Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr, the group signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, on which they released four studio albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987). They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-album singles. They had several singles reach the top twenty of the UK Singles Chart and all four of their studio albums reached the top five of the UK Albums Chart, including Meat Is Murder which hit number one. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites. The band broke up in 1987 due to internal tensions and have turned down several offers to reunite.
The band's focus on a guitar, bass, and drum sound, and their fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk, were a rejection of the then-popular, synthesiser-based dance-pop. Marr's guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Morrissey's complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour.
In May 1982 Marr decided that he wanted to establish a new band, and subsequently turned up on the doorstep of Morrissey's house – 384 Kings Road, Stretford – accompanied by mutual friend Steve Pomfret, to ask Morrissey if he was interested in founding a band with himself and Pomfret. A fan of the New York Dolls, Marr had been impressed that Morrissey had authored a book on the band, and was inspired to turn up on his doorstep following the example of Jerry Leiber, who had formed his working partnership with Mike Stoller after turning up at the latter's door. According to Morrissey: "We got on absolutely famously. We were very similar in drive." Conversing, the two found that they were fans of many of the same bands. The next day, Morrissey phoned Marr to confirm that he would be interested in forming a band with him.