25 HALF A PERSON
B-side to “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” (January 1987)
Great late Smiths song that makes Velvets-y tragi-comedy from blighted lives, doomed obsessions and a backscrubbing career at the YWCA.
CRAIG FINN, THE HOLD STEADY: It’s about a girl going to London from I guess Manchester, looking for something. “Call me morbid, call me pale, I’ve spent too long on your trail…” That song and “Lost In The Supermarket” by The Clash, where Mick Jones talks about the fence in the suburbs over which he couldn’t see, remind me of when I was a kid and I knew there was something else out there, but I didn’t know what it was. I grew up in a suburb outside of Minneapolis, and remember visiting an independent record store in the city for the first time. I looked at every record because I knew I couldn’t see those things where I came from. I couldn’t drive yet and I didn’t understand why, if my parents could drive, they didn’t leave the suburbs every day. That’s the feeling this song reminds me of.
B-side to “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” (September 1985)
One of the few unremittingly bleak moments from The Smiths canon, yet even here, entirely in love with easeful death, Morrissey holds out the promise of “a better world” over Marr’s plangent piano lullaby.
DEVENDRA BANHART: I had a friend, Abdi, who’s a member of the Baha’i faith. When we were 15, he gave me a Smiths album. Around the same time, another friend, Rick, this 15 year-old gay Goth kid, made me Smiths tapes. I hadn’t heard anything like them, it was music from a different culture. It took going to London on my first tour to “get” it. The first time I met my English PR, she said: “Here we are, this is the land that brought you The Smiths.” It was a summer’s day, but it was grey and raining. It looked like The Smiths to me, elegant, sad and beautiful.
Any time in my life that I felt that it might be the end, when I’ve felt like I’m in some sort of life-threatening situation, I go to “Asleep”, and I get lost in it. It submerges me, enfolds me. It’s the most embryonic feeling. It’s almost like being chained to freedom. The dream that there is another world, and I’m leaving for it. But also there’s so much love for the person he’s singing to. It’s beautiful. Apparently, many people want that played at their funeral, and it makes complete sense to me. It’s like setting the Viking longships on fire and watching them drift off into the night. But I always wanted Hanson’s “MMMbop” played at mine.
23 THE HEADMASTER RITUAL
From the album Meat Is Murder (February 1985)
Even more than Elvis Costello, Morrissey was motivated by revenge and guilt, and vengeance comes no sweeter than the opening couplet of The Smiths’ second album: “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools/Spineless swine, cemented minds”. Marr, meanwhile, made good on his ambition to splice Joni Mitchell and The MC5 with a bravura 12-string performance.
ANDY ROURKE: This one has always been a favourite of mine. I dig it out when I’m DJing, along with “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, “Ask” and “Panic”. It was good fun to play and well recorded. Johnny had been working on it for a while. I think when you slow it all down, those intro chords are very close to something by Joni Mitchell. So it started as a ballad, then Johnny doubled the speed until it became the rock tune you hear today. Whenever we performed it live, it was a joy. It always went down really well. I remember doing it on [BBC2’s] Oxford Road Show [February 1985]. That’s when we first aired it.