The Smiths’ 50 Greatest Songs Ranked!

The songs that saved your life: MOJO ranks and rates the best ever songs by The Smiths

The Smiths

by Chris Catchpole |
Updated on

40 YEARS ON FROM THEIR FIRST rush and a push to greatness, The Smiths’ timeless allow of ‘60s guitars and ‘80s dissent feels greater than ever. Though the band’s recording career was as brief as it was brilliant – just four studio albums alongside some of the greatest 45s of the era – you’d be hard pressed to find many missteps in their catalogue (covers of Golden Lights by ‘60s starlet Twinkle and Cilla Black’s Work Is A Four Letter Word by Cilla Black are, admittedly, blots on their copy book), yet with multiple radio sessions and live versions trumping some of their album counterparts, MOJO’s team of expert writers have pulled together what we hope is a definitive guide to The Smiths' 50 Greatest Ever Songs.

50. Barbarism Begins At Home 
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

The birth of Madchester as Andy Rourke’s unapologetically funky bass line drags a recalcitrant Morrissey onto the dancefloor.

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49. Ask
(Single, 1986)

Glasnost for the shy or warning of nuclear winter? The tropically breezy Ask presented a shocking repudiation of Morrissey’s bookish lifestyle.

48. Cemetry Gates
(from The Queen Is Dead, 1986)

A joke at Morrissey’s own expense and therefore to be treasured, The Queen Is Dead’s side one Sturm und Drang melts into its blithe, breezy yet seductively conspiratorial closer.

47. Meat Is Murder
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

The slaughterhouse four lay out their leader’s animal rights manifesto on the malevolent, titular closer of The Smiths’ second LP.

46. Is It Really So Strange?
(Sheila Take A Bow B-Side, 1987)

A happy family snap before the divorce. There’s a band-wide jollity to this John Peel session stomper that now seems almost cruel considering The Smiths were no more seven months later.

45. Nowhere Fast
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

Forgotten upbeat sounds for forgotten uptight souls. The band’s rockabilly clatter draws a link between Morrissey’s jocular Northern defiance and that other side of good-time working-class misery: American country music.

44. Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

A darker aspect to Moz’s mind as he explores booze, bruises and Buddhist mass murder. Stop Me…’s BBC-baiting subject matter made it the great Smiths single that never was.

43. Suffer Little Children
(from The Smiths, 1984)

They’ve written a song about what!? Suffer Little Children’s heart-breaking lament to the victims of the Moors murders works because it really shouldn’t.

42. You’ve Got Everything Now
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

The hypnotic bovver-rock on this BBC radio session presented a volatile mix of fascination and resentment, with job-dodging Moz casting a bitter eye on how the other half get on.

41. I Want The One I Can’t Have
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

The 1980s chilly social climate, set to music. “These are the riches of the poor…” sings Morrissey over an expeditious shuffle salvaged from a John Porter-era studio outtake.

40. This Night Has Opened My Eyes
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

Arguably the gloomiest Smiths song of all, Morrissey’s Shelagh Delaney-inspired tale of an unwanted pregnancy is also the most neglected.

39. Pretty Girls Make Graves
(I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish B-side, 1987)

Moz loses heart in an early bout of sexphobia. While the debut LP version is clod-footed, this belatedly released Troy Tate version with added cello nails it. So to speak.

38. These Things Take Time
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

Like with so many early tracks, this illicit love song trembling on the brink of fulfilment only truly came to life in the rough and ready setting of a BBC radio session.

37. I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

Marr’s spangly racket and Morrissey’s crashing aural bathos rewarded The Smiths with a glam-rocking Number 23 single in 1987.

36. Rubber Ring
(The Boy With The Thorn In His Side 12-inch B-side)

Dimming the lights with its macabre guitars, hypnotic strings and trance-inducing samples of John Gielgud and a Swedish medium Rubber Ring gave us pop song as a séance, a future Moz pleading with his fans not to forget him.

35. Jeane
(This Charming Man B-side. 1983)

Updating Shelagh Delaney to comment on Thatcherite Britain, Jeane’s kitchen sink stomp is one of the band’s best lesser-known gems.

34. Shakespeare’s Sister
(Single, 1985)

Presenting The Smiths at 500mph, Shakespeare’s Sister is a whirlwind of suicide, slide guitar and rockabilly riffs.

33. Rusholme Ruffians
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

West Side Story hits a fairground in South Side Manchester over a light-fingered appropriation of Elvis Presley’s His Latest Flame.

32. London
(Shoplifters Of the World Unite 12-inch B-side, 1987)

A centrifuge of feedback and an uneasy escape to that there London. Billy Liar as soundtracked by The Velvet Underground.

31. What Difference Does It Make?
(Single, 1984)

Morrissey reportedly wasn’t overly fond of the Smiths’ third single, but the blaring guitar riff and insouciant gaze of What Difference Does It Make? were what broke The Smiths as a pop phenomenon and changed the lives of so many forever.

30. Half A Person
(Shoplifters Of The World Unite B-side, 1987)
Far more enjoyable and considerably shorter than the unwieldy score settling inside 2013's Autobiography, Half A Person showed us the previously hidden pre-Smiths Morrissey: morbid, pale, 16, clumsy and shy.

29. Well I Wonder
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

For when There Is A Light… is too life affirming, Meat Is Murder’s rain-sodden weepy is The Smiths at their most lovelorn.

28. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
(from The Queen Is Dead, 1986)

Moz’s ooh err missus Carry On-isms fail to sully the gorgeous lilting guitar riffs on The Queen Is Dead’s closer.

27. Handsome Devil
(Hand In Glove B-side, 1983)

The seditious B-side to the group’s first official release. While the later Peel Session is anything but weak, Morrissey sound positively ferocious on this live version recorded at The Haçienda in February 1983.

26. I Won’t Share You
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

And so, this is how it ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. The last song on what would prove to be the last Smiths album. Morrissey wouldn’t have to share his song-writing partner for much longer as Marr was out of the door by the time it hit the shelves.

25. Accept Yourself
(from Hatful Of Holow, 1984)

A self-help shimmy for the forever ill. The earlier pristine David Jensen session version wins out over the rockier, slightly muffled John Porter-produced This Charming Man B-side.

24. Death Of A Disco Dancer
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

Beautifully valedictory highlight of Strangeways Here We Come. And, on piano, Morrissey’s sole instrumental contribution to The Smiths.

23. A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

The Smiths’ long-playing swansong began with this ghostly sweep of Dickensian doom and a revolutionary call-to-arms. Perhaps tellingly, there’s not a note of guitar on it.

22. Asleep
(The Boy With The Thorn In His Side B-side, 1985)

Four achingly sad minutes where chill winds and upright piano accompany Morrissey’s plea for deepest, and final, rest.

 21. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

A weary sigh in the face of the media’s ‘pope of mope’ miserabilist tag. Aided by Marr’s spinetingling guitar coda, Morrissey got the last laugh.

20. Girl Afraid
(Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now 12-inch B-side, 1984)

A sour vignette of teen romance, Girl Afraid painted love as a knot of awkwardness and but-what-if anxieties.

19. The Headmaster’s Ritual
(from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

A military six-of-the-best from Mike Joyce kicks of the muscular opener of The Smith’s second LP, before Morrissey eventually joins the fray to put the boot into the “spineless bastards” of St Mary’s Secondary Modern.

18. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
(Single, 1985)

Morrissey lashes out at a world refusing to let him bloom as Marr’s wistful jangle lifts his bandmate's bitterness heavenwards.

17. Stretch Out And Wait
(Shakespeare’s Sister 12-inch B-Side, 1985)

Morrissey’s unusually contemplative take on sex and sensuality. He would never again sound so wistful.

16. Shoplifters Of The World Unite
(Single, 1987)

Morrissey projects petty theft as the heroic response to modern life over a rockier update of How Soon Is Now?’s shimmering textures.

15. Bigmouth Strikes Again
(Single, 1986)

Not just a comeback masterclass, but maybe the greatest rock single of the 1980s. Johnny Marr wanted The Smith’s first single in eight months to be their version of The Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Morrissey rose to the occasion with one of his most brilliantly self-aware lyrics.

14. I Know It’s Over
(from The Queen Is Dead, 1986)

The backing may be sparse – hesitant guitar strums over barely-there bass and drums – but the morose melodrama of Morrissey’s lyric create a gothic intensity.

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13. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
(William, It Was Really Nothing B-side, 1984)

The Smiths’ most compact song is a heart-wrenching invocation for love and a better life.

12. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
(from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

Johnny Marr later said the stately, gothic sound of The Smiths’ final, posthumous single was where he wanted the band to head next. Even if they had, it’s hard to imagine them topping this.

11. Back To The Old House
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

Marr’s deft, Bert Jansch-inspired fingerpicking takes centre on this stripped to the bone Peel session.

10. Still Ill
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

There’s more to life than album versions, you know? Bookended by Stonesy harmonica, the definitive Peel version easily gazumps the weedier John Porter-produced take on their debut LP.

9. Hand In Glove
(Single, 1983)

Self-produced and memorably clothed in an image from Margaret Walters’ book The Nude Male, Hand In Glove is more than just The Smiths’ debut 45 - it’s their manifesto.

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8. Heaven Known I’m Miserable Now
(Single, 1984)

Le Misérable opens to much acclaim. Written in New York, Morrissey’s Job Centre tristesse collided with Marr’s cheery jazz chords to create one of The Smith's signature tunes.

7. Panic
(Single, 1986)

With Marr borrowing heavily from T. Rex’s Metal Guru, Morrissey’s controversial tiny revolution turned pop music into a matter of life and death.

6. William, It Was Really Nothing
(Single, 1984)

Marr’s first conscious aim at the perfect three-minutes single, brilliantly realised. “William” was reputedly Associates singer Billy Mackenzie, a similarly maverick fish out of water who inspired Morrissey to flag the dangers of matrimony.

5. Reel Around The Fountain
(from Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

Guitars chime with celestial prettiness as childhood innocence is enveloped by adult intimacies. The version that opens The Smiths’ debut had already been pre-empted, and bested, by this May 1983 Peel session take.

4. The Queen Is Dead
(from The Queen Is Dead, 1986)

A storming MC5-meets-The Velvets squall meets Morrissey’s scathing, state of the nation address - The Daily Mail and a crossdressing Prince Charles et al. That the song's streaming figures skyrocketed when Queen Elizabeth II passed away in 2022 suggests the vision had lost non of its potency.

3. This Charming Man
(Single, 1983)

Assembled in just 20 minutes in early 1983, This Charming Man is the sound of a new pop language for the lonely being born. The first perfect Morrissey and Marr union.

2. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
(from The Queen Is Dead, 1986)

As fully realised a vision of what made The Smiths so magical as they managed. Poignancy, longing and – with the help of The Emulator II sampler’s string settings – divine musical beauty.

1. How Soon Is Now
(William, It Was really Nothing 12-inch B-side, 1984)

The juddering, swampy atmospherics of Marr’s guitar soundscapes and Morrissey’s gold standard lyrics of loneliness created a dark nightclub of the soul from which the singer dejectedly walked home alone.­ The greatest songwriting duo since Lennon and McCartney at their apex.

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