"The Queen Is Dead"
The Queen Is Dead/Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty
Frankly, Mr. Shankly
I Know It's Over
Never Had No One Ever
Bigmouth Strikes Again
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side(album version)
Vicar In A Tutu
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
UK CD [Rough Trade ROUGHCD96]
UK CS [Rough Trade ROUGHC96]
UK LP [Rough Trade ROUGH96]
UK LP [Rhino UK ROURH96; 2009 reissue on 180g LP]
UK 10" [Rhino UK ROURH96; 2011 reissue for Record Store Day]
UK/Europe CD [2012 reissue on Warner/Rhino 2564660485]
UK/Europe LP [2012 reissue on Rhino Records 2564665887]
Argentina LP [Erahora 10005]
Argentina CS [Erahora 10005]
Australia CD [CBS 451069-2/DIDP11070]
Australia CD [1988 reissue on Festival D30108]
Australia CD [1993 reissue on Warner Australia 450991896-2]
Australia CS [CBS RTCANZ013]
Australia CS [1988 reissue on Festival C30108]
Australia LP [CBS RTRANZ013]
Australia LP [1988 reissue on Festival L30108]
Brazil CD [WEA 450991896-2]
Brazil CS [WEA 761.7082]
Brazil LP [WEA 610.7082]
Canada CD [Sire CD-25426]
Canada CS [Sire 92 54264]
Canada LP [Sire 92 54261]
Europe CD [WEA 450991896-2]
Europe CS [WEA 450991896-4]
Europe 10 [WEA 450991896-1]
France CD [Virgin 30259]
France CS [Virgin 50444]
France LP [Virgin 70444]
Germany LP [RT Deutschland RTD36]
Greece CS [Virgin TC-VG50187]
Greece LP [Virgin VG50187]
Holland LP [Dureco/Indisc MD7961]
Indonesia CS [King's Record BJ-349]
Israel CS [CBS ROUG96-4]
Israel LP [CBS ROUG96]
Israel CD [WEA/Hed Arzi 91896-2]
Italy LP [CGD RGH20508]
Italy LP [Rough Trade ROULP96]
Italy CS [CGD 30RGH20508]
Japan CD [Tokuma Japan 32JC-162]
Japan CD [1987 reissue on Victor VDP-5074]
Japan CD [1990 reissue on Victor VICP-2004]
Japan CD [1993 reissue on WEA WMC5-545]
Japan CD [1995 reissue on WEA WPCR-304]
Japan CD [1997 reissue on WEA WPCR-2511]
Japan CD [2006 reissue on WEA WPCR-12441]
Japan SHM-CD [2008 reissue on Warner WPCR-13270]
Japan LP [Tokuma Japan 25RTL-3015]
Japan LP [1987 reissue on Victor VIP-4215]
Korea CD [1995 issue on WEA 450991896-2]
Korea CS [1995 issue on WEA 450991896-4]
New Zealand LP [CBS RTRANZ013]
New Zealand CS [CBS RTCANZ013]
Peru CS [WEA/El Virrey 00918964]
Philippines CS [Backbeat ROUGH C 96]
Poland LP [Tonpress SX-T 153]
Portugal LP [Rough Trade ROUGH96]
Spain CS [Nuevos Medios 44 198 C]
Spain LP [Nuevos Medios 43 197L]
Sweden LP [MNW ROUGH96]
Taiwan CS [Crystal ROUGHC96]
USA CD [Sire 9 25426-2]
USA CD [Columbia House Record Club W2 25426]
USA CD [BMG Direct Record Club D102692]
USA CD [2012 reissue on Sire/Rhino R2 25426]
USA CS [Sire 9 25426-4]
USA CS [Columbia House Record Club W4 25426]
USA LP [Sire 9 25426-1]
USA LP [Columbia House Record Club W1 25426]
USA LP [RCA Record Club R-143529]
USA LP [Rhino R1 520967; 2009 reissue on 180g LP]
Yugoslavia CS [RTV Ljubljana KL1738]
Yugoslavia LP [RTV Ljubljana LL1738]
The German LP is available in plain black or dark green vinyl
The version of "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" is slightly different on original Australian LP and cassette pressings on CBS and Festival Records. The intro doesn't fade in then out as it does everywhere else.
The 2006 Japanese cd reissue is slipped inside a mini-replica of the original Tokuma Japan LP sleeve. Even the inner sleeve, obi and label are replicas of the ones from the original LP pressing.
The picture disc, pink vinyl, green vinyl and multi-coloured splatter LP editions on Rough Trade are actually bootleg reproductions made in 2007.
The UK edition of the 2009 LP reissue includes a coupon with an offer to download the album on MP3 format. This was not offered with the USA edition.
The 10" edition released in 2011 is limited to 1500 or 2000 copies, depending on who you ask.
The 2012 UK/Europe Rhino reissues on compact disc and LP are identical to the editions found inside the 2011 "Complete" box set.
Alain Delon from the 1964 film "L'insoumis" ("The Unvanquished"). The USA cassette shows a cropped portion of the LP cover art instead of the whole artwork like everywhere else. The Spanish cassette has cropped and untinted artwork). A different photo of Delon (view left) is used on both sides of the LP's inner sleeve and inside the cd booklet. The UK Rough Trade cd booklet has the latter photo in pink.
The Salford Lads Club photo from inside the LP (see left) was taken by Steve Wright. It was changed to a different one from the same session in CD reissues on Rough Trade and WEA.
Etchings on vinyl:
UK LPs: FEAR OF MANCHESTER / THEM WAS ROTTEN DAYS
(only on original Rough Trade release and Rhino reissue, not on the WEA reissue)
The b-side etching is a line spoken in the 1960 movie "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning".
Additional release date information:
UK: 16 June 1986
USA: 23 June 1986
USA/Canada cd: 7 July 1987
UK/Europe WEA re-release: 15 November 1993
Australia WEA 1993 re-release: 12 December 1993
Japan WEA 1993 re-release: 10 December 1993
Japan WEA 1997 re-release: 25 November 1997
Japan WEA 2006 re-release: 13 September 2006
UK 2009 reissue: 6 July 2009
USA 2009 reissue: 25 August 2009
UK 2012 reissues: 26 March 2012
USA 2012 cd reissue: 3 April 2012
Chart peak information:
UK: 2 (28 when reissued at mid-price in 1995)
UK: Gold on 1 July 1986
USA: Gold on 19 September 1990
UK: White label copies of the LP were sent to radio and record shops for promotion. Some labels might have actually been green. A very limited number of these white labels were sent to key people inside an unglued proof sleeve with a Beer Davies plugger sticker on the back of the outer sleeve.
Argentina: White label copies of the LP may have been used for promotion.
Australia: Stock copies of the original CBS LP edition were supposedly stamped with a promo warning in gold on the back. A very limited number of copies of the Festival stock LP with promo sticker affixed to the label were distributed to promote Festival's reissue programme.
Brazil: Stock copies of the LP were stamped on the back with a promo-only warning. Different various artists promo EPs were also sent to radio at the time of release of this album. A 6-track one (WEA #24; 1.024), slipped in a blue sleeve with yellow text featured "Bigmouth Strikes Again". A 4-track one (WEA #37; 1.037) slipped in a light blue sleeve with pink text featured "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out".
Canada: Gold-stamped copies of the LP were used for promotion. A various artists promo cassette featuring "Bigmouth Strikes Again" was sent to radio by WEA at the time of release of this album.
Germany: Copies of the green vinyl LP were distributed to media with two press sheets. A promo VHS featuring the Derek Jarman videos for "The Queen Is Dead" and "Panic" (2 versions of the latter) were distributed to the relevant media in Germany for promotion of this album as well as the "Panic" single.
Greece: Copies of the stock LP were made into promos by being promo-stamped with "Not For Sale" on the label(s). A LP in an early sleeve variation with white Virgin labels seems to have served earlier, more limited promotional purposes.
Holland: Fifty white labels of the Dutch LP were sent to a promoter in anticipation of the appearance of the Smiths at Pinkpop. When Morrissey discovered that the festival was promoted by McDonalds, the gig was canceled and the test pressings were never used. They ended up being sold on Ebay in 2005.
Italy: "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" was included on a promo sampler 12" (CGD INT15250). A different 4-track various artists sampler 12" (CGD INT15267) featured "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out".
Japan: Promotion of the original release was done via copies of the LP format with a white SAMPLE sticker on the sleeve and the usual extra 3-character promo text printed on the label. Promo cds for the 1990 and 1993 (and possibly 1987 and 1995) reissues have a promo sticker on the case and promo text on the cds' inner ring. The promo cds for the 2006 reissue in LP-replica sleeve have a white and red promo sticker on the back of the obi and 'sample loaned' etched on the cd's inner ring. Copies of the double-cd set featuring this album and "Hatful Of Hollow" were stamped on the back for promotion.
USA: Gold-stamped copies of the LP were used for promotion. A 1-track promo 12" of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (Sire, PRO-A-2571) was distributed in June of 1986 to promote the album (view artwork left). The video for the latter song was included on a Warner Bros or Sire promo video compilation (Mini Comp #52) and on the September 1986 issue of the Telegenics promo video series. The video for "The Queen Is Dead" was included on a different promo video compilation from Warner or Sire, this one numbered NVS#1702. It was also included on the January 1987 issue of the Telegenics promo video series. A press kit including a bio and a photo by Steve Wright (probably the Salford Lads Club photo) was also sent to radio and the relevent media.
"It doesn't necessarily mean Queen Elizabeth. There's a safety net in the song... that the old queen in the lyrics is actually me. So when they lynch me or nail me to the cross, I have that trapdoor to slide through. But, having said that, the song is certainly a kind of general observation on the state of the nation."
- Morrissey (source unknown)
"Will the new stuff be radically different? Yes. There is the single which will probably be 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' and then the album which we have pretty much got in hand and which will undoubtedly shock a lot of people. Well, let's hope so. From a purely personal point of view there will be a move away from the old jingly-jangly guitars of old. Everyone knows I can do that. I know I can do it, probably better than anyone else and by that I mean guitar playing with hooks and melodies. That doesn't mean that there will be less guitar playing on the album. By no means! It just means I will be playing different kinds of stuff, stuff very much in the R & B groove, not unlike the groove of, say, 'Shakespeare's Sister'."
- Johnny Marr forecasts 'The Queen Is Dead', Melody Maker, 2 August 1985
"I didn't want to attack the monarchy in a sort of beer monster way but I find as time goes by this happiness we had slowly slips away and is replaced by something that is wholly grey and wholly saddening. The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is."
- Morrissey on "The Queen Is Dead" New Musical Express, 7 June 1986
"It didn't really occur to me ever that people would consider the title offensive. The song existed, and I thought it was so strong it deserved special attention, which it was given by being the title track. (...) Another aspect was that no Top 10 groups, or any English group with a high status, were trying to compile a thoughtful language. And I thought The Queen Is Dead, as a title between Invisible Touch and A Kind Of Magic and Picture Book, was something one would pause over."
- Morrissey in Oor magazine, February 1987
"Of course, there were times when things were going well... when we finished The Queen Is Dead; I think that was the best LP we ever made."
- Johnny Marr, New Musical Express, 24 June 1989
"The Queen Is Dead is certainly the best LP we made, the most focused from start to finish. It was a dark point in my life but creatively, it made for something really brilliant. I try to take care of myself and live in the real world, but some of my best work has been produced when I wasn't in the real world. Pop music isn't worth killing yourself for, but when you do something extra-special, it's almost worth it... For the frenzied wah-wah section on 'The Queen Is Dead,' I was thinking '60s Detroit, like the MC5 and the Stooges."
- Johnny Marr, Guitar Player, January 1990
"If we needed some songs fast, then Morrissey would come round to my place and I'd sit there with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder. 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' was done that way, and so was 'Frankly Mr Shankly'."
- Johnny Marr, Record Collector, November/December 1992
"It was really tough. I knew we were working on something really good. There was a feeling in the studio that we were at an important point in our career. It was so difficult. It polarized my life. I remember one time when Andy was in the studio in the live room, trying to play a bass part, and I was coaxing and coercing him into doing what I wanted and needed. The phone rang, and it was a guy, Jay, from Rough Trade, saying that Salford Van Hire had been on to him and they were going to press charges because one of the roadies had not brought the van back from a previous session and it was scratched. I was dealing with Jay on the phone, dealing with Andy on the other side of the glass, and meanwhile I was trying to come up with the middle eight for the song that we were working on. I was having to take care of that side of the group far too much. What I do remember about 'The Queen Is Dead' was that it was the first time I started to disappear. At the end of each day, I would disappear and work on the next day's recording - honing songs and overdubs on my own. Mike and Andy and the roadies would party and have a good time or go somewhere."
Did you consider "The Queen Is Dead" to be your finest achievement?
"I did at the time. Now I say you can't ignore our singles entity. In order to do that, maybe you have to take 'Louder Than Bombs'. You can't just say, 'Listen to "The Queen Is Dead" if you want to know about that group'. You have to know about our singles philosophy."
The title track of "The Queen Is Dead" was obviously influenced by the Stooges and the MC5.
"Yes, I just traced it back. It was Morrissey's idea to include 'Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty' and he said, 'I want this on the track'. But he wasn't to know that I was going to lead into the feedback and drum rolls. It was just a piece of magic. I got the drum riff going and Andy got the bass line, which was one of his best ever and one that bass players still haven't matched. I went in there with all the lads watching and did the take and they just went, 'Wow'. I came out and I was shaking. When I suggested doing it again, they just said, 'No way! No way!' What happened with the feedback was I was setting my guitar up for the track and I put it onto a stand and it was really loud. Where it hit the stand, it made that note of feedback. I did the guitar track, put the guitar on the stand, and while we were talking, it was like, 'Wow, that sounded good'. So I said, 'Right - record that!' It was going through a wah-wah from the previous take, so I just started moving the wah-wah and it was getting all these different intervals, and it definitely added a real tension. I loved Morrissey's singing on that, and the words. But it was very MC5. Morrissey has a real love for that music as well. I remember him playing the Ramones as much as he played Sandie Shaw."
Were there any other tracks on "The Queen Is Dead" or moments that particularly struck you?
"Morrissey's vocal on 'I Know It's Over' - I'll never forget when he did that. It's one of the highlights of my life. It was that good, that strong. Every line he was hinting at where he was going to go. I was thinking, 'Is he going to go there? Yes, he is!' It was just brilliant."
- Johnny Marr, Record Collector, November/December 1992
Andy Rourke: "I think if we'd had a string quartet at the time we would have used it. But the fact that there was a keyboard there at the time... We just made it sound as real as possible. Didn't we give it a jokey name?"
Mike Joyce: "Orchestrazia Ardwick. No, hang on that was 'Strangeways' (Smiths fact: it was The Hated Salford Ensemble, actually)... 'The Queen Is Dead' is my favourite album actually because around that time we were so fuckin' tight. Johnny was never out of the studio. I think he worked hardest on that album out of everything we did."
- Select, April 1993
"'The Queen Is Dead' is more memorable because we took it on tour to America and round Europe and exciting, whereas 'Strangeways' we never got to tour with. I'm sure it would have worked with an audience."
- Andy Rourke, Select, April 1993
So, 'The Queen Is Dead'. Your supposed masterpiece. You're not so sure, are you?
"No, it's not that. It's the way that people just follow popular press opinion without listening for themselves. It might be the best thing we did. But if you're talking about that, you've got to look at 'Louder Than Bombs' cos we were a good singles group. Singles were very important to us. But 'The Queen Is Dead' made me ill. I was working impossible hours, I never saw daylight. But I had to get totally absorbed in it. I knew exactly what I had to do to make that record and it was a matter of putting myself on the edge, getting into insane mental states. The most recent Smiths track which I've listened to was 'Never Had No-One Ever,' and I'd forgotten how good it was. But that came from the mad self-absorption that we were into . I knew at that time that I had to make what was to me a great piece of art. To me there was no difference between the pressure I was under and the pressure Charlie Parker or Keith Richard or Lenny Bruce was under. Which might sound pretentious for someone who's supposed to be a down-to-earth Manchester lad, but I've never been that down-to-earth. I don't care too much for being down-to-earth."
- Johnny Marr, Select, December 1993
"The song 'The Queen Is Dead' I really like. I used to like the MC5 and The Stooges and it's as good if not better than anything The Stooges ever did. It's got energy and aggression in that kind of garagey way. I didn't realise that 'There Is A Light' was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I'd ever heard. There's a little in-joke in there just to illustrate how intellectual I was getting. At the time everyone was into the Velvet Underground and they stole the intro to 'There She Goes' - da da da-da, da da-da-da, Dah Dah! - from the Rolling Stones version of 'Hitchhike,' the Marvin Gaye song. I just wanted to put that in to see whether the press would say, Oh it's the Velvet Underground! Cos I knew that I was smarter than that. I was listening to what The Velvet Underground was listening to."
- Johnny Marr, Select, December 1993
"The Queen Is Dead was quite a haphazard process. It was recorded all over the place. It was a few tracks done here, then a break, and we did some more tracks. It's turned out to be, you know, like you see in the press, one of the best albums of all time, yet at the time we were doing it, we didn't know we were heading off into this huge masterpiece. It seemed to be quite relaxed."
- Stephen Street, Q, January 1994
"Some things we did are not as good as they're remembered. "The Queen Is Dead" is not our masterpiece. I should know. I was there. I supplied the sandwiches."
- Morrissey in Q Magazine, April 1994
"I'd done the rhythm track for The Queen Is Dead, and left the guitar on the stand. The wah pedal just happened to be half open, and putting the guitar down made the guitar suddenly hit off this harmonic. We were back at the desk playing back the rhythm track and I could still hear this harmonic wailing away, so we put the tape back onto record while I crept back into the booth and started opening up the wah-wah, thinking 'Don't die, don't die!' Eventually I opened up the pedal, and 'Wooooohhhhhh!' Kept it going, too. Great accident... Sonically we got it right, but it was a very dark album that came out of a very dark period. I remember, when I was a kid, bands used to describe album environments as being very womb-like, which always fascinated me as an idea... now I know! Once was enough, making an album like that - I was really putting myself out on the edge. I know that sounds very humourless, and we did have a good time making it, but it was a bit like that. We had no manager, so me and Morrissey were trying to run the whole band, plus we were still on an independent label, but out of all that adversity we still managed to make this great album. A song like Never Had No One Ever could only have come out of that mindset - fucked-up."
- Johnny Marr, The Guitar Magazine, January 1997
LONG LIVE THE KING!
"THINGS ARE not always as they seem. When The Smiths appeared on Whistle Test a few weeks ago to promote the 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' single, even their most committed fan would have been forgiven for thinking that our most eminent jangling jewels were finally beginning to lapse into self-parody.
There on the screen was the Prince Of Pain, the finest furrowed pate in pop, replete in the same old faded denims and that bloody awful hearing aid, bleating on about how he felt like Joan Of Arc and had no right to take his place in the human race.
Behind him, meanwhile, a four-piece band were coming on like the new Rolling Stones, all rounded rock maturity and polished cocksure authority. With a crucial third LP on the horizon, it was as if the skin of their beat had finally fully ripened; as if they had defined and perfected their musical pitch and lost their hunger, their need to grow.
But things are not always as they seem. If ‘The Queen Is Dead' arrives in a climate of such doubt, with the above suspicions compounded by stories of "personal differences" within the group and problems with their record label without, it is pleasing to report that it is as exciting and direct a pop or rock record as we are likely to hear this year - a challenging and often extreme piece of work.
While their last LP left off with the torpid 'Barbarism Begins At Home' and the meandering whine of 'Meat Is Murder', 'The Queen Is Dead' goes straight for the jugular. In becoming what is basically a beat group again, The Smiths have rediscovered much of the muscular tautness of their earliest session recordings, the cuts immortalised on the 'Hatful Of Hollow' compilation.
The title track, prefaced with a few bars of Cicely Courtneidge's "take me back to dear old Blighty", positively erupts into a quasi-rock anthem that Simple Minds or U2 would probably be proud of. The Queen Is Dead' opens the LP with crashing chords, rattling tom tom drums and a bassline that pumps like a car jack and cranks like a spanner, Morrissey's singing scanning brilliantly to counterpoint the beat. Smiths detractors will often belittle the man's larynx, forever cringing at his whingeing. What they conveniently overlook is the great sense of timing and phrasing he brings to his dramatic vocal delivery, his sense of the rhythmic beast behind him never less than acute.
The Queen Is Dead' is, of course, at least partly allegorical, referring as much to Morrissey's nostalgic yearning for a certain lost Englishness as to the redundancy of the monarchy. The miserable undertow to the Morrissey muse is also introduced in the nagging refrain "life is very long when you're lonely", as is the sense of humour which provides an often black and farcical antidote throughout the album: "And so I broke into the palace/With a sponge and a rusty spanner/She said: ‘I know you and you cannot sing’/I said: ‘That's nothing, you hear me play the piano’.”
The wit surfaces again on 'Frankly, Mr Shankly’, Morrissey's "fame, fame, fatal fame” song. Couched as a letter or speech of resignation from a mundane job, its humour is as much musical as lyrical, the "worker Smiths" Rourke and Joyce etching out a deliberately hammy helping of cod skank ("reggae is vile", anyone?), with an ironic nod to northern working club cabaret. If anything, the track would perhaps have benefited from an even more exaggerated music hall treatment.
But that is not to fault an unsung rhythm section who maintain an adroit peak of sustained excellence. For all the tales of dissent in the camp, they remain a fine bedrock vehicle for Morrissey's lyrical fancies and Marr's flowery colourings.
Any fears that The Smiths' considered return to insidiously catchy, unashamedly beat roots is being made at the expense of their more melancholic, lilting moods are dispelled on the haunting 'I Know It’s Over’. Six minutes that stand comparison with the likes of 'Back To The Old House' and This Night Has Opened My Eyes', the song is a languid lament that shows The Smiths' more poetic leanings intact and far from crushed by their new beatbound power.
On an LP of only isolated lowpoints, the nadir of the first side - and indeed the whole album - is the virtually impenetrable 'Never Had No One Ever' in which the salty dog seems to think he is 'Sergeant Pepper' or at least an out-take of the same. A slow, brooding melodrama with dippy psychedelic undertones, it is a poor man's 'How Soon Is Now’, minus the latter's lyrical charm and alluring Bo Diddley-esque backbeat.
The following track, in contrast, lies on consecrated ground. ‘Cemetry (sic) Gates' is set in a graveyard, but its true target is the crime of plagiarism, a tactic just occasionally employed by the songwriter himself ("talent borrows, genius steals" is teasingly etched on the run-off groove of the 'Bigmouth' single). And, in keeping with the tone of musical irony set earlier on 'Frankly, Mr Shankly', the deft breeziness of the instrumentation - acoustic guitars double and treble tracked in a jaunty cascade - wittily belies the grave subject matter.
With the exception of 'Meat Is Murder' - recorded and mixed, anyway, in 1984 - last year was hardly a vintage one for The Smiths. Most worrying was a discernible fall from grace concerning their position as the nation's most natural and consistent singles band.
The group's first four singles - 'Hand In Glove', This Charming Man', 'What Difference Does It Make' and 'Heaven Knows' - formed a staccato quartet of practically unimpeachable greatness. For an opening salvo, perhaps only the first four Sex Pistols singles - the only Sex Pistols singles - come close in terms of their classic worth. But any comparison between that initial run of Smfths-on-45 with their four most recent efforts – ‘That Joke Isn't Funny', 'Shakespeare's Sister', 'Boy With The Thorn In His Side' and the current 'Bigmouth' - illustrates just how sharply the standards have fallen. Morrissey made his reputation as one of the most concise contemporary pop songwriters largely on his skill in the singles arena, a knack which he seems, at least temporarily, to have lost.
The inclusion, therefore, of the band's last two singles on this LP is not really the inducement to buy that the sticker on the sleeve suggests: 'Bigmouth' finds Morrissey at his most testingly wry, but is really little more than Smiths by numbers; ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' (Ben Wan perhaps?) details a familiar search for love in a looking glass world, but is a non-song by Smiths standards.
Better looking by far - in its music, its message and its humour - is the racy 'Vicar In A Tutu', a song that would have made a great single. A fanciful tale of transvestism in the clergy that could have been culled from a Carry On film, it reverberates with some superb quickfire couplets: "As Rose collects the money in a cannister/Who comes sliding down the bannister?/The vicar in a tutu/He's not strange/He just wants to live his life this way."
The music is spendidly souped-up rockabilly, guitar man Marr finally rubber-stamping his metamorphosis from That Chiming Man to The Boy With The Twang In His Strang. It sometimes seems as if he is delving further back into his rock'n'roll roots with each successive LP. If last year's 'Rusholme Ruffians' contained one unashamed reference to a vintage Elvis hit with a guitar riff lifted straight from 'His Latest Flame', then 'Vicar In A Tutu' contains another, with the rhythm and tempo of the track harking back to the manic skiffabilly of ‘That's Alright Mama'.
And if Tutu' steals from the Sun sessions, the subsequent ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' hijacks a treasured Motown memory, that of Marvin Gaye's 'Hitch Hike' ("talent borrows, genius raids jukeboxes!").
Again, however, Marr's homage to rock history is executed with such fluent aplomb that the 'musical quotation' dovetails delightfully with the tenor of the song. The only odd thing is that Marr's musical obsessions should lie so obviously in rootsy American pop while his singer's cultural ones are so blatantly and quaintly English. When the two gel, however, they complement brilliantly, and ‘There Is A Light' is another pearl, the flute-like flutterings of Marr's string arrangement providing the perfect curtain for Morrissey's latest paean to blessed celibacy.
As an album with humour never far from its surface, it is fitting that ‘The Queen Is Dead’ should conclude with the clipped, undulating frivolity of 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others', a hypnotic musical travelogue that verges on the transcendental: "Some girls are bigger than others/Some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers." Again, the Morrissey muse and Marr's musical setting collide marvellously, the track illuminated by some lovely slide guitar from the latter. It would have made another classic Smiths single.
So ‘The Queen Is Dead' is an excellent record, let down only by one spot of neo-psychedelic posturing and a couple of mediocre singles. Sure, the age-old concerns are well to the fore, but they have never been so powerfully or eloquently expressed. The man-child remains self-obsessed and often wilfully miserable, but also self-deprecating and often very funny. The band's loyal legions will love ‘The Queen Is Dead', but even the doubters should find something in the uncanny catchiness of seven of these ten tracks - a good ratio by anyone's standards these days.
Maybe the next LP, or perhaps even the forthcoming 'Panic' single, should be the quantum shift in musical emphasis that some expected from this set. But, for now, Britain's best band are sticking very agreeably to what they do best, simply being The Smiths.
As Antony said to Cleopatra as he opened a crate of ale, some albums are better than others."
- Adrian Thrills, NME, 14 June 1987
"I didn't realise There Is A Light was going to be an anthem," said Johnny Marr, "but when we first played it, I thought it was the best song I'd ever heard." An impossibly affecting examination of unrequited love that also contains what Nick Kent termed "an invocation of a double suicide", it still stands as Morrissey/Marr's finest moment. It also contained a sly in-joke: it shares its staccato bridge in common with both the Velvet's There She Goes and the Stones' version of Marvin Gaye's Hitchhike.
- Mojo, August 2000, voting "There Is A Light..." the 25th Greatest Song Of All-Time
"With this astonishing record the drama Queen proved he really was King. Only Prince's 'Parade' was better in 1986."
- Dylan Jones, i-D, October 1987
"The Smiths' third 'real' LP, and as they become firmly ensconced in popular musical history, we're onto gatefold sleeves and wacky introductions courtesy of Cicely Courtneidge. All, it must be said, pretty par for the course.
What's not par for the course is that this band is still getting better. "What?", I hear you cry. "They all sound the same by now!" Well in a way, yes they do, but the reason a small child goes back for its third chocolate milkshake is because it tastes better than anything else in the shop. It's that simple!
Morrissey and Marr still can't quite get it together all the time, 'Never Had No One Ever' and 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others' bearing all the hallmarks of the familiar Smiths' filler, where music and words hardly embrace.
But when they do, it's real tongues-down-throats stuff providing some of the band's finest moments yet, most noticeably on 'Cemetery Gates', an absolute classic and their best since 'This Charming Man', with Morrissey's chastisement of plagiarism and fake wordSmiths, while Johnny Marr lays down layer upon layer of the most beautiful clipped guitar playing you'll hear this year.
Even the peculiar 'Frankly Mr Shankly' makes sense on repeated hearing, its twee beginnings again bolstered by a swooping Marrism which saves Morrissey's modern George Formby outing from defeating itself. Perhaps the most welcome inclusion here is 'I Know It's Over' where Morrissey finally gets around to delivering a touching and sharp love song, and even though he's still only the third party he'll cry if he wants to.
That Johnny Marr's talents continue to expand by the month is a sure sign that there's a lot more to come from this band. He's still the best top and tail merchant in the business - just listen to his work on 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'. 'The Queen Is Dead' is proof enough that this is still our most charming pop group. With some of Morrissey's funniest ever lyrics ('Vicar In A Tutu', for example) and Johnny and the band doing what they're best at, it all adds up to more than a thousand shamblers could produce in a lifetime. (****1/2)"
- Andy Strickland, Record Mirror, 14 June 1986
"Despite escalating internal friction, this was the band's most confident and coherent album yet, and it remains their most critically lauded. Full-sounding and ambitious, every track is a treasure, though highlights include the acerbic jig, "Frankly Mr Shankly", the swooningly beautiful "I Know It's Over", the deceptively breezy "Cemetry Gates" and the roaringly romantic "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out".
Arguably the best rock album of the Eighties. (*****)"
- Stephen Dalton, Uncut, 1998
"This is neither the time nor the place to indulge in trivial banter; suffice to say that The Smiths' peculiar career manoeuvres, which have caused their audience much exasperation of late, are rendered utterly obsolete by the splendour of The Queen Is Dead, the album which history will in due course denote as being the key work in forcing the group's philistine opposition to down chisels and embrace the concept of The Smiths as the one truly vital voice of the Eighties.
By their third album (I'm not counting Hatful Of Hollow), most groups have commenced losing thier grip on greatness - but not these young trojans. Indeed, The Queen... is considerably more substantial than Meat Is Murder, deserting the latter's occasional sixth-form conceits for a lyrical overview as wickedly droll as it is devastatingly acute.
The whole of the first side is nothing less than perfection, commencing with a title track of epic worth. Driven by a vicious drum tattoo, bonecrunching bass and a snarling viper-like wah-wah guitar vamp, Morrissey unveils a lyric that mixes verbal slapstick with withering insight to document the hideous reality that currently exists as a sluttish excuse for dear old Blighty.
'Frankly, Mr Shankly' is an equally robust and adroitly worded piece of Morrissey autobiography which finds him invoking the ghost of George Formby while Marr and Co underscore the vaudeville with ingenious tension-and-release dynamics.
'Never Had No One Ever' is, at a guess, Marr's tribute to Raw Power-era Stooges (with a nod to 'Heartbreak Hotel'), just as 'What She Said' was The Smiths's musical homage to The MC5. His guitar orchestrations here are absolutely stunning: each layer finally merging to create an utterly hypnotic epilogue of a coda.
'Cemetry Gates' is the most pastoral effort here: a gorgeous loping gambol backing up Morrissey's most elaborate and dexterously rhymed stanzas. After such triumphs, side two is slightly disappointing to these ears, but there is a reason for this. 'The Boy With A Thorn In His Side' should not have been included, I feel ('Unloveable', the giveaway track with the 12-inch of 'Bigmouth' would have been infinitely preferable), while both 'Bigmouth' itself and the potentially remarkable 'There Is A Light' - both great songs - simply don't live up to the live versions performed on the last series of gigs. The latter in particular suffers from an arrangement utilising synthesised strings and the like, which simply detracts from the thrust of the performance, making it sound camp, something Morrissey and Co have to avoid at all costs. 'Vicar In A Tutu' and 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others', sensibly restrained arrangement-wise, may well be lesser songs but, constructed within their rightful limitations, sound absolutely stunning.
I've saved the best to last. Back to side one, track three. 'I Know It's Over' is simply the finest piece of music The Smiths have produced. The song is essentially about loss of innocence or, in my interpretation, of romantic idealism, and is the first piece of music since Frank Sinatra's 'One For My Baby' to have brought me to tears. Morrissey has always been pop's most underrated vocalist, but here his performance is literally devastating. Marr, Rourke, and Joyce keep things spartan, stripped back, gradually building until the climax affords them the rein to almost explode. Yet Morrissey's voice is so totally in control of the dynamics that they shine simply by underpinning his every inflection. The performance and the song are stunning beyond words.
There's so much that I could write about this record, about The Smiths and why I still fervently believe they stand head and shoulders above the rest. Unfortunately, this context is way too limiting to properly express said feelings. Suffice to say this group is the one crucial hope left in evoking a radical restructuring of what pop could - nay, should - essentially be evolving towards. The Queen Is Dead will help bury the one-dimensional misery-guts attitude so beloved of the group's denigrators, while further displaying to all and sundry the simple fact that this is essentially music brimming with valorous intent. The Queen is dead, England in ruins, but here, in the marrow of this extraordinary music, something precious and inately honourable flourishes. The thrill is here, right enough."
- Nick Kent (source unknown)
"The Smiths maturing? The idea is intriguing. The possibilities for improvement are there, but how's this going to affect frontguy Morrissey, you might wonder. He's come on like an observant innocent from the start and his honest petulance has been part of his appeal for his sizable cult audience, even as it turns off others. His slightly larger/stranger than life image is part of what's helped the Smiths rise above the pack of post-Orange Juice hummable/strummables who've been showing up all over the British Isles during the past few years. What if he should (shudder) grow up or what if he gets so crazy he scares everyone away?
Well, if he walks the line between innocence and knowledge, acknowledging both seriousness and silliness he'll be able to do more albums like this one. Real emotions and outlandish notions are coupled in new ways here; lyrics and melodies parry at cross purposes or play with listeners' expectations. The Smiths certainly have a unique perspective, yet they're also part of the healthy heritage of rock eccentrics; one can imagine a slab of prime period Ray Davies, liberally seasoned with Cale and Cohen, being served up on a platter such as this.
Maturity affects different areas of the group in different ways. From a production standpoint, the rhythm section has much more punch and presence than on last year's Meat Is Murder, and the band as a whole sounds more forceful, even when guitarist/co-writer/co-producer Johnny Marr is only strumming chords.
Now, Marr remains a master of melody - to say he gives good chord progression would be giving him short shrift - as well as being among the most self-effacing lead guitarists in rock. With these guys, you always hear the song first, not a guitar lick. Since they're also pop magpies of the first order, you'll hear bits and pieces of pop's past sprinkled throughout their arrangements as well, providing oblique bits of fun and ironic reference points.
They mix it up all sorts of ways these days. The melody and mood of 'Cemetry Gates' are upbeat, yet you're left asking yourself why Morrissey finds it so natural to go to the graveyard to discuss poetry on a 'dreaded sunny day.' The absurdity of authority is taken to task in an ultracivilized manner on the first two tunes, but by the time we get around to side two's rockabilly-fueled 'Vicar in a Tutu,' their lampooning has gotten downright loony.
Not even their trademark melancholia escapes without a tickle or two. Oh, it's left alone with a gorgeous melody on 'I Know It's Over' but it's not allowed to take itself too seriously on 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'.
'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' unites both their up and down sides, adding several twists to typical teen gotta-get-outta-the-house traumas. After insisting that, 'it's not my home, it's their home,' the passenger/singer steps aside as the drummer quotes the break in 'Hitch Hike,' only to return with this jaunty chorus: 'And if a double decker bus/Crashes into us/To die by your side/Such a heavenly way to die.'
Right. Well, it's strange. It's catchy. It's cute. And it's the Smiths. But if it's maturity, hey, can senility be far behind?"
- Michael Davis, Creem
"How about those Smiths, huh? Their last LP, Meat Is Murder, debuted at Numero Uno on the British charts and guess who they bumped? Boss Springsteen! What, some skinny British vegetarian taking on Max Weinberg's snare drum? You've got to be kidding.
But Meat, with its Celtic guitars, skiffle rhythms, Anglicized rockabilly, and music hall bellowings was straight 'Born in the U.K.' material. The songwriting was everything you liked about the British Empire - Mungo Jerry, Gilbert and Sullivan, Tommy Steele, and Poly Styrene - all layered under the gab and whine of a Manchester eccentric. Then, after Meat conquered the Isles, the Smittys crossed the ocean for an uneventful American tour during which lead singer Morrissey railed against the insufferability of both the human condition and various record executives.
Now, the Smiths are back with a new LP, The Queen Is Dead, and the group has a few more quid to spread around the studio. As a result, Johnny Marr's musical contribution is beautifully documented. The guitar-synth arrangements are thematic ('Never Had No One' [sic]), subtly shaded ('The Boy With the Thorn in His Side'), and often exciting ('The Queen Is Dead' and 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others').
No doubt for some the enjoyment stops with Marr. Morrissey's operetta-style delivery and polemic lyrics have lost a few listeners. But before you snap on the vocal eliminator, let's give the guy a chance. The sound of his chosen vocabulary sits well atop the Marr concoctions. His wordplay is excessive, but that's what they're into over there in England. If you sift through the early writings of Oscar Wilde, you end up with a few gems at best. Ditto for Morrissey on Queen: 'As I climb into an empty bed/Oh well, enough said' ('I Know It's Over'); 'I never had no one, ever' ('Never Had No One' [sic]); 'And now I know how Joan of Arc felt/As the flames rose to her Roman nose/And her Walkman started to melt' ('Bigmouth Strikes Again').
Now, I'm not saying he's John Lennon, and I'm not saying he's the Monkees. But you gotta admire a guy who can rhyme 'rusty spanner' with 'play pianner' and who can espouse the beauty of a double-decker bus collision. The only place where the Big M falters is his deathbed recollection on 'I Know It's Over'. This kind of testimonial is best left in the more experienced hands of an Alan Vega.
But Queen is a successful outing. It's memorable in a minor-league way and if nothing else it demonstrates that most admirable trait about the Smiths and about Brit rock in general - the wonderful breeding and development of those two-headed songwriting units. There's something inspiring about these UK teams - Lennon and McCartney, Lennox and Stewart, Jagger and Richards, Godley and Creme - these bonded mates who seem to weather thick and thin for the sake of the song. That's why even the breakup of Wham! had its sad side. Over here in the USA, it's more like every man for himself. So if the Smiths put you uptight, loosen up and give 'em a little room to breathe. Remember, they're different over there in England."
- Rich Stim, Spin
"Ya gotta say this about the Smiths' hyper-romantic bard Morrissey - he's not afraid of criticism. On the title track of his band's third and most accomplished album, he breaks into the Royal Palace only to be told by her Majesty, 'Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing.' In the Kinks-like music hall refrain 'Frankly, Mr. Shankly,' Morrissey takes his own writing to task: 'I didn't realize wrote such bloody awful poetry.' For confessions like 'Bigmouth Strikes Again,' 'Vicar In A Tutu' and the single, 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,' the singer/songwriter deflates his own pretensions by playing the divine fool.
After an impressive debut and eccentric successor (Meat Is Murder, the Smiths figure to follow fellow arena-rockers U2, Simple Minds and Tears For Fears into the big time. The Queen Is Dead melds polish with power, and despite Morrissey's modesty about his vocal ability, his nasal plaints are developing into a distinctive croon. From the slow, dreamy ballad 'I Know It's Over,' to the sing-song twang of 'Vicar In A Tutu' and the jaunty nursery rhyme verse of 'Frankly, Mr. Shankly,' he exhibits an expressive range previously only hinted at.
If Morrissey is one of rock's more evocative voices, his partner, guitarist and musical director Johnny Marr, has turned into a composer adept at building the perfect mise-en-scene to surround it. Morrissey's otherworldly mournfulness is reflected in the lush backdrops of the mostly instrumental 'Never Had No One Ever' and the life-after-death celebration of 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' (the LP's next single).
What I like best about the Smiths is that people either love 'em or hate 'em. Too many of the latter trip over Morrissey's effete politics and droning fatalism, and miss the pie-in-the-face sensibility that has defined U.K. popular culture since before the Beatles injected rock. For the rest of us, Morrissey's antic disposition (the vicar in the tutu, the boy with the thorn in his side) is displayed with such unabashed gusto, it's impossible not to smile, even as he stands on the edge of a bottomless precipice.
'So easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind,' he sings to his critics in 'I Know It's Over'. Turning to his public he asks, 'And if they don't believe me now, will they ever believe me?'
Well, they should. The Queen Is Dead. Long live the Smiths."
- Roy Trakin, Musician
"'Has the world changed/Or have I changed?' Morrissey asks on 'The Queen Is Dead,' the opening cut on the Smiths' third U.S. album, and for once it's not a rhetorical question. Not that he's forsaken his hobbies or anything: this LP has songs about being buried alive, picknicking in cemeteries, Mom, Oscar Wilde, and the comforts of total isolation. There's no mistaking Morrissey's Edith Piaf-on-the-dole vocals or Johnny Marr's wall o' guitars, but the Smiths sound different somehow - self-assured instead of self-obsessed.
It's hard to imagine Morrissey poking fun at himself, but here's the same self-righteous lettucehead of Meat Is Murder singing a song called 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'. As pedaled guitars stretch and yawn (wah-WAH) through tumbling drums, Morrissey comes clean, acknowledging how an articulate wit can slip into glibness. He seems to have opened his eyes a bit, or at least the windows of his bed-sit.
'The Queen Is Dead' parodies media fascination with the royal family over bombastic guitar bursts and an aggressive bass line, while 'Frankly, Mr. Shankly' is a lark, an ambitious gofer's resignation set to a light, Kinks-like shuffle. 'Vicar In A Tutu' has a countrified steel guitar wildly inappropriate to Morrissey's very English diction, but that twang does render the song's central image indelible: a preacher raging behind the pulpit in full drag. What would Johnny Cash make of that?
As expected, Morrissey dons his misery-goat costume for 'I Know It's Over' and 'Never Had No One Ever' (except for Mom, natch). But when he's at his most pretentious, pitting Wilde against Keats and Yeats in a battle of the bards on 'Cemetry Gates,' Morrissey sounds clearer and more melodic than ever before, wafting unlikely lines to high heaven. Like it or not, this guy's going to be around for a while."
- Mark Coleman, Rolling Stone
"The Smiths? Aren't they that depresso band with that miserable moaner Morosey? Nay, sweetness, these are The Smiths with the gorgeous guitar of Johnny Marr ('The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,' 'Bigmouth Strikes Again,' everything else). This is Morrissey, with a voice able to leap from a sob to a yodel, singing poetry - not mere lyrics - that is funny, sarcastic and yes, miserable. But The Smiths handle their heartbreak so delicately, you're surrounded by the feelings, rather than Kleenex, of this stark raving beauty."
- Suzan Colon, Star Hits
"Also coming from across the pond, and also reasonably controversial, are the Smiths, whose new album The Queen Is Dead is without a doubt the best thing they've ever done. The Smith's [sic] Morrisey [sic] may be one of the world's more unloveable, holier-than-thou, militant vegetarians, but this asexual snob can sure sling a lyric. On 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,' he may even have written a chartable single - that is, if the dear man approved of such fascist atrocities as hit singles."
"After disliking their other albums instantly, I was confused enough by my instant attraction to table the question, especially since I had no stomach for the comparisons I knew the answer would entail. And indeed, I still can't stand the others. But here Morrissey wears his wit on his sleeve, dishing the queen like Johnny Rotten never did and kissing off a day-job boss who's no Mr. Selleck. This makes it easier to go along on his moonier escapades, like when he reveals that looks and fame don't guarantee a good social life. Which gives you time to notice the tunes, the guitars, the backup munchkins."
-Robert Christgau, Creem