As a school boy, morrissey would spend hours in class idly sketching pencil portraits of Marc Bolan. As a teenager, he wrote impassioned letters to the music weeklies in praise of Sparks, New York Dolls and Patti Smith. As a 21-year-old, he bamboozled pen pals with hilariously catty letters scrawled on the back of photocopied record sleeves by Ludus (the band of friend and ‘muse’ Linder Sterling) and Nico.
In one such correspondence, dated December 1980, he comments on the threat of nuclear war: “People have been panicking about the Bomb since the early ’50s. Things haven’t changed. But if it does drop, well, meet me on the desert shore (as the old song goeth)”. Twenty-two years later, the “old song” referred to?Nico’s “All That Is My Own”?appears among 15 others chosen by Morrissey on the first in a new generic series of celebrity playlists (parallel to DMC’s sister franchise, Back To Mine). Not surprisingly, so too do songs by Bolan, Sparks, New York Dolls, Patti Smith and Ludus. If Under The Influence tells us anything about the elusive ex-Smith’s psyche, it’s that Moz, now in his early 40s, is really no different from the awkward young man stewing in his Stretford bedroom nearly 25 years ago.
This is the mix tape of a pathologically obsessive fan whose joy in eking out records alien to the rest of mankind is matched only by the perverse delight of then being able to inflict them upon an unsuspecting public. It’s been the case throughout Morrissey’s concert career, with many of the nuggets here having been previously featured on his similarly esoteric pre-gig interval tapes: Jaybee Wasden’s anti-commie rockabilly boogie “De Castrow” and The Cats’ 1969 ska take on “Swan Lake” included. For those oblivious to his tastes beyond Smiths icons like Sandie Shaw and Billy Fury, there are wonderful surprises. Take Wigan Casino acolyte Jimmy Radcliff (whose “The Forgotten Man” is like Moz gone northern soul), the cajun lunacy of Lesa Cormier, even The Ramones. Shoegazing it ain’t.
One can almost sense Morrissey’s thrill in allowing us to hear Diana Dors’ rare ’60s girl-group foray “So Little Time” or Patti Smith’s “Hey Joe” (B-side to ’74’s “Piss Factory”). And his triumph in subjecting us to Klaus Nomi’s “Death” which, back in the days of The Smiths, he would cite as “the most Biblical” record he owned. Right enough, it sounds like a one-man Armageddon…. Like a self-addressed love letter to his own record collection, this is as musically fantastic as it is biographically fascinating. A priceless insight into the mindset of a lyrical genius.