The album was well received by the critics as well as the public; it reached number two on the UK Albums Chart and stayed on the chart for 33 weeks. It established the Smiths as a prominent band in the 1980s music scene in the United Kingdom.
After signing with independent record label Rough Trade, the Smiths began preparations to record their first album in mid 1983. Due to the suggestion of Rough Trade head Geoff Travis, the band selected Troy Tate (former guitarist of The Teardrop Explodes) as producer for sessions at Elephant studios in Wapping. During the following month the group recorded fourteen songs.
While recording a BBC session for Dave Jensen in August 1983, the Smiths met producer John Porter. Travis, harbouring reservations about the group's session with Troy Tate, gave Porter a cassette of the sessions beforehand in the hopes that he could remix them. Porter told Travis that the sessions were "out of tune and out of time". Feeling the Tate sessions were unsalvageable, Porter offered to re-record the album himself. Despite praising the work with Tate only a week prior to the press by stating "we've done everything exactly right and it'll show", Smiths singer Morrissey accepted (as did Travis), while guitarist Johnny Marr hesitantly agreed.
The Smiths began work with Porter in September 1983. Due to tour commitments, the band had to make the record in a piecemeal fashion. Recording started at London's Matrix Studios, with the majority of the work undertaken during a week's stay at Pluto, just outside Manchester. A final overdub session was performed at Eden Studios in London that November. After listening to a finished mix of the album the following month, Morrissey told Porter and Travis that the album "wasn't good enough". However, the singer said that due to the album's cost of 6,000 pounds, " it has to be released, there's no going back".
The sleeve for The Smiths was designed by Morrissey. It features American actor Joe Dallesandro in a cropped still from Andy Warhol's 1968 film Flesh. The photograph of Morrissey on the original card inner sleeve was taken at an early London concert by Romi Mori, who would subsequently play bass guitar for The Gun Club.