10 I KNOW IT’S OVER
From the album The Queen Is Dead (June 1986)
On an album full of Big Girls – Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, Joan Of Arc – it’s perhaps fitting that the pivotal, most heartbreaking song on the record is addressed to Morrissey’s mother. With the most powerful vocal performance of his career he casts himself as love’s eternal sweet exile, Marr’s moonbeam-dappled arrangement providing a strikingly epic backdrop.
STEVE DIGGLE, BUZZCOCKS: It touches on the depths of despair in that human, Smiths way. Just listen to that opening line: “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head”. And there’s that other line which is chilling – “If you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight?” Whether you listen to that in a bedsit or a fairy palace, it still hits you. It’s straight to the point. Only Morrissey could get away with that. The sparseness of the arrangement is incredible, too. Johnny Marr always did the right thing on the guitar. He was so concise. Andy and Mike were perfect. It would have been great to hear Elvis do a cover of “I Know It’s Over”, albeit in a rhinestone suit. I think he would have done a fantastic job.
The Smiths were never depressing to me. You understood the human condition, so you could enjoy it through Morrissey. If you don’t get The Smiths, you don’t get life itself. The Queen Is Dead is their definitive album. The others are fantastic, but when that record kicks in, you realise they’ve achieved greatness. It’s a band in full voice.
Morrissey used to come to our Buzzcocks gigs in grey coat and National Health glasses. He’d be sat at the back taking notes. I remember he was very shy. He’d say hello, but then be stand-offish. When The Smiths got going, Morrissey did take the non-gender lyrics from us. I’ve never taken him to task about it, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case. But Pete [Shelley] and I were doing that with our songs. Listen to “Fast Cars” or “Promises”. It’s left open. I love Morrissey’s solo albums, but find them a bit stiff. But with the chemistry in The Smiths, it flowed. He’ll never capture that again.
9 GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA
Single (August 1987). Highest chart position: 12
Released following Marr’s departure, “Girlfriend…” was the perfect farewell from the band, fading out with Morrissey’s urgent “Let me whisper my last goodbyes…”. An homage to The Shangri Las, and an appropriate trail for an album overwhelmingly concerned with the Pyrrhic victory of love over death.
RICKY WILSON, KAISER CHIEFS: The Smiths have this reputation for being a miserable, wrist-slitting band when in fact they’re hilarious. I could say that I hate the way they’re misunderstood, but I secretly like it, because it makes the people who get them feel more like part of the gang.
This song is a perfect example of their humour. The line “Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it’s serious” isn’t funny like a joke, but it makes you laugh. They’re not flowering anything up, it’s conversational, and I think that’s why they appealed to so many people.
With a lot of classic music, you lose something because you weren’t there at the time. It’s different with The Smiths. You don’t need to have been around in 1986 to understand The Queen Is Dead. I guess that’s why they’ve had such lasting appeal. At our club night, Pigs, we made sure the DJs never played The Smiths. We just didn’t want to be like every other indie disco and they’ve really become the ultimate soundtrack to that. In fact, we didn’t like half the records we played and went home to listen to The Smiths afterwards!
8 PAINT A VULGAR PICTURE
From the album Strangeways, Here We Come (September 1987)
From The Smiths’ swansong, a vicious skewering of music industry cynicism and a heartfelt interrogation of the star/fan relationship, set to another effortlessly luminous Marr arrangement.
PETE YORN: I love the way Morrissey handles the topic of the dead rock star. When he wrote it, it was an imaginary scenario, but when Kurt Cobain died it suddenly seemed incredibly prescient. Morrissey can investigate subjects that are very sombre or depressing and still make you laugh. And of course the arrangement is immaculate.
I grew up in New Jersey in the ’80s when it was all metal bands and Springsteen and Bon Jovi. When I first heard Morrissey’s voice it sounded really foreign to me, so startlingly fey. The first CD I was exposed to was Louder Than Bombs which really showed off Johnny Marr’s range: there were these beautiful, swirling Byrds-influenced guitars, but then there’d be songs that were almost rockabilly. So The Smiths made me go back and discover all these old records, which is how I got my musical education.