAND IN GLOVE”
- Cover photography by Jim French taken from Margaret Walter’s book THE NUDE MALE. The photograph is of Leo Ford, gay porn star and lover of Divine, a famous transvestite.
- Richard Bradford star of MAN IN A SUITCASE, a 1967 ATV series
- Yootha Joyce from GEORGE & MILDRED tv series on the set of the 1965 film CATCH YOU IF YOU CAN.
“THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN”
- Cover photo by Jurgen Vollmer from the book ROCK ‘N’ ROLL TIMES.
“SHEILA TAKE A BOW”
- Candy Darling from Andy Warhol’s film WOMEN IN REVOLT. Candy Darling is actually a drag queen named James Lawrence Slattery. He died at the age of 25 in May 1974 of leukaemia.
“LOUDER THAN BOMBS”
- Shelagh Delaney (from the Saturday Evening Post, 21 October 1961).
“GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA”
- Shelagh Delaney. The photo is from an early 60s edition of “A Taste Of Honey”.
“STRANGEWAYS, HERE WE COME”
- Richard Davalos from the collection of David Loehr, photographed during the filming of EAST OF EDEN.
“I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN’T FINISH”
- Avril Angers from THE FAMILY WAY.
“LAST NIGHT I DREAMT THAT SOMEBODY LOVED ME”
- Billy Fury.
- Alexandra Bastedo (John D. Green Studios) taken from the book BIRDS OF BRITAIN .
- Black and white photograph of 2 boys wearing blazers.
Read about and view many more of the Smith’s record covers in Peepholism: Into the Art of Morrissey by Jo Slee.
The Smiths were a band that burned brightly for a mere five years. Wonderful albums and great, short arresting pop singles. I saw them perform live only once, and that was in 1985 in Oakland during their Meat is Murder Tour. The sound was horrible and they seemed a bit off that night, but they still remain one of my favorite bands from the 80s. Morrissey’s self deprecating, dreary but humorous lyrics, Marr’s melodically rhythmic strumming, along with guitarist Andy Rourke and bassist Mike Joyce, made for a wonderfully appealing pop-rock combo. A band free from many of the synthesized sounds and over-produced recordings of the time.