The Smiths are laughing all the way to the bank

New fanbase for Mancunian miserablists who split 22 years ago

They inspired a legion of angst-ridden followers, brought misery to the masses with their dour, Mancunian melodies and established an entire career out of being alienated.

Despite being called "the most important band of the last 50 years" by the NME, triumphing over such greats as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Smiths were never about commercial success. Frontman (Steven) Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce reached the Top 10 in the UK singles charts only once before splitting acrimoniously in 1987.

But now the morose four-piece's following is stronger than ever, thanks in part to the recent clever coupling of hits "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" with the new offbeat indie comedy (500) Days of Summer.

The story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl and boy deals with the bleak agony of unrequited love is what The Smiths were all about. They revelled in heartbreak, delighted in depressive odes to despair, sang about girlfriends in comas and how "heavenly" it would be to get hit by a double-decker bus. Their insouciant melodies and "comedy" titles – "Frankly, Mr Shankly", and "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" – jarred unsettlingly with their subject matter.

With time they grew more political. In 1985, Meat is Murder, their chart-topping second album, took a strident stance against corporal punishment and the monarchy, while espousing vegetarianism. Morrissey proved an enigmatic, controversial frontman, publicly taking on Thatcherism, the Queen and even Band Aid. But his temperament and "musical inflexibility", according to fellow band member Marr, also led to disagreements and the band's eventual demise.

The singer-songwriter went on, however, to achieve his greatest successes as a solo artist. He has had 10 Top 10 singles, been branded one of the "most influential artists ever" (again by the NME) and, releasing his ninth album, Years of Refusal, in February, proudly proclaimed it his "strongest work to date".

His former bandmates have gone on in eclectic directions. Marr is now a member of indie rock bands Modest Mouse and The Cribs, after a stint with The Pretenders and even the Pet Shop Boys. Rourke is a DJ on Xfm Manchester and Joyce plays with Manchester band Autokat.

The enduring power of The Smiths is that they speak to the maudlin in all of us. Heavens, we all know by now how miserable they were. But as long as there are tortured teens, desolate twentysomethings and melancholic mums and dads, theirs is a light that will never go out.