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A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,042 ratings  ·  123 reviews
They were, their fans believe, the best band in the world. Critics and sales figures told a similar story: six albums between 1984 and 1988 made number one or number two in the UK charts. Twenty-five years after their break-up, the band remain as adored and discussed as ever. To this day, there is a collective understanding that The Smiths were one of the greatest of all B ...more
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Crown Archetype (first published January 1st 2012)
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Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it

It’s almost twenty years since I read Johnny Rogan’s seminal tome, Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance. In those pre-internet days, before the Smiths were an “institution” worthy of the covers of such traditionalist music papers as Mojo and Uncut, Rogan’s tell all biography was a revelation. Up until then, verything I’d read about my beloved band had been assembled in snippets – an NME article here, a music encyclopaedia entry there. The fact that Morrissey called down a fatwa on the author
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Over the years i have heard or read all the tales in this book, via mostly British music magazines - but the author Tony Fletcher tells the tale very well. Fletcher interviewed Johnny Marr and their bass player Andy Rourke, but sadly not Morrissey or Mike Joyce. Perhaps they didn't want to dwell in the past again, or maybe due to legal issues still on the table.

Nevertheless The Smiths were a perfect band at a very specific and important time in pop music history. in the land of the 'New Romantic
The Smiths were the greatest rock band of all time -- the greatest white one, anyway. This is obvious to me, but apparently not to everyone. And their music is not "depressing"! It's funny.

The Smiths were REALLY working class. They had sullen parents & went to terrible schools. Apparently, all of Morrisey's wisdom derived from one book his mother gave him -- "The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde" -- when he was 17. He is no doubt the most introverted guy ever to be a major rockstar. Compared to hi
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Smiths, one of the seminal bands of the 1980s indie/alternative rock scene, broke up in 1987. Yet it’s not hard to find their faces and names splashed across British music magazines today. I’m grateful—it gives fans like me something to cling to, gives us some assurance that the band we love will not be forgotten.

But their continued press presence sparks this question from my husband.

“Why are they still on the cover of magazines?” he asks, shaking his head. “They broke up 25 years ago!”

Anna Kļaviņa
Morrissey and Joyce refused to give interview(s) for this book, and because of that the story can't be complete. Not that author wasn't trying. At times, methinks, he was trying too much. :/

The Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it, and Mike has destroyed it. 

May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this biography did at least re-invigorate my interest in the Smiths, and one interesting thing that both the book and the YouTube videos of their early gigs at the Hacienda help underscore is the notion that the Smiths emerged seemingly fully formed. Lyrically and musically, some of their earliest songs are amongst their strongest and most affecting, in my opinion. But reading of how they pretty much hit the ground running made me wonder if they don't dispel Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-Hou ...more
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
630 page biography of the English band The Smiths--not bad for a band that only made four studio albums in their brief existence in the mid-1980s. I was fifteen when I bought "Meat is Murder" and needless to say, I fell for The Smiths hook like and sinker. I still cherish my light blue "Hatful of Hollow" t-shirt! I already knew a fair amount about the band, but Tony Fletcher's book really delves into their early days--the actual band doesn't start until we near page 200. After reading this, it j ...more
Kerry Dunn
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Wow! This was an exhaustive history of The Smiths! Exhaustive but never exhausting. In fact it was compelling throughout! The main focus is on the relationship between Johnny Marr and Steven Patrick Morrissey and it traces their individual lives from childhood, to the fateful day that Marr knocked on Morrissey's door looking for someone to write songs with, to the formation and eventual dissolution of the Smiths. Morrissey does not come out looking so good, but is there anyone in the world that ...more
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, biography
4.5 stars. Really fantastic, comprehensive portrait of one of the most influential pop bands in history. The book is a doorstopper (over 700 pages!) but I tore through it in a few days. I'm sure it helps that I've loved The Smiths since I was a teen, but you don't have to be a die-hard Smiths fan to enjoy this book. There are some really great stories in here about the band's origins and rapid rise to fame as well as their shattering break-up, and Fletcher does an excellent job locating them in ...more
Tom Schulte
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
A penetrating and detailed look at the quick rise and sudden disintegration of the Smiths over 633 pages. The book reveals Moz to be a petulant, self-centered, and insecure deal-breaker that while outspoken in criticism could brook no dissent or conflicting opinion. The focus is on the close and special Morrissey-Marr relationship, both artistic and business. The context tells much of the story of British post-punk pop, as well. Details on the albums, their recording and individual songs and ses ...more
Chris Huff
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I know a few people will want to read this book so I wanted to share my thoughts. Overall, I really enjoyed it but found several aspects disappointing. First, I appreciated that Fletcher attempted to put the band in a larger socio-economic context and to provide a lengthy overview of what 3 of the 4 bands members did before The Smiths formed. the problem is that he never convinced me that this was a necessary step in the story he tells later, which makes the 200 pages he uses before getting to t ...more
This was definitely focused on the business side of The Smiths and the scene they emerged from and within. I enjoyed reading about all of the other musicians and bands they knew/crossed paths with: Billy Bragg, Aztec Camera, James, New Order, Matt Johnson of The The, etc. The relationship between Johnny Marr and Morrissey is fascinating and when Fletcher quotes from each of them I was hooked.

I realized overall how little I knew about them. Hell, I didn't know until I read this that "Louder Than
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm not a huge fan of these kinds of books. In some ways, i don't want to know how the sausage is made. Much like I didn't want to know about the relationship between Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver, I hesitated before diving into this book and what you get is the story of a runaway train that ends in a trainwreck. A trainwreck that was avoidable, surely, and you didn't even need hindsight to see it coming. So, yes, while the train was speeding down the track, it created some of the most incredib ...more
Sharon Burgin
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At 698 pages, this is a big book. It was a daunting read, so I put it off. Why did I do that? Once I started it, I didn’t want to put it down.

I grew up with The Smiths’ music, but I wasn’t one of their greatest fans. But after reading this book I listen to the music in a different way.

Unlike Paul Brannigan’s biography of Dave Grohl (This is a call), Tony Fletcher is a very sympathetic author. He doesn’t name drop for the sake of it or show off. As he says at the start of the book he doesn’t star
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm a casual Smiths fan (I think maybe 2/3 of their output is really good, and all of their albums, with the exception of The Queen is Dead, are weighed down with dull material), and these 650 pages about the Smiths are about as much as someone like me will ever need. Fletcher has clearly done his homework, and without getting interviews with Morrissey and Joyce, I don't think anyone will come up with something more comprehensive. He's a much bigger fan than I am (he seems to think they are the ...more
Spencer Warner
May 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
This book was pretty good, especially the first part which spent a large amount of time describing the effects of punk and its various subsidiaries. Perhaps I'm being slightly harsh in a 3* rating, and it is spawn mainly out of the fact that at times whole chapters were dedicated to song structures and mixing desks. Other people would find this mouth-watering, but as a music fan with the technical ability of a gnat it was somewhat lost on me.
As a big (if not a long standing) Smiths fan, the book
Gordon Fingland
This is the first book that i have had to give up on, it goes off on too many unnecessary tangents, it may be a rewarding read once you get to the main story but sadly i didn't get there, almost 200 pages in i was not entertained and was not hooked. Morrissey's autobiography was superb and i look forward to Johnny Marr's book too but this was a disappointing read, i didn't need to know Ireland or Manchester's full history, there is background info that is relevant or can be documented in much, m ...more
Matt Kelly
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would be very surprised if this wasn't now the best Smith's biography available. Written by an experienced music journalist who is also a fan of the band, it doesn't shy away from criticism where it's due. While not giving too much background information on Joyce and Rourke, it does split remaining parts of the book fairly evenly between Morrissey and Marr, where some Smith bio's have concentrated more on one or the other. One of the greatest music partnerships,creating some of the most beauti ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it

A Light That Never Goes Out did a very good job of telling the story of The Smiths. I'm not a big fan of The Smiths or that whole genre of music, but I found the story very interesting. I am a fan of biographies of the music industry and found Tony Fletcher quite capable of catching the essence of the band and laying it all out for the reader to take in. I'm looking forward to reading his biography of Keith Moon!

A Good Reads Giveaway recipient.

The American Conservative
'A Light That Never Goes Out is simply weak on sources, which consist mostly of interviews with peripheral figures and a few quotes from Johnny Marr in which he seems utterly uninterested in rehashing his group from 30 years ago. The lack of Morrissey’s involvement in this project is crippling.'

Read the full review, "Manchester Heroes," on our website:
Blake Nelson
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fun to remember all those great Smiths songs. Also didn't realize how young they were at the time. (Barely in their twenties.) Which I guess explains why the Smiths were so annoying as people. They screwed over EVERYONE they had contact with. A trainwreck really, in terms of how to conduct a band. And yet: all those gorgeous songs. Really glad I read this. Really glad I didn't know anything about them when I was a superfan back in the day. ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, with the intense detail and easy reading that I've come to expect from Tony's books. I write Tony, instead of the more formal Mr. Fletcher because he is a good friend. But this isn't back scratching- to be sure. If you are a Smith's fan, and you like to read (and the Smiths being a very literary band I'm sure you do) this is a must have. ...more
Ben Richmond
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: music
Maybe I'm just not into musician hagiography anymore, which this book attempts to avoid, but can't help indulging somewhat. At 700 pages or whatever, the author's little narrative ticks get sort of distracting, and Fletcher struggles to pace the book effectively. ...more
Lisa Bentley
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An amazing account of the trials and tribulations of being both a "Smith" and a fan of the band. Must read. For a full review go to x ...more
Oct 20, 2012 marked it as to-read
I wanted to win this book SOOO badly. I will still go buy it =( They are my fave band.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Another I just couldn't finish. Way too much detail. While I'm a huge Smiths fan, somehow this much detail about the band members lives seems perverse. Bored me to tears. ...more
Marck Rimorin
Jul 13, 2015 rated it liked it
A bit dry for an in-depth look. Morrissey isn't involved, but there are fascinating parts to it. ...more
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Smiths Fans; 80s People; 80s alternative music
Shelves: music, eighties
A 633 page volume, written by a Smiths fan for Smiths fans everywhere, "A Light That Never Goes Out" is a book I wish I would have had the opportunity to read in 1988, when the Smiths were recently split up and my own life was changing. How can one Manchester band...a band that produced only five albums (if you include Hatful of Hollow) and lasted but five years worthy of so many words? For acolytes everywhere 633 pages is just about right. Smiths fans tend toward wordiness and int ...more
Joe Kessler
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I am probably not the ideal reader or reviewer for a book about The Smiths, a band with which I have little familiarity and no emotional attachment. (As a partial defense, they had already split up before I was even born.) But it seems to me as though author Tony Fletcher has gone too far in the opposite direction, fawning over the group's supposed genius and delving deeply into the minutiae of its members' lives. So although the writer provides an exhaustive amount of information about the stud ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I actually read this a few years ago, so I don't recall a ton of the details, but as a huge fan of The Smiths, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, they broke up not long after I got into them, so I never saw them live, though I did see Morrissey solo in 1988, but it just wasn't the same.

The book did get me back into re-listening to The Smiths, and like with any truly great band, their music stands the test of time. It's really amazing as a mid-40s guy now to realize that the songs are
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Tony Fletcher is the author of seven non-fiction books and one novel.  His biography of drummer Keith Moon  has been named in many a Best Music Book list, and his biography of R.E.M., updated in 2013 as Perfect Circle,  has been published in over half a dozen countries.   A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths was published in the UK by William Heinemann in September 2012, ...more

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