Thirty Years ago, The Smiths released The Queen is Dead, arguably their finest recorded effort.
The Queen is Dead
The thing that I think gets lost when remembering The Smiths is how tight of a band they were. I know everyone always wants to talk about Morrissey and his lyrics and Marr’s guitar playing, but the rhythm section consisting of bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce is insanely solid.
A prime example of The Smith’s musicianship is on full display on the title track. The way the song starts with Joyce’s driving drum pattern, with Rourke’s bassline pushing the dynamics of the song, and Marr’s guitar overlaying the highlights is The Smith’s at their peak. I would love to have been at the Smith’s show where they opened with this song. Shit would have been nuts. Also, shout out to one of my favorite Morrissey lyrics “She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing” I said: “that’s nothing – you should hear me play piano””. – Jon
Frankly, Mr. Shankly
Having never listened to The Smiths prior to the release of The Queen is Dead, I picked the album up a few months after its US release (I made this purchase based entirely on my fascination with a Smith’s t-shirt a high school crush of mine from chemistry class often wore). Up until this point, I lived on a pretty strict diet of 80s metal and punk, but my first listen through the Queen is Dead truthfully inspired a life altering sea-change of musical preference and taste. Heck, had it not been for The Smiths, I might still have a mullet and tickets for Mötley Crüe’s reunion tour.
The opening track of The Queen is Dead was a pleasing enough scorcher, but the most striking and memorable moment of my initial listen was the contrast in tone between the title track and the album’s second song, “Frankly Mr. Shankly.” The jangly tune (and the album’s shortest at just over two minutes) offers a quasi-tribute to Max Miller and English Dance Hall music whilst churning out a hilarious exposition on the dreams and aspirations one harbors when trapped in a dead end job with a “pain in the arse” boss. While the context of Morrisey’s references are lost on most listeners, “Frankly Mr. Shankly” masterfully showcases his ability to derive irony and playfulness from the mundane.
As fun as it is, Shankly’s quick run time functions as a mere hors d’oeuvre, setting the table for The Queen is Dead’s crown jewel, the gloriously dystopian “I Know It’s Over.” – Nate Jones
I Know It’s Over
There is no song in The Smiths/Morrissey songbook that I know more intimately than “I Know it’s Over.” I have admittedly spent hours upon hours reflecting quietly (often in the dark) about how I appropriately fit into the lyrical imagery of the track. I’m not alone. Show of hands – Who has felt the soil fall over their heads? Who has felt the sea take them in? Who has felt the knife want to slit them? Who has felt like the handsome groom that needs more room?
Me that’s fucking who.
Most appropriately… no lyric cut into me more than “If you’re so funny/Why you on your own tonight?” See… I’m clever and entertaining, but I was often on my own, in the dark, listening to to this track alone – thinking that I was the very subject of the song. – Rollie
Never Had No One Ever
When B.G.M. was talking about a tribute piece for The Queen is Dead’s 30th Birthday I had to admit something…I’ve never listened to Morrisey or The Smiths. I heard “Never Had No One Ever” for the very first time on its third decade of existence. The thing that stuck out to me is how fresh it sounds. What I knew about Morrisey prior to this was how big of a prick he can be and no animals are to be eaten at his shows.
I understand the praise he receives for his lyrics and incredible voice now. This song makes me uncomfortable. It is a brooding emotionally charged song that involves him standing outside of someone’s house desiring to “have them.” Morrisey, I still think you are a weirdo but damn you are brilliant. Happy birthday to The Queen Is Dead and I look forward to diving into the rest of The Smiths albums! – Matt Jamison
One of my favorites things about Morrissey is his knack for contrast and contradiction. Not only does he go for the obvious with a song about cemeteries and gravestones backed by an upbeat rhythm, but also the lyrics that seem to be making light of accusations of plagiarism by opening the song with a direct reference to The Man Who Came To Dinner. Morrissey also makes reference to Yeats and Keats, poets famous for being conservative and emotional, as well as Oscar Wilde, who just might be the very definition of satire. The paradox of bleak emptiness and sardonic wit showcased within this simple pop song, captures the essence of what makes Morrissey one of the greatest poets of our time. – Aaron Cooper
Bigmouth Strikes Again
Bigmouth in many ways embodies what I want in a track 1, Side B on any album. It sprints out the gate and it immediately engages the listener by way of a foot-tappy-12 stringy Marr chord and a Morrissey who want’s to smash your greed tooth & leave you bludgeoned in your bed. 😉 The track is reportedly about being hounded for “comments,” so the protagonist says something inappropriate in jest. I think it’s meta. There’s a bit about Joan of Arc – but I’m not smart or French enough to get that bit. – Rollie
The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
In characteristic self-pity, Morrissey crafted perhaps the most upbeat, dare I say, cheery number that The Queen Is Dead provides in “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side.” As cheeky as ever, self-deprecation lays its somber face on the surface of the track, amidst intertwined acoustic guitar and bass grooves. A simple drum pattern carries the track’s pop structures onward, yet lays a foundation so ambiguous, the line drawn is equally as empowering as it is satirical. Even so, it’s hard to shoot down any such sensibility of The Smiths craft as a whole.
The “woe is me” emphasis in Moz’s ooh’s reveals a staple of his performance in many different scenarios, that is, the talent he possesses in laying out multiple octaves in each continuing measure of a song. Were multiple vocal tracks combined on record, it would jumble into a grand farce of harmony; Morrissey doesn’t need to do that. As it stands, this wallowed moaning serves as the entire chorus two times over! The passion is there, with a heavenly falsetto dabbled on full display. Take that and add in a textbook narrative of anyone who feels a growing chip on their shoulder, and you concoct the perfect pop song, edgy, yet relatable.
Its force on indie-pop’s evolution over the years in particular is striking, be it a primer on writing catchy hooks, invoking introspection among listeners, or striking a chord with those less worthy to christen their memoir after the song’s namesake. – Daniel Carlson
Vicar in a Tutu
Given its position directly before “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” “Vicar in a Tutu” is probably the most skipped over song in the band’s catalogue. While not quite reaching the heights most of the other songs on The Queen is Dead achieve, “Vicar in a Tutu” does at least exemplify the diverse vibes the band could spit out from album to album, as the tune veers into the realm of British rockabilly (wow, that was actually a thing?), foreshadowing Morrissey’s plunge into the genre during the 90s’ phase of his solo career.
Having not grown up Catholic, Moz’s take down of the Church held very little resonance for my teenage obsession with this album, yet the portrait he paints of a cross dressing clergyman combined with Marr’s wayward guitar evoked the image of a campy carnival funhouse. Lyrics aside, a close listen of the bassline in “Vicar in a Tutu” nicely locates Andy Rourke’s unheralded role as the backbone of the Smiths. – Nate Jones
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
One of the most famous Smiths song goes out to all the emo high schoolers (including me) with raging hormones who listened to this song on repeat while you sat in your room and daydreamed about your crush. The light that never goes out is the small flame of hope that lives in all of our hearts. To some people this could mean love, money, success, or the fear of being alone.
For me a couple of days ago, being a Clevelander, was the hope that the Cavs would win game 7. It’s different for everyone, but changes over time as you grow, change, and experience the essentials of the human condition, and that’s why “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is so transcendent. Whether you’re searching for love, or companionship, wouldn’t it be nice to finally feel so complete that you’d be totally ok getting hit by a truck? – Judie Vegh
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Is it weird for a girl to be reviewing this song about boobs? No, I think it would be weird for all the guys at B.G.M. writing about boobs. The last track of The Queen is Dead is probably the most criticized on the album. While the song follows the same repertoire of Johnny Marr writing the music, and Morrissey the lyrics, critics back in the day felt that the song just didn’t jive together.
“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” just happens to be one of my most favorite tracks as it celebrates women and their bodies. I don’t really look at this as just a song about breasts. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, like a daily affirmation. Who else can write a song and not make it seem creepy or degrading? Only The Smiths. It’s a shame this song was only ever played live once. As a woman, it’s nice to hear something that celebrates women, of all shapes. 10 points to The Smiths for promoting body positivity! – Judie Vegh
Morrissey Anime Feature Image Courtesy of Aaron Cooper
Rollie currently resides in San Antonio, TX. Work days are spent as the Project Manager for a large furniture retailer in the Alamo City. Private time is spent with his Niece (Hobbes), two pets (Elliot & Amos) and pursuing interests in music, film, writing, arts and vintage scooting. You can read more his thoughts at http://www.september29th.com/ and listen to his podcast at http://www.september29th.com/late-night-conversations/.