The idea is simple: Two Smiths superfans will comb through the stunningly robust catalogue of officially-released songs written jointly by Morrissey and Johnny Marr (so no “The Draize Train,” for example), and select a “team,” alternating selections two at a time. To add some consequence to the proceedings, the songs are being picked under the assumption that they’ll never again be able to listen to the songs taken by their opponent. It’s literally the Smiths songs you couldn’t live without. That dilemma explains why some very well-known Smiths songs — ones that you may have burned out on — appear later in their draft.
Sure, we didn’t have to rank the 68 songs credited to Morrissey-Marr, the co-captains of the hugely influential 1980s band The Smiths. And we certainly didn’t have to do so using a fantasy-baseball style snake draft. But that’s what we are going to do here anyway.
And now meet our superfans: Winner of the coin toss and selecting first is Esquire.com editor John Sellers, who has the words “There’s more to life than books you know” pinned and mounted on his office wall. His opponent is Cory Jones, SVP of Digital Content for the website you’re reading right now, and, a handsome devil in his own right (full disclosure: Cory just typed that.)
And now, onto The Smiths song fantasy draft. Who ended up with the best team?
1. THE HEADMASTER RITUAL
The Smiths are the greatest band ever. “The Headmaster Ritual” is the greatest song ever. Therefore, this is the greatest #1 pick ever.
2. RUBBER RING
While “The Headmaster Ritual” was also my #1 choice, “Rubber Ring” (which was originally a b-side!) is a nice consolation prize. I struggled with taking “William” here, but no song in The Smiths world sounds remotely like “Rubber Ring.” So here we are.
3. PAINT A VULGAR PICTURE
If I was going against any other Smiths fan, I would have held off on “Paint a Vulgar Picture” for another round or two, but this is the most underrated Smiths song, and Sellers knows it, too. So I gladly grabbed it at pick #3. I knew I chose wisely when Sellers immediately sent me a “You are an asshole” text.
4. WILLIAM, IT WAS REALLY NOTHING
Cory is an asshole for taking “Paint a Vulgar Picture” (and for being Cory). But Morrissey and Marr aren’t, because they also wrote “William, It Was Really Nothing,” the obvious #2 pick that I stole at #4.
5. I KNOW IT’S OVER
At this point, you’re probably thinking: When are these nimrods going to pick “How Soon Is Now?” Believe me, I was thinking that, too. But I could not and can never resist the pull of “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…”
6. HANDSOME DEVIL
I was hoping “William” would still be here, but “Handsome Devil” stands out among the Smiths’ epic catalogue. It’s a rare rocker and one of Morrissey finest lyrical moments.
7. STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
If anyone ever calls Morrissey ‘depressing’ just direct them to the line: “And the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder.” Then walk away in slow motion.
8. THAT JOKE ISN’T FUNNY ANYMORE
Confession: This was a mild panic pick. Cory had selected both of the songs in my queue, and I straight-up semi-panicked. But what delicious panic. “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, and now it’s happing in mine” is my boo.
9. HALF A PERSON
How is this still on the board here? This song is the epitome of Moz’s laugh-out-loud self-deprecating satire against Marr’s effortless gliding guitars.
10. STILL ILL
Should I have taken “How Soon Is Now” here? Yes. It’s the greatest song ever written. But I have listened to it so much that I got a little misguided in valuing some other classics in The Smiths canon. (TL;DR: I r dumbed)
11. THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT
Fifteen-year-old me gave much, much older me a high-five for taking “There Is a Light…”
12. HOW SOON IS NOW?
Finding this song still in play at #12 felt better than that time I wore my grandfather’s hand-me-down money belt to the arcade, blew through two hours’ worth of tokens in five minutes, grew bored enough over the next 30 minutes while waiting for my ride that I resorted to playing the “money belt zipper game,” and discovered the hidden $20 bill that saved my afternoon. Unexpected “How Soon Is Now?” > unexpected Moon Patrol.
13. SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER
From the dizzying highs to the dizzying lows. Picking this mid-level Smiths track with so many gems left on the board (“Cemetry Gates”! arrgh!) was like following up on an improbable round six Mike Trout selection with a round seven final season Derek Jeter.
14. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LET ME GET WHAT I WANT
“Please Please Please…” is only one minute and 52 seconds long, which gives it a sort of casual, throwaway feeling. If any other band wrote this, it would be five minutes long, released with five different remixes and it would end every concert for the rest of their career. But the Smiths rattled it off in less than two minutes and released it as a b-side. That’s why the Smiths are the greatest band in the history of the universe.
15. CEMETRY GATES
Another one I wanted to make sure I got before Sellers did. Long done do does did, indeed.
16. NOWHERE FAST
I literally cannot stop myself from picking “Meat Is Murder” tracks. Admittedly, this one has always been a favorite for its bold use of the word “trousers.”
17. FRANKLY MR. SHANKLY
So, Mr. Shankly is basically the David Brent of the 1980s, right? Come to think of it, this should have been “The Office” theme song.
18. SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD UNITE
I didn’t expect Sellers to leave this on the table for me at 18. He seemed to have been reaching with picks 13, 16 and 17. Which hopefully allows me to make up for my “How Soon Is Now” gaffe.
19. THE QUEEN IS DEAD
Confession: I didn’t know what a spanner was when I first listened to “The Queen is Dead.”
20. THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE
I have a plundering desire to listen to this banger on repeat for seven days in a row, every single week.
21. LAST NIGHT I DREAMT THAT SOMEBODY LOVED ME
My first “Strangeways” track. Thanks to Cory, who pried “Vulgar” and “Stop Me” from my cold, dead hands.
22. RUSHOLME RUFFIANS
I feel like this is great value at 22. Growing up in a small Northern Kentucky town, I knew the story of “Rusholme Ruffians” far too well.
23. A RUSH AND A PUSH AND THE LAND IS OURS
“People who are weaker than you and I take what they want from life” is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
Raise your hand if you ever spent a night in Carlisle on a trip to England solely because of this song.
25. YOU JUST HAVEN’T EARNED IT YET, BABY
An underrated track of the jaunty variety that is almost too Smiths to believe is a Smiths song. I am not sure why I selected it here when so many other club bangers are still left on the board, but I HAVE earned it (if “it” equals semi-failure).
I probably should have taken “Well I Wonder” here, but there’s something about the lesser-knowns that always seem a little more special in the midst of draft pressures.
It’s criminal I got “Asleep” at 27th overall. It’s the poor-man’s “I Know It’s Over.” (Yes, very poor, but still…)
28. WELL I WONDER
Just as it is hard to listen to the Shins’ “New Slang” now without conjuring that Garden State scene, so too does a Dave Eggers’ story about his teen years from an early issue of McSweeney’s pop into my head whenever I hear this song. (If memory serves, his story involved riding his bike past the house of a teacher he was infatuated while listening to this song on his Walkman on repeat. Or maybe those are just some wayward recollections of my own teen years?)
29. I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN’T FINISH
The title of this song had a little extra weight as it was released as a UK single after the band had already broken up.
30. THESE THINGS TAKE TIME
Read these lyrics. Read them. Go right now. I’ll wait here. (I’m waiting.) (I saw you just keep scrolling. Not cool.)
31. HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW
This was their highest-charting single, which seems kind of weird when you consider everything else they did. And I was able to get it at 31st. This band is an embarrassment of riches.
32. I WANT THE ONE I CAN’T HAVE
I am really, really, really, really into “Meat Is Murder,” apparently. (And I really am.)
There was a time once—and you can almost be sure I was drunk off my ass at the time, lying on the floor, and lamenting my inability to dominate life—when I slurred loudly to the world (I was alone) that this was my favorite song of all time. Dressed, most likely, in an Information Society concert T and cutoff shorts, I made a pact then and there to only wear black from then on—except, not entirely: I wore black on the outside because black is how I felt on the inside … except that part of me that refused to give up the white canvas Reeboks I favored in my early college years.
34. BACK TO THE OLD HOUSE
Due to pre-arranged rules of the draft, I get both versions of this song. But I commend Sellers on taking the much under appreciated “I Want the One I Can’t Have” at 32.
35. DEATH OF A DISCO DANCER
The equivalent of a “Club Banger” for the literates. (But honestly, does anyone really want to talk to their neighbor?)
36. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
Yes, one of the Smiths’ best-known songs has been selected at number 36 in our little draft. Are we dumb? Deaf? A little of both? To me, the motivating factor behind each pick, whether stated or unstated as such, is all about answering the question: “If I could never listen to this song ever again, how upset would I be?” And this is a great Smiths song that I played to death when I was younger and that, like me, hasn’t aged all that well.
37. NEVER HAD NO ONE EVER
I threw a party the day I turned 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days, and invited only a 4-pack of Seagram’s wine coolers and a bag of Funyuns. You?
The first of my back-to-back rocker picks. There are only a handful of these so I wanted to snap them up before it got too late. On an unrelated note: During my first trip to London I rode the Tube to the Euston stop solely because of this song.
39. WHAT SHE SAID
The second of my back-to-back rocker picks. Even more unrelated: I always thought the “She” in this song was Morrissey.
40. GIRL AFRAID
The jangly Marr riffs can’t hide the otherwise undynamic particulars of this throwaway track that would be my favorite song by any other band.
41. WONDERFUL WOMAN
I was obsessed with this song for approximately two days circa 2009, and played it on an iPod loop more than 100 straight times.
42. SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN
It’s really hard to write a song about something as horrific as the Moors Murders that makes you feel like the victims are the victors.
43. BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN
Again, if this is a draft with most any other Smiths fans, this song probably goes in the top 15. It’s almost hilarious I got it at 43.
44. STRETCH OUT AND WAIT
Theory: This is the greatest song with lyrics quoting Rebel Without a Cause ever written. Another theory: This is the Smiths’ most underrated song.
45. HAND IN GLOVE
Both Cory and I will be waiting outside Salford Lads Club for you to tar and feather us for letting this Smiths banger slip so low.
46. THIS NIGHT HAS OPENED MY EYES
“Hand in Glove” going at 45 makes me rethink my back-to-back rocker decision earlier. Alas, I am left with “This Night…”
47. SHEILA TAKE A BOW
I was once sitting in my bedroom with a girl at age 16. I was playing her “Sheila” and she couldn’t comprehend why Morrissey–who is clearly a man–sang “I’m a girl and you’re a boy.” I just stared at her and wished I could move far away.
48. PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES
Topic for your next happy hour: Which band named after a Smiths song title wrote the best music?
49. GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA
I don’t think I need to tell any of you how amazing this song is. At #49, it is a bargain of Seward’s Folly proportions.
50. I WON’T SHARE YOU
Sellers is an idiot if he thinks “Girlfriend In A Coma” is better than “I Won’t Share You.” I’ll gladly take the last song on the last studio album along with the knowledge that Sellers is an idiot.
51. THIS CHARMING MAN
See: Bigmouth Strikes Again. (Sidenote: For what it’s worth, this is The Smiths most downloaded song.)
52. REEL AROUND THE FOUNTAIN
In addition to the sexual innuendo, the line “pin and mount me like a butterfly” has always vaguely creeped me out because it reminds me of this trippy animated short I saw once in the ‘70s at the house of that one dude whose parents had early HBO. The cartoon was about a butterfly hunter who chases a huge butterfly, only to find himself pinned and mounted in the giant butterfly’s collection of butterfly hunters.
Another one that probably slipped a little farther than it should. See: “This Charming Man” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”
54. IS IT REALLY SO STRANGE?
Well, it’s a little strange that this song lasted to the 54th pick. “I got confused, I killed a horse” is easily one of Morrissey’s funniest lines.
55. SOME GIRLS ARE BIGGER THAN OTHERS
This song is somewhat disrespected because of the jokey title. But listen to it, it’s a goddamn awesome song.
56. THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE
I drafted this meandering debut-album number entirely for how Morrissey pronounces “bogeyman.”
57. UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY
“Because you’re evil and you lie” is vague justification for Morrissey’s party-pooping title salvo, but it makes for a killer email subject line. Try it!
58. VICAR IN A TUTU
I never knew where to rank “Vicar” but getting anything off of “Queen is Dead” this late can only be considered a victory.
59. YOU’VE GOT EVERYTHING NOW
I think this would have gone much higher if the first Smiths album had an upgraded producer.
60. ACCEPT YOURSELF
This song almost perfectly describes my formative years, and I sold it out by waiting until #60 to draft it. “And there’s no one but yourself to blame.”
61. SWEET AND TENDER HOOLIGAN
This is a song that turns on a repeated squelch of “et cetera.” Stephen Morrissey, you’re my hero.
62. MISERABLE LIE
When I was 15 I would tell anyone who would listen (and a lot who wouldn’t) that this was my favorite song of all time. 15-year-old me would be very disappointed in much, much older me that I waited until pick 62 to take “Miserable Lie.”
63. MEAT IS MURDER
The problem with “Meat is Murder” is that it’s never a song you want to put in and play. While I basically agree with the politics, I can’t remember the last time I played this with purpose.
64. I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING
A true mellow jam, but at the end of the day, this is a bit too “tea lounge” Morrissey/Marr for me.
65. OSCILLATE WILDLY
The second, after “Golden Lights” (a cover song, hence not part of this draft), of two straight “Louder Than Bombs” tracks that I almost always fast-forwarded through on my Walkman.
66. I KEEP MINE HIDDEN
This is the only song I can think of where you can hear the strain of the band’s breakup in the song itself. I probably should have picked it last in retrospect, but there is something still catchy about it.
67. DEATH AT ONE’S ELBOW
I always considered this the lesser “Vicar in a Tutu” because it’s the second to last song on the album after Queen is Dead. But at least I didn’t have to take “Barbarism Begins at Home.”
68. BARBARISM BEGINS AT HOME
This song is a boner. A terrible, horrible, nearly-7-minute funk boner. It just never, ever seems to end. And now the groove boner is mine to enjoy for the rest of eternity. Like Morrissey, I blame Mike Joyce.
My Best Pick: “What Difference Does It Make?” at 36 and “Hand in Glove” at 45 were obvious steals, but I definitely did not unlove nabbing “Unlovable” at number 33, as it contains my credo: “If I seem a little strange, well, that’s because I am.”
My Worst Pick: “Shakespeare’s Sister” instead of either of Cory’s next two picks, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” or “Cemetry Gates.” I deserve to be smacked with gladioli.
Cory’s Best Pick: “Paint a Vulgar Picture” ratcheted up the gamesmanship of this draft, and he was right to snag it early because I would have picked it at 4 or 5. And then he stuck me with “Barbarism Begins at Home” at the end. He really is an asshole.
Cory’s Worst Pick: “Jeane” is a delightful early-period song that, ultimately, doesn’t have the staying power of a “I Want the One I Can’t Have” or many other tracks selected later in the draft. He tried and he failed.
My Best Pick: Casual fans will be quietly nod approval with my ability to snag “Bigmouth Strikes Again” at 43 and “This Charming Man” at 51, but I was most pleased with getting “Cemetry Gates” at 15. God, I love that song.
My Worst Pick: We all agree that “How Soon is Now?” went way too late, but it still stings that I picked the great “Still Ill” over the greatest song ever written. Other than that, I also have secret regrets about taking “Rubber Ring” over “William…” at two. It’s impossible to not come out of this draft feeling like you left one of the greatest songs ever on the table (I still have a much better team than Sellers.)
John’s Best Pick: The whole “How Soon is Now?” debacle has been well documented, so let’s pretend that didn’t happen. Aside from that, I shook my fist at my computer screen pretty hard when Sellers grabbed “Stretch Out and Wait” at 44.
John’s Worst Pick: He copped to it, but “Shakespeare’s Sister” at 13 is a crime punishable by 18 months hard labor.