The Smiths, The Queen is Dead 1986, Rough Trade
The Queen is Dead
Frankly, Mr Shankly
I Know it’s Over
Never Had No One Ever
Bigmouth Strikes Again
The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
Vicar in a Tutu
There is a Light That Never Goes Out
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Manchester’s most maudlin sons, The Smiths formed in 1982 with Morrissey as lead vocalist, Johnny Marr on guitar, Andy Rourke on bass and Mike Joyce on drums. They deliberately placed themselves as the antithesis of the mid-1980s pop scene, looking back instead to the rock bands of the 1960s for inspiration.They chose to call themselves The Smiths because the name seemed so generic and ordinary and they wanted to appeal to ordinary people and show that you didn’t need to be stylish and polished to make good music. Their image was deliberately understated everymen in reaction to other far more stylised artists of the period. Their trademark was angst with a light touch, deftly woven guitars and beautiful vocals with lyrics that in a single verse could turn from witty to deeply depressing.
The Smiths have always been controversial, accused of supporting paedophillia with two of the songs on their first album and glamourising serial murder on an early single and with Morrissey speaking out against the government, monarchy and Band Aid in early interviews. As a solo artist Morrissey continues to court controversy both for his lyrics and his public statements regarding his own politics.
While I will freely admit that I am a pretty big fan of The Smiths and that obviously colours this article, It’s not an exaggeration to say that they were the most important band of the 1980s. I have chosen to write about this, their third album partly because it’s my favourite, partly because it’s cooler to like its predecesser Meat is Murder the most and partly because in 2013, NME called it the best album of all time. So get ready to have a listen with me and to be slightly less depressed than you thought you were going to be.
Title track The Queen is Dead starts the album off with heavy, industrial sounding beats and lyrics that bemoan the media’s fascination with the royal family. There is a definite punk sensibility here. Fan favourite Frankly, Mr Shankly has a music hall style beat and more than a nod towards The Kinks, while it would be a stretch to call it joyous since it is a song entirely about pettiness, it’s certainly the band at their more lighthearted. The deeply depressing I Know it’s Over a song about loneliness however, is exactly what The Smiths are famous for. Gentle guitars and drums with Morrissey’s lyrics as the focus. The guitars soar as the darkness continues to close in on Never Had No One Ever. Cemetry Gates, despite upsetting my spellcheck has a great jaunty beat. Did you know you can actually dance to The Smiths? Well here they are with a jolly little number about walking through a graveyard to get your toes tapping. Bigmouth Strikes Again was apparently supposed to be The Smiths’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the up tempo beat is just as relentless as the Stones. The rhythm section really prove their importance here. It’s a fun introspective song where Morrisey tells us that, controversial though he often is, he’ll never change. The high pitched vocals you hear on this are just his voice sped up. The Boy With the Thorn in His Side with it’s fun, jangly guitar is Morrissey looking back on all the music industry professionals who thought the band would fail and who, even after three albums still didn’t seem to “get” the band (they initially struggled to get a record deal before signing with independent label Rough Trade). There is almost a spanish guitar sound on this and it’s lovely. It is apparently Morrissey’s favourite Smiths song.The mischievous Vicar in a Tutu manages to criticise the establishment of the Catholic church in a gentle way and in a style that seems bouncy (a word not usually associated with The Smiths) Classic There is a Light That Never Goes Out is the perfect blend of Morrissey’s lyrics and Johnny Marr’s guitar. The anthem of every morose teenager everywhere. It’s no wonder it is one of their most well known and well loved songs. This brief album ends far too soon with Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others and it’s very cool twangy fading in and out intro (I absolutely love this). This is a very simple song, it’s literally about women’s breasts, but the melody is just intoxicating. It shouldn’t work so well, but it’s probably my favourite song on the album, I could just listen to it on repeat. There is a school of thought that Johnny Marr’s amazing composition is wasted on Morrissey’s throw away lyrics, but for me this song represents exactly what I love about this band, brilliant and irreverent at the same time.