Top '80s Songs of The Smithereens

Though clearly inspired by The Beatles and that legendary band's focus on inventive melody and impeccable songwriting prowess, The Smithereens ultimately blazed their own path as a powerful guitar rock band with a wide appeal. Newly formed genres like college rock and alternative rock embraced the band's shimmering hooks and eclectic approach, but the quartet also found plenty of fans in the mainstream classic rock still popular at the time. Here's a chronological look at the best songs of the '80s from The Smithereens.

01
of 10

"Girls About Town"

The Smithereens at Club Trash, Bollnäs Sweden April 7 1984
Skrammel/Wikimedia Commons

This 1980 track was the beginning of it all for The Smithereens, exhibiting clearly the band's obsession with The Beatles and the Merseybeat sound in general. However, it's much more than just an early homage, as frontman Pat DiNizio already begins to show a singular songwriting and vocal style, and the band, a tight quartet from the start, demonstrates an early version of the loud, crunchy guitar style that would ultimately come to define the Smithereens sound. Appearing initially on The Smithereens' debut EP of the same name, the song would never make it onto a proper album, but it's far more than just an early curiosity.

02
of 10

"Beauty and Sadness"

EP Cover Image Courtesy of Little Ricky Records/Capitol
Despite constant honing of their sound and even a stint as supporting band for the legendary Otis Blackwell, The Smithereens had trouble getting their music heard on a wider scale. For this reason, the group's second released recording did not appear until 1983, and it was also an EP. Nevertheless, Beauty and Sadness garnered significant critical acclaim, particularly offering a case for further band development through the gloomy, intricately melodic allure of the title track. DiNizio and the boys were making plenty of choices and discoveries at this time, all leading up to a period of great recording activity throughout the second half of the decade.
03
of 10

"Strangers When We Meet"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol
On this, the opening track of 1986's debut LP , the band piles on the harmonies, combining DiNizio's pleading vocals and lyrics with a punchy, jangly guitar thrust. Though far from an all-inclusive statement of what The Smithereens would be from this point on, the alternately throwback and modern tone of this track established the group as a college rock and roots rock curiosity defined by pervasive versatility. After all, many of the tracks on the record would sound vastly different, quickly announcing that The Smithereens were wasting no time in becoming an accomplished band to watch.
04
of 10

"Cigarette"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol
Here's a sleeper favorite from the same record, an evocative, stylish ode to tobacco use, loneliness and the dogged pursuit of transcendence. Dominated by a brilliant acoustic guitar chord progression and accompanied by appropriately melancholy accordion strains, DiNizio's heartfelt tale of the final moments of a romantic relationship almost forces the listener to manually wipe the smoke away lest even more tears dare to form. And while the tune certainly advances the rather neo noir elements of the band's thematic fixations, it also remains deeply personal and affecting. Even if you've never been a smoker a day in your life.
05
of 10

"Blood and Roses"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol
The Smithereens really began to gain the attention of mainstream rock and classic rock audiences with this straightforward masterpiece, a tune that boasts many singular strengths, perhaps none more powerful than the unforgettable foundational bass line from Mike Mesaros. Exploring elements of hard rock more directly than ever before, DiNizio clings to his sad croon and continues to evoke raw emotion through his thick lyrical imagery. Featuring perhaps the hookiest chorus to be found in mid-'80s rock, this track manages to maximize accessibility without sacrificing one shred of atmosphere.
06
of 10

"Behind the Wall of Sleep"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol
Another brilliant chord progression dominates this impossibly melodic follow-up single, which also made a modest mark on the Billboard mainstream rock charts. At this point the burgeoning genres of college rock and alternative/modern rock had not gleaned the band much more than marginal notice, but the band's persistent presence across the spectrum of that period's rock music landscape ultimately became a Smithereens trademark to be proud of. Retro references to British icon Jeannie Shrimpton help lend complexity and mystery to DiNizio's latest masterful portrait of heartache.
07
of 10

"Only a Memory"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol

1988's calmly but forcefully continued The Smithereens' measured exploration of alternative methods for creating guitar rock. Always steering clear of links to arena rock, hard rock and other styles of the era with which its sound flirted, the band succeeded artistically by keeping it simple. This lead-off track ultimately topped Billboard's mainstream rock charts, and there's little wonder why audiences responded to the guitar density and riff mastery to be found here. If not for the group's insistence on in-your-face electric guitar and DiNizio's stylized croon, this would have been a massive and deserving pop hit.

08
of 10

"House We Used to Live In"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol

Emerging at a time when hair metal had developed a near monopoly on melodic guitar rock, music this solid and lacking in artifice probably never really stood a chance. But that defiant loyalty to their mission helped The Smithereens maintain all dignity at a time when the word and concept were facing the very real possibility of extinction. The band bravely embraced all its inspirations without concern for what would sell most briskly, and that not only helped the group develop an eventual alternative rock cachet but also forged a much-needed antidote to late-'80s stylistic excess.

09
of 10

"Drown in My Own Tears"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol

The only explanation I can think of for my relatively timely discovery of The Smithereens' majesty (as opposed to my typically late-to-the-party pattern for getting into cool music) must involve the band's effortless way of presenting brooding lyrics and musical arrangements that were simply perfect for wallowing. A song like this one allowed rock music fans like myself to explore our sensitive sides without feeling embarrassed about the soft rock strains coming (secretly) from our stereo speakers. This is not wimpy stuff by any means, but The Smithereens produced the perfect soundtrack for moderate but potent teen angst.

10
of 10

"Blues Before and After"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol

The natural choice for a selection from The Smithereens' late 1989 album 11 to round out this list would, of course, be the popular and perfectly respectable "A Girl Like You." And in many ways, this particular record houses four or five tunes as worthy of note as any that have come before. However, in the interest of space and with a nod toward the calendar that was quickly approaching the '90s as this record spread, I choose this achingly explosive rocker instead, which serves as a close to perfect summation of The Smithereens' singular '80s appeal. Pure rock and roll at this musical juncture did not get any better than this.