16 BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN
Single (May 1986). Highest chart position: 26
Over a Marr riff worthy of Keef, Morrissey teases and indulges his own martyr complex, all his murderous daydreams resulting in a sublime hangover of very Catholic guilt.
NICKY WIRE, MANIC STREET PREACHERS: I distinctly remember them play this on The Old Grey Whistle Test. It stuck with me. It was a brilliant sound and they looked incredible; I thought they were like the indie Stones. Johnny was Keith Richards-esque, in a fey way. There’s that proper rock guitar break, the first time The Smiths had done that. On first impressions, Morrissey seemed kind of self-effacing, but with a serious point as well, which was always his genius.
That lyric, the Joan of Arc comparison, burning at the stake – Morrissey seems to be inferring that if you say anything, you’re castigated as some kind of evil person. As a complete gobshite myself, even at a tender age, I identified with that totally. It was the first time Morrissey showed a slight frailty, almost saying, “Do I really deserve to get this much stick just for saying the Queen is bad, or meat is bad?” His comments were always logical, never stupid or inane. God, Morrissey thought he had it bad then, but if he said those things now… Nobody says anything any more. That’s symptomatic of the times. Nothing means as much as it used to.
I don’t think they could have survived without each other, Morrissey wouldn’t have made such great records without Johnny. Morrissey was patently the obvious symbol for outsiders, but it was done with such intelligence, never just for show. His deviancy was always subtle, that’s what I loved about him, because the Manics always had to be much larger than life. Coming from Wales, that’s just the way it was. But with Morrissey it was always a bracelet, a necklace, a hint of eyeliner – it was just brilliantly done. It’s almost harder to be like that.
15 WILLIAM, IT WAS REALLY NOTHING
Single (August 1984). Highest chart position: 17
A two-minute sun shower of Marr guitar soundtracks Morrissey’s succinct revision of the Billy Liar pop-myth: this time the northern fantasist triumphs through the force of his unshakeable narcissism.
BERNARD BUTLER: I was 13 when this came out and 17 when The Smiths split up, so it couldn’t have been more perfect. The Smiths were my adolescence. I was the archetypal Smiths fan: a skinny white boy who was inspired by Johnny Marr to pick a guitar and who thought every word was about me. “William…”, “Please Please Please…” and “How Soon Is Now?” were released together on one single. Together they encapsulate everything about The Smiths. “William…” is breezy and beautiful, listening to it makes you feel fantastic; “Please Please Please…” is maudlin but funny, too; “How Soon Is Now?” is simply a monument in rock history. I can clearly remember everything about the record, down to the colour of the sleeve. I played it over and over again.
The homo-eroticism of “William…” never occurred to me because at the time I believed it was all about me. The lyric articulated everything I felt, that I was an outsider in my own country. Every line spoke to me: “Too fucking right, this town does drag me down!” The song is delicate but celebratory. It’s life-affirming. I can’t remember where I was when loads of important historical events occurred, but I know exactly where I was when I first heard “William, It Was Really Nothing” on The John Peel Show.
14 PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LET ME GET WHAT I WANT
B-side to “William, It Was Really Nothing” (August 1984)
The Smiths’ Irish roots came to the fore on this 110-second ode to desperation, easing into a classic coda of cascading mandolins. Perhaps the closest they came to writing a pop standard.
ALEX KAPRANOS, FRANZ FERDINAND: It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, probably the best reaction you can get from any piece of music. Although “What Difference Does It Make” is the song that got me into The Smiths. I remember that when I first heard the riff, I loved it – then when Morrissey started singing, I hated it. So it was Johnny Marr’s guitar-playing that got me into that band. All of Franz have been fans of The Smiths since being teenagers. We had heard through a friend of a friend that Morrissey really liked our first album. When we met, we were worried he wouldn’t somehow meet up to the expectations we’d placed upon him – but he was fantastic, just as enigmatic and witty as you’d expect.