THE MUSIC of The Smiths is unique for the very specific impact it has had on fans.
Those who follow the band are notoriously loyal and infamously rabid, and the band - collectively and individually - has become legendary in particular since their disbandment in 1987.
It’s an incredible thing given the fact that they formed in 1982 and had a relatively short career in terms of output, but their catalog has made a cultural impact like no other and turned Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce into icons.
While calls for the band to reunite in the decades since have gone unanswered, a group of musicians in Miami, Florida, have taken on the task of flying the Smiths flag in place of the legendary Manchester, England, group.
Ordinary Boys, led by singer AJ Navarrete, have been making a name for themselves as a leading Smiths and Morrissey tribute since forming in 2011 - after doing a one-off tribute performance at Miami’s legendary Churchill’s Pub.
“One of the promoters there does a lot of tribute nights,” Navarrete tells Connect.
“One day I said to him, ‘Man, let’s try and do something for The Smiths and Morrissey. Why not?’ We actually did it on Valentine’s Day in 2011. After that night, there were a couple of promoters in the audience that came up to us and said they wanted to do it in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. After a while I started to think to myself, ‘Man, I think we’ve got lightning in a bottle here.’”
Several lineup changes took place over the years that followed, but Navarrete says that the lineup they’ve had for the last three years is particularly special.
“Not only is everyone a ridiculously huge fan of the music, but we also just have a shit ton of fun doing it on stage,” he says.
The band is set to return to Savannah on Dec. 1 after a successful show at The Jinx in April, and will be bringing along a wealth of beloved Smiths songs and Morrissey solo material as well as top notch musicianship and stunningly faithful vocal performances.
When it comes to picking the songs they’ll play in a set, the band unanimously agrees that there are a handful of songs that will always need to be played, no matter where they’re performing.
“All five of us have agreed that there are maybe, like, seven songs that have to be played all the time,” he says. “‘Suedehead,’ ‘This Charming Man,’ ‘There Is A Light,’ all of that stuff has to be on the set list. We definitely do deep cuts from the albums. I’ve been trying to get the guys to do more B-side stuff from Morrissey solo albums, because that’s the stuff that a lot of people aren’t expecting you to do.”
Navarrete says that the diehard fans typically appreciate the album cuts from the classic Smiths records, and they keep things fresh by cycling songs in and out after a handful of shows. There are some songs the band hasn’t tackled yet, like the early cut “Pretty Girls Make Graves.” That leaves the door open for discovery.
“For being around since 2011, not touching a lot of those songs is actually helping us. Because then we still have a good round of tracks to pick,” he says.
The intense fame that The Smiths experienced is something that seemingly didn’t really begin until after they broke up. Despite the fact that they were immensely popular, their disbandment created a mystique around them that has only grown with time. Morrissey in particular has become an icon for people, with fans often rushing the stage just to try and hug him.
For Navarrete, pinpointing exactly why The Smiths have resonated so deeply and profoundly with people in the last three decades is a difficult task.
“I think it’s a combination of the fact that they’re not around anymore so you keep it close to your heart, and a lot of that music actually helped a lot of people. The kids that felt that they were outcasts. Without sounding cheesy, they wanted to wear black and dig into their emotion. That’s obviously something that Morrissey is very present with in his lyrics,” he says.
“And then there’s the musical side of it. The appreciation of the music that those four guys put together in the studio. Marr’s guitar - layering guitar upon guitar and it sounds like an orchestra. And any bass player will tell you, try to pick up Andy Rourke’s basslines and it’ll hurt your fingers after a while.”
The Smiths’ unique sound was both musically complex, particularly in Marr’s singular approach to voicing chords and Morrissey’s dense and colorful poetry, and often simple in scope and production.
What makes it interesting for Ordinary Boys is the interplay between the Smiths members and the compositional aspects of Marr’s guitar work. Parts were so intertwined and melodically layered that it’s easy to hear a chord progression or riff one way and then realize later that it’s actually played completely differently.
“[Ordinary Boys band members] will come into a rehearsal after like three weeks of doing the same song over and over again, and then the night of the show they’ll tell me or the other members that they found one extra note [in the song] that they didn’t hear before. They’ll be like, ‘You’ll hear it tonight on stage.’”