There are few bands in history who, despite existing less than a decade, left such a legacy and such important back catalogue as the Smiths did. The band formed around the highly charismatic and sometimes (well, often) controversial vocalist Morrissey existed during most of the eighties but then split up, with virtually no chance at all of a reunion. But in those few years of existance the band did release several studio albums (in those days, it was not a habit yet to leave a gap of 2 or 3 years between albums) that each have become iconic in their own way and which will stand the test of time without the slightest doubt.
Morrissey’s often tongue-in-cheeck and sometimes bitterly hard society criticism, combined with his often tormented and poetic lyrics, have appealed to fans worldwide and still continues to do so. Few bands are still as often discussed and listened to (even by young people not born yet when the band existed) so many years after disbanding. The lyrics of Morrissey, often dealing with subjects such as loneliness, being unloved, being misunderstood, feeling alienated and out of place, … have appealed to many people who recognised themselves in the lyrics of these songs. "How soon is now" (describing someone impatient of being loved but being misunderstood and ignored all the time) to me still is the ultimate Aspie anthem. However, for someone whose sexuality has remained a mystery even today, and who claims to have chosen abstainance by choice, some other Smiths songs have a strong sense of romance. Finally, Morrissey never hesitated to (sometimes in shocking ways lyrically) to vow his political opinions, with songs such as "Meat is murder" and "The Queen is dead" as highlights.
The band’s lyrics can be seen as sombre sometimes, but especially those which are inspired by Morrissey’s incredible love for/knowledge of literature, can also be surprisingly uplifting or at least beautiful in their own way.
The band’s back catalogue contains some of the most brilliant songs of their era, some which will never be touched by the hands of time. Johnny Marr’s unique guitar playing style added a lot to the band’s very distinct sound too, even when Morrissey got most attention due to his mysterious and at the same time charismatic personality. But songs such as "How soon is now" (with lyrics so recognisable for anyone facing loneliness), "Panic", "Ask", "Hand in glove", "Girlfriend in a Coma", "Please please let me get what I want", "Pretty girls make graves", "There is a light that never goes out" (combining the sense of belonging nowhere with a morbid-romantic chorus) will still be played many decades from now.
Out of that impressive legacy, I pick a less usual song to discuss: "Rubber ring".
"Rubber ring" in a way is a lovesong, but not in the conventional way: it is about love for music itself, more precisely: the song is about how, in the darkest depths, it is music that can pull you through and give you new hope and courage. The song in fact is a tribute to the emotional power of music itself, a power which I’m sure we all experienced how strong it is.
The message in the lyrics is clear:
"But dont forget the songs
That made you cry
And the songs that saved your life"
because, as Morrissey sings, "they were the only ones to ever stood by you".
and especially the final words of the last stanza speak for themselves, when the musician takes the word and passes his message to the listener:
"And when youre dancing and laughing
And finally living
Hear my voice in your head
And think of me kindly"
The title refers to a rubber ring people throw in the water when someone is drowning ; the rubber ring can be grabbed to hold on to and not drown. Similarly, your beloved music can be a lifesaver and loyal companion in those times when you emotionally feel like you’re drowning.
Out of the entire Smiths catalogue, I do think this is one of the most underrated songs. That said, for a band that left such a mark on music and with such legacy, it would be wrong to single out one or two songs. So maybe in the future you’ll see another Smiths song occurring on this blog.