Our 10 favorite Morrissey songs, and yours?
Flocks of fans, sold-out shows, even a week-long gig (starting May 24) on CBS’ ”The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” haven’t managed to cheer up Morrissey, and that’s fine with us. After following his career from the ’80s years as the frontman for the British indie rock heroes The Smiths through a solo career where he further developed his literate lyrics and charismatic persona, we like the determined mope (who turns 45 on May 22) just the way he is. Here are 10 essential songs (in chronological order) that explain why.
”How Soon Is Now?” (The Smiths’ ”Hatful of Hollow,” 1984) Give Morrissey props for having the smarts to join forces with Johnny Marr, who became one of the most influential ax players of the ’80s. ”Soon,” one of the band’s harder-driving singles, showcases Marr’s striking, retro-tremolo guitar work, Mike Joyce’s scathing drums, and Morrissey’s disaffected, almost icy vocals. The lyrics (”I am human and I need to be loved/Just like everybody else does”) are a jarringly direct expression of vulnerability. Twenty years later, it still sounds fresh.
”Meat Is Murder” (The Smiths’ ”Meat Is Murder,” 1985) Nobody but Morrissey could get away with deriding the ”sizzling blood and the unholy stench” of a turkey dinner. With its gruesome imagery and barnyard sounds, ”Meat” is about as powerful a plug for vegetarianism as any message from PETA. (The song reportedly scared Smiths bassist Andy Rourke off animal products for good.)
”There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (The Smiths’ ”The Queen Is Dead,” 1986) Juxtaposing pitch-black lyrics and an upbeat melody, ”Light” captures the band’s gift for conveying conflicting elements. Morrissey’s arch lyrics (”And if a ten-ton truck/Kills the both of us/To die by your side/Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine”) paint a vivid picture of a boyhood crush. Some critics slammed the song as solipsistic and overly dramatic. Clearly, they’d never been 16 and painfully in love.
”Frankly Mr. Shankly” (The Smiths’ ”The Queen Is Dead,” 1986) With so many songs about pain and suffering, it’s easy to forget that Morrissey is a twisted wit. His ode to a dead-end job recalls a conversation between a disgruntled employee and his titular boss. When Morrissey trills ”Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held/ It pays my way and it corrodes my soul,” it’s a heady mix of anger, superciliousness, and a prankster’s glee. Few have fought The Man with such flair.
”Girlfriend in A Coma” (The Smiths’ ”Strangeways, Here We Come,” 1987) A deceptively simple track featuring Marr’s rich string arrangements, ”Girlfriend” could be dismissed as a sliver of standard soap opera bathos. But leave it to Morrissey to impart his usual dark humor (”There were times when I could/Have ‘murdered’ her”) to a narrator who wavers between begging to see his girlfriend and refusing to see her. At just more than two minutes, this one is short, but surprisingly rich.
”Everyday Is Like Sunday” (”Viva Hate,” 1988) Possibly Morrissey’s most poignant song, ”Everyday” has lush orchestral arrangements and nostalgic lyrics. A dismal story of a past-its-prime coastal town — including the narrator’s desire to level it with nuclear bombs — sounds pretty on this slow, yearning track. Given the beautiful melody, Morrissey could sing his grocery list and still strike a chord. But with such evocative lyrics, we can practically taste the sea air.
Hairdresser on Fire (”Viva Hate,” 1988) A wicked portrait of a London hairstylist, the song was inspired by Morrissey’s inability to schedule a haircut. This quirky snapshot of vanity and longing, set to a kicky beat, is solid proof that Morrissey — despite his reputation for the mopes — knows how to have a rollicking good time.
”Jack the Ripper” (”Beethoven Was Deaf,” 1993) This imagined conversation between the 19th-century killer and one of his victims manages to be both romantic and terrifying. The soaring chorus (”Crash into my arms/I WANT YOU/You don’t agree/But you don’t refuse”) could have come from any passionate pop song. But the gorgeous melody belies the Ripper’s true intent. Filmmakers have struggled to capture the sad dance between hunter and prey so vividly.
”The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” (”Vauxhall and I,” 1994) What starts out as a declaration of love by an essentially harmless loner morphs into a much darker tale in such a subtle way that fans may hardly notice the twist. Against a sparkly, sunshine-y melody, Morrissey sings blithely of an unrequited love. ”When you sleep/I will creep/Into your thoughts/Like a bad debt… Oh, let me in/IT’S WAR.” The tenderness is enchanting — even as it creeps us out.
Irish Blood English Heart (”You Are the Quarry,” 2004) Pointedly political, the debut single from Morrissey’s first album in seven years yearns for an England that doesn’t exist. Morrissey the expatriate (he currently lives in Los Angeles) rages against his homeland’s perceived stagnation with a slow burn. Beginning almost a cappella and rising to a chorus of seething guitars, Morrissey shows that, two decades in, he’s still not only relevant, but absolutely necessary.
Do you agree with our list? What are your fave Morrissey songs?