3 THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT
From the album The Queen Is Dead (June 1986)
Unbelievably not released as a single in the group’s lifetime. Topped John Peel’s Festive 50 for 1986 and for many remains The Smiths’ defining achievement. Morrissey’s fantasy of glorious death by double-decker focused all his extravagantly morbid romantic Englishness into one singular image.
RUSSELL BRAND: I have to say I’ve crossed over into that religious devotional area with Morrissey. When I interviewed him, he was saying how much happier he is these days. So I asked him “Have you accepted yourself now?” He looked at me all pleased and gave me a knowing, congratulatory look that said, “Well done you, for turning that song back on me”. It gave me a nice warm glow.
I didn’t get to see the last tour, but I know that he introduced himself on stage as Russell Brand – twice! It was unbelievable. He did it at Wembley Arena and Birmingham. And he mentioned me in Glasgow, too. When I interviewed him, I wasn’t overwhelmed in a gushing way. At one point, it got a little confrontational. I told him I’d seen him perform at the Palladium and he came back with “I don’t perform. Seals perform.” On a personal level, he speaks to me. In my entire life, there have only been two people I’ve ever asked for an autograph. The first was [Dutch footballer] Marco Van Basten when I was about 12, and the other was Morrissey a few weeks ago.
With “There Is A Light…”, I can’t think of another lyricist who can use humour without compromising pathos. And I can’t think of anyone else who could have used that “10-ton truck” line. It sounds laughable, but still sounds beautiful. The marriage of sentiment and humour is perfect. Me and my mate Karl Theobald – who plays Dr Martin Dear in Green Wing – were debating “There Is A Light…” recently. We were thinking about what the light that never goes out actually is. I took it as an abstract, metaphorical light of hope. But Karl’s interpretation was more literal. He took it to be the light from the room of a lad who never goes out. There’s always a light on because he’s a teenager alone in his room, thinking, “Take me out tonight.” I prefer that. Somehow it’s more poetic. I remember being that lad myself. That was my light that never went out – sat alone in my room, smoking draw, listening to The Smiths, watching telly.
2 THE QUEEN IS DEAD
From the album The Queen Is Dead (June 1986)
Epic, agitated whirl of garage funk and ghostly feedback provoked Morrissey’s most mysteriously profound lyric: a surreal sequel to the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”, replacing snarling, nihilistic sarcasm with bereft longing and dismay at the havoc wreaked by Thatcherism.
CARL BARAT, THE LIBERTINES: As a youngster I listened to Love, The Mamas And The Papas and The Velvet Undergound while The Smiths were grabbing the music business by the throat and administering a well-deserved kick in the shins. The Smiths were more Peter [Doherty]’s sort of thing. When we got The Libertines together, I think he thought I’d be Marr to his Morrissey… It became clear what I’d missed and I devoured every record I could get hold of. I loved their sense of Englishness and some of that came through in The Libertines’ songs. A little bit less ’60s kitchen sink perhaps and more, well, squat life and music hall.
Marr was always a brilliant guitar player – the best of his generation. I met him the first time The Libertines went to America, at Coachella in California. He was that rarest of beasts: a real gent. I’ve got one of his plectrums that I really value.
I keep coming back to “The Queen Is Dead”. It’s the perfect melding of Morrissey’s idiosyncratic vision and Marr’s sonic assault. Even now, people think that Marr’s playing was all sub-Byrds jangle. But it was clear he was questing for new sounds. “How Soon Is Now?” is arguably his sonic masterpiece but for me, it’s “The Queen Is Dead” that showcases the passion in his playing.
Over and above the sound was Morrissey’s singing. Although singing is too small a word. The music sounds like the end of the world and it’s like the spirit of England, from Boudicca through to Betjeman and beyond, is proclaiming the last rites. The fact it’s royalty that’s getting the well-aimed boot only adds to the thrill.
“Charles don’t you ever crave/To appear on the front of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your mother’s bridal veil…” Hilarious yet damning, and delivered seemingly off the cuff: the very definition of wit. Morrissey is taking his voice where it’s never been before, somewhere angry. The fury of the guitars is matched only by that bile-flecked delivery.
Early on in The Libertines, we were asked to support Morrissey at Brixton Academy. Critically, he was in the wilderness at the time. We were told not to do it because we were up-and-coming and people thought he wasn’t cool enough. But our minds were set. How could we not do it? Come on, it’s Morrissey. When we played, no-one knew who we were, and there were some pretty grim-faced fans there; but we won a few over that day. It was definitely an important gig. We got to meet him backstage and he just… glowed with presence. He gave us the Morrissey thumbs up.