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). Four of their albums (including three studio albums) appeared on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-album singles. The Smiths had several singles reach the UK top 20 and all four of their studio albums reached the UK top 5, including one which hit #1. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites, although they had limited commercial success outside the UK while they were still together. 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 repudiation of synthesiser-based contemporary dance-pop – the style popular in the 1980s. Marr's guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, often had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, and influenced later Manchester bands including the Stone Roses and Oasis. Morrissey's complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour. In 2014 and 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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.
A few days later, Morrissey and Marr held their first rehearsal in Marr's rented attic room in Bowdon. Morrissey provided the lyrics for "Don't Blow Your Own Horn", the first song that they worked on, however they decided against retaining the song, with Marr commenting that "neither of us liked it very much". The next song that they worked on was "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle", which again was based on lyrics produced by Morrissey. Marr included a tempo which was based on the Patti Smith song "Kimberly", and they recorded it on Marr's TEAC three-track cassette recorder. The third track that the duo worked on was "Suffer Little Children". Alongside these original compositions, Morrissey suggested that the band produce a cover of "I Want a Boy for My Birthday", a song by the 1960s American girl band The Cookies; although he had never heard of the song before, Marr agreed, enjoying the subversive element of having a male vocalist sing it, and the song was recorded on his TEAC machine.