They doth call him the Pope of Mope, and it's a title he's earned
a hundred times over…and then some. Whilst fronting the Smiths in the
mid-1980s, Morrissey quickly became known as the poster child for all
those lonely teenagers who craved love and acceptance but were finding
it hard to come by, and when the Manchester four-piece broke up in
1987, the majority of those morose music fans followed Mozzer to his
solo career, where he further trumpeted his woe-is-me mentality. (C'mon,
now: it's such a hallmark of his work that even he makes fun of it
sometimes!) Morrissey's recording career has spanned almost 25 years,
and although he's been a staple of the UK charts – and of US college
radio – for the majority of that time, there are plenty of his songs,
both solo and with the Smiths, that can be readily classified as Deep
The title's taken from Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, but the tale, which finds Morrissey being offered a romp on the beach and taking a pass ("I could have been wild and I could have been free / But Nature played this trick on me"), could easily be argued as one of the first times Mozzer made teasing lyrical reference about his sexuality. And we're not going out on a limb here; after all, he ends the song by saying, "I lost my faith in womanhood." Marr's song-ending guitar riff would later be borrowed, tweaked surprisingly little, and turned into the melody of Morrissey's solo track, "Hold Onto Your Friends."
"Handsome Devil" – Hatful of Hollow
One of the greatest rockers in the Smiths catalog, and one which I've always felt deserved to be covered by a heavy metal band. When Morrissey growls, "Let me get my hands / On your mammary glands / And let me get your head / In a conjugal bed," you could just about believe that he's heterosexual. Were that the case, it would make these lines – "A bird in the bush / Is worth two in the hand" – just as dirty as I've always thought they sounded, anyway.
"I Want the One I Can't Have" – Meat is Murder
Is there anyone who can't relate to this song title? The predicament's clearly driving Morrissey mad, and everyone knows it; as he yodels in the chorus, "It's written all over my face." Marr's mix of jangle and twang here isn't terribly far removed from "This Charming Man."
Morrissey beats Dilbert and "Office Space" to the punch by a considerable margin in this tale of a particularly obnoxious boss, set to an oompah sound.
"I Know It's Over" – The Queen is Dead
The definitive "woe is me" tale from the man who made a career out of the genre. Morrissey is asked, "If you're so very good-looking, then why do you sleep alone tonight?" Why, because tonight is just like every other night, of course. Bonus mope points for Morrissey opening the song with the revelation that he's singing about his troubles to his mommy.
"Cemetery Gates" – The Queen is Dead
Just to keep everyone guessing, Morrissey and Marr took a song about a cemetery and made it one of the happier sounding songs on the album. One of these days, someone ought to see if the sales of Keats, Yeats, and Wilde went up noticeably after they were namedropped in the lyrics.
"Unloveable" The World Won't Listen / Louder
If he hadn't had them before this song, Morrissey commanded the respect and adulation of disaffected teens everywhere as they realized they weren't the only ones who wear black on the outside because black is how they feel on the inside. P.S. If they seem a little strange, well, that's because they are.
"Asleep" – The World Won't Listen / Louder
Easily the most depressing song in the Smiths catalog, it's a suicide note set to music. The track opens with Morrissey pleading, "Sing me to sleep, I'm tired and I want to go to bed," adding, "Don't try to wake me in the morning, ‘cause I will be gone." The sad, mournful piano stays with the song ‘til its inevitable conclusion, as Moz sings, "There is another world / There is a better world / Well, there must be," repeating the last line to a now-ominous fade. I once played it for my mother and sister, and they got all teary and gave me a hug. In retrospect, I can see why; if my daughter played this song for me and said she thought it was beautiful (although it really is, albeit in a really sad way), I'd probably get freaked out, too.
The strings and the plinking piano are only part of the overall feel of this epic track from the Smiths' final studio album. Love, peace, and harmony? Very nice, but maybe in the next world.
"Paint a Vulgar Picture" – Strangeways, Here We
The only song that comes close to matching this description of record company recycling is, oddly enough, Barenaked Ladies' "Box Set." But while the latter is a nicely snarky take on the phenomenon, the Ladies didn't come anywhere near the classic lines, "Reissue, repackage, repackage / Reevaluate the songs / Double pack with a photograph / Extra track and a tacky badge." The instrumental break at the 2:40 mark offers particularly nice, melodic guitar work from Marr.
"Work is a Four Letter Word," Just
Say Yes: Sire's
Winter CD Music Sampler
Does anyone else remember these great compilations that Sire Records used to release? They were awesome, particularly this first volume, which is as good a one-stop lesson on modern rock circa 1987 as you're likely to find. In addition to tracks by Depeche Mode, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Ramones, and the Replacements, you'll find the Smiths covering Cilla Black. Johnny Marr declared the recording of the song to be "the last straw" -- and given that it was recorded during what would prove to be the Smiths' final session, that's apparently exactly what it was.
"Rusholme Ruffians" – Rank
I generally don't tend to spin live albums very often, mostly because it's such a rarity to find live performances that offer anything not already provided by the studio version. In this case, however, the song was blended with the Elvis Presley song, "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame," giving Morrissey a chance to quiver his lip for a minute or two.
The first song I ever heard Morrissey perform in concert is, coincidentally, the song I would least likely have ever expected him to play live. With a mournful string quartet behind him, Moz plays the surprising role of the optimist in this song to a suicidal young thing…but, of course, this is Morrissey's version of optimism. "When they've used you and they've broken you and they've wasted all your money and cast your shell aside, and when they've bought you and they've sold you and they've billed you for the pleasure and they've made your parents cry, I will be here." Yes, but, my God, after all that, will she?
"I Don't Mind if You Forget Me" – Viva Hate
If you're a fan of mope rock and you've had to endure a breakup, a portion of your recovery has surely involved cranking up this song and, after stomping your way through the verse, singing at the top of your lungs, "Rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel." The sing-song guitar riff during that line, by the way, couldn't be any more perfect for the sentiment; call it Vini Reilly's way of saying "nyah-nyah-nyah."
"Oh, Well, I'll Never Learn" – Suedehead single
One of the simplest, most sparse songs in the Morrissey catalog, not to mention one of the hardest to hunt down, since it's somehow never managed to be anthologized on any of the multitude of collections of the man's solo work. It's little more than Morrissey's voice singing over Vini Reilly's scraping guitar, but it's a quaint little two-minute song about living life in a vicious circle and not really minding.
"Sister, I'm a Poet" – Everyday is Like Sunday single
/ World of Morrissey
Buried on a B-side, this is one of the most Smiths-like songs of Morrissey's early solo era, but despite being hidden at the time, it's certainly not been forgotten; it continues to pop up in his set lists to this day.
"Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference" – Interesting
Drug single / Bona Drag
Features one of the all-time classic Morrissey one-liners, "Most people keep their brains between their legs." It's not original to his repertoire, of course, but it's certainly apropos for a man who once prided himself on his celibacy.
"East West" – Ouija Board, Ouija Board single
Morrissey covers Herman's Hermits because, well, someone has to. And possibly also because something on this single needed to be worth listening to more than once. Okay, "Ouija Board" is quaint enough, but "Yes, I am Blind" is so whiny that even diehard Mozzer fans have trouble defending it. So the cover song wins the Best Track contest on the single, which is rarely a good thing, especially when it isn't even the A-side…but it sure is a good version of the song.
"Get Off the Stage" – Piccadilly Palare single
While it's not exactly the albatross about Morrissey's neck that the line "hope I die before I get old" is for the Who, you can understand why this goofy but fun diatribe aimed at aging rockers with limited musical palates isn't pulled out more often. It's a little risky for a man which such a recognizable sound to be crooning, "And the song that you just sang / It sounds exactly like the last one / And the next one / I bet you it will sound / Like this one."
If anyone can possibly explain to me why this song was never released as a single, I'm more than willing to listen. It remains the most soaring moment on an album that's mostly a bore.
"Driving Your Girlfriend Home" – Kill Uncle
If it hadn't been for his sell-out tour of the States, Morrissey's momentum here would've been stopped dead in its tracks by this album, but there remain a few highlights, including this song. The narrator is playing the role of "good listener" to a female friend as she complains about her boyfriend. The music sweeps accordingly as she asks questions like, "So how did I end up / So deeply involved in / The very existence / I planned on avoiding?" Prepare to cringe, however, at the lyrical use of the word "worser." Ugh.
"There's a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends" – Morrissey
at KROQ EP
Although the song originally appeared on Kill Uncle, Mozzer and his band worked up this new arrangement of the track for live performances that proved to be decidedly jauntier...well, you know, as Morrissey songs go.
"Trash" / "My Insatiable One" – So Much for London,
Consider this a cheat of an entry if you must. In 1992, Morrissey was amusing himself during his live shows by performing covers of songs by one of his favorite old bands (the New York Dolls) and one of his favorite new bands (Suede), and this particular bootleg is the only place you can hear him sing both of them.
Man, did this song cause a shit storm of controversy in the UK. Of course, most Americans neither knew nor cared that the National Front was a far-right political movement in Britain; they just liked the sparkling guitar, catchy chorus, and glam-rock production from Mick Ronson. As it turned out, the song wasn't intended as a statement, anyway; it was reportedly inspired by a naïve friend of Morrissey's who attended a disco sponsored by the National Front which had been held in attempts of drawing in new, young members.
"Let the Right One Slip In" – Tomorrow single
Another one of those songs that remains mysteriously trapped as a B-side, with no appearances anywhere else to date. A shame, that. It's the perfect song to put on a mix disc when you're trying to transition a friend into being something more: "Let the right one slip in / And when at last it does / I'd say you were within your rights / To find the right one and say / ‘What kept you so long?'"
"Jack the Ripper" – Certain People I Know single,
With a title like that, you'd expect it to be dark and a little bit creepy, and that's exactly what you get. Mind you, it doesn't actually appear to be about Saucy Jack.
It might seem as though Morrissey's getting vaguely literary with a title like this, but, in fact, there's a predominant theory that he's couching an even more obscure literary joke in the title and lyrics. Dig this: "Billy Budd" was a novella written by Herman Melville, who also had a collection of poetry entitled "John Marr"…and while the lyrics of Morrissey's "Billy Budd" don't actually reference anything contained within the novella that shares its title, the narrator does mention that it's now "12 years on…since I took up with you," which at the time was how long it'd been since Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr had formed the Smiths. Heavy stuff, huh? Yeah, I know: all you probably really needed to know was that it's a catchy little guitar-rock number. Sorry, I got a little carried away there.
"Speedway" – Vauxhall & I
"And when you slam down the hammer, can you see it in your heart?" asks Morrissey…and then he lets rip with the sound of a chainsaw. It's the perfect album closer, with producer Steve Lillywhite makes sure that Woodie Taylor's drums sound as bombastic as humanly possible.
"The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils" – Southpaw
When fans first put in this album and saw how long its opening track was, their response tended to be something along the lines of, "ELEVEN MINUTES?!? Are you fucking kidding me?" No joke, sir. And as if to emphasize its length, the song even includes Morrissey singing, "To be finished would be a relief." But if you can set aside Moz for a moment – and many of his fans can't, which was the whole problem – his band really gets into a groove and creates a powerful wall of sound, part of which is borrowed from Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, that'll completely wash over you -- if you'll let it.
"Reader Meet Author" – Southpaw Grammar
Perhaps as a slight apology for the preceding eleven minutes, the second song on the album was a straight-up guitar-pop song. It starts off sounding as though it's about how disappointing it can be to meet the people behind your favorite compositions ("Reader, meet author / With the hope of hearing sense / But you may be feeling let down / By the words of defense"). By the end, however, one suspects it could be addressing author Johnny Rogan, who wrote a tell-all Smiths biography. Maybe not, but when Morrissey sings, "So safely with your software, miles from the front line / You hear the way their sad voice sings, and you start to imagine things / Oh, any excuse to write more lies," I mean, I'm just saying, is all…
"Nobody Loves Us" – Dagenham Dave single
Given the backlash against Mozzer for releasing several epic length songs on Southpaw Grammar, fans sought solace in the B-sides of the era. This was arguably the best of the bunch, where a quintessentially Morrissey title was coupled with teasingly pessimistic lyrics like, "And we just can't wait to make more mistakes / And we just can't wait till the whole thing blows up in our face."
Musically, this is a rather weirdly structured song. It begins with several seconds of nothing but lightly-swept cymbals, produces a damned catchy verse, then – with no real chorus to speak of – drifts into little more than ambient noise for almost two minutes before returning with another catchy verse before fading to close.
"Trouble Loves Me" – Maladjusted
No, the album's not great…nor is it nearly as awful as the critics would've had you believe at the time. After several spins, it really grows on you, and this song was a major highlight, with its nice use of piano, a sweeping chorus, and the great couplet in the final verse where Morrissey moans, "Oh, please fulfill me / Otherwise, kill me."
"Sorrow Will Come in the End" – Maladjusted
Yikes, dude! Bitter much? Essentially a spoken word piece, with Mozzer launching into a tirade against the results of a royalties battle with his former Smiths bandmate, Mike Joyce. "A man who slits throats has time on his hands," sneers Moz, "and I'm gonna get you!" It's so over the top that it's a laugh -- but not as funny as Joyce's scoffing response to the lyrical threatening: "If Lemmy had written it, I might be concerned." Ouch!
"The World is Full of Crashing Bores" – You Are
After this album, Morrissey found love and started to leave behind all his lonely sentiments, so thank God he got this one out of his system before then. "This world is full, so full of crashing bores / And I must be one / ‘Cause no one ever turns to me to say / "Take me in your arms / Take me in your arms / And love me." Minus two points, however, for the liberal use of the word "pigshit" in the lyrics. If you're collecting words that shouldn't come out of Morrissey's mouth, that's definitely one for your list.
"Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice" – Let Me Kiss
Morrissey premiered this on tour, but he made the surprising decision to relegate it to a B-side. Utilizing a slightly off-kilter melody for the chorus to echo "Daddy's voice" was an inspired move.
Such a disappointing album that, at least to these ears, it's considered Morrissey's least memorable work since Kill Uncle. Even worse, it opens with this fantastic, Middle-Eastern-sounding track with America-bashing lyrics ("If your God bestows protection upon you / And if the U.S. doesn't bomb you / I believe I will see you / Somewhere safe") that made it seem as though the creative renaissance of You Are the Quarry had continued in earnest. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
"Christian Dior" – In the Future, When All's Well single
To close with one last bash upon poor Ringleader, it must be said that this B-side and its lovely melody might well be more memorable than 80% of the songs that ended up on the album from which this single was culled.