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On This Day In Music… February 23, 1985: The Smiths Score Their Only No. 1 With 'Meat Is Murder'

The Indie legends' second album was arguably their most adventurous release.

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'Meat Is Murder' saw Morrissey embrace politics more explicitly than on the Smiths' debut album.

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On February 23, 1985, Meat Is Murder, the second studio LP by The Smiths, crashed into the U.K. album charts at No. 1 – and cemented the Mancunian band as one of the most vital, inventive and significant acts to emerge from the creative furnace of the British post-punk scene.

The album would hang around the Top 40 for another seven weeks, and provide just one single release in the U.K., “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” – ironically, the band’s least successful single of their career, despite Johnny Marr citing it as one of his favorite Smiths compositions, saying: “It was one of those times when the feeling just falls down on you from the ceiling somewhere and it almost plays itself.”

Meat is Murder is not The Smiths’ best album – and devotees can argue all day whether that title belongs to the eponymous debut or their third and fourth LPs The Queen Is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come (although the correct answer is of course The Queen Is Dead) – but there is a strong argument to say it is their most important.

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The Smiths' first, self-titled, album was a dramatic shift for music, a bright and beautiful coming together of ideas and music imbued with a new kind of intelligence. The songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr was at once both unconventional and instinctively perfect, the former’s awkward, lovelorn, pessimistic lyricism simultaneously tempered and elevated by the latter’s chiming arpeggios and jangled, sunshine-soaked melodies. As the journalist Paul Woods noted: “The Smiths brought realism to their romance, and tempered their angst with the lightest of touches.”

The Smiths reached No. 2 in 1984 and was followed by a run of three non-album singles that are now regarded as classics: “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, “William, It Was Really Nothing”, and “How Soon Is Now?” (originally hidden away as the B Side to “William, It Was Really Nothing”, somewhat extraordinarily).

“How Soon Is Now?” reached its peak position of No. 24 in the singles chart on the same day that Meat Is Murder entered the album chart at No. 1. Although it was not originally included on the album, it was later added to the U.S. version, as well as a British 1993 CD rerelease.

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Although devoid of hit singles, Meat Is Murder represented a leap forward for The Smiths. The confidence that came from a vindication of all that Morrissey and Marr had believed before the release of The Smiths just a year before soaks through the tracks: Marr expanded his musical palette to include everything from funk to rockabilly, and in the album’s opener “The Headmaster Ritual” starts with a guitar chord that he later described as what Joni Mitchell “would have done had she been an MC5 fan”.

Marr’s sense of adventure was matched by his songwriting partner. On Meat Is Murder, Morrissey embraced his political edge more explicitly: from the album’s militantly pro-vegetarian title to themes of child abuse contained in “Barbarism Begins at Home” and “The Headmaster Ritual”.

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the smiths
Source: mega

The Smiths redefined what pop stars should look and sound like.

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From the moment they first hit the national consciousness in 1983 with “Hand in Glove” The Smiths had uncompromisingly skewed the convention of what pop stars should look and sound like – but in Meat Is Murder they embraced that difference wholeheartedly. The album begins with the hammered, open-tuned “Joni Mitchell doing the MC5” chord and the lyric “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, Spineless swines cemented minds”; and ends with the title track’s mournful refrain “No, no, no, it’s murder, and who hears when animals cry?” followed by an extended, intensely beautiful guitar outro set against lowing cattle and, before the needle finally lifts, fully 45 seconds of sharp, cutting, abattoir noises.

What difference did it make? It made all the difference in the world.

The Queen Is Dead would arrive the following year, and Strangeways, Here We Come the year after that, before the most important band of the 1980s messily imploded, barely five years after forming. In that short time they had released four studio albums and three compilations that set a new standard, and a new template, for music... of which Meat Is Murder may be the most adventurous.

Writing in Q in 2007, Simon Goddard said: “As the first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms (their second album proper, 1985’s Meat Is Murder, made Number 1 in the UK), they elevated rock’s standard four-piece formula to new heights of magic and poetry.”


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