"The Headmaster Ritual"


Johnny started writing the music in July 1983 during the Troy Tate recording sessions for the band's debut album. He took it a step closer to its definitive shape when he returned to it in early 1984. The song took its final form in October 1984 during the recording sessions for the "Meat Is Murder" album when the band rehearsed it and Morrissey gave it its lyrics.

The song was mainly recorded in October 1984 at Amazon Studios in Liverpool, with the Smiths (mostly Johnny) acting as producer and Stephen Street as recording engineer. Overdubs were added the following month at Ridge Farm Studios in Surrey. The song's final mixing was done in December 1984 at Island Record's Fallout Shelter.


album / single version {4:52}
"Meat Is Murder" album
• Holland-only "The Headmaster Ritual" single, all formats
"Best...II" album
"The Sound Of The Smiths" [remastered 2008]
Phil Brown single edit {3:45}
• original USA and Canada 7" single of "How Soon Is Now?"


Oxford Road Show 22 February 1985 [tv]
This 2-song performance (including "Shakespeare's Sister") is circulated on video bootlegs. The performance is lipsynched so the audio is the original album version of the song.


The song has been performed live 40 times by the Smiths, all on the 1985 Meat Is Murder tour. It was done every night on the tour's UK leg, every night but one on the subsequent American leg, then twice on the Scottish leg before being dropped. It was never played after 1985, although still soundchecked in February 1986.

It has been performed live a further 20 times by Morrissey after the Smiths, as a semi-regular in the first half of the 2004 You Are The Quarry tour.

live Manchester 22 May 2004 {5:01} [Morrissey after the Smiths]
"Who Put The 'M' In Manchester?" live DVD


No demos or studio outtakes of this song have leaked to the general public at this point in time.



"I've got an Epiphone Coronet with one pickup, and I string it with the high strings from a 12-string set. It's a really zingy, trebly guitar. I used that on a lot of things that people think are 12-string, like the end of 'The Headmaster Ritual'... I wrote 'The Headmaster Ritual' on acoustic. It's in an open-D tuning with a capo at the 2nd fret. I fancied the idea of a strange Joni Mitchell tuning, and the actual progression is like what she would have done had she been an MC5 fan or a punk rocker. I knew pretty much what every guitar track would be before we started. There are two tracks of Martin D-28, and the main riff is two tracks of Rickenbacker. I wasn't thinking specifically of the Beatles' 'Day Tripper' -- even though it sounds like it -- but I did think of it as a George Harrison part. The Rickenbacker belonged to Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music; I'm told that it was originally owned by Roger McGuinn. All the guitars are in open tuning, except for one of the chorus guitars, which is done on an Epiphone in Nashville tuning [the four lower strings tuned an octave above standard pitch], capoed at the 2nd fret."
- Johnny Marr, Guitar Player, January 1990

"'The Headmaster Ritual' was a favourite of mine for a long time just because I'm really pleased with the guitars on it and the strange tuning... For my part, 'The Headmaster Ritual' came together over the longest period of time I've ever spent on a song. I first played the riff to Morrissey when we were working on the demos for our first album with Troy Tate. I nailed the rest of it when we moved to Earls Court. That was around the time when we were being fabulous."
- Johnny Marr, Record Collector, November/December 1992

"The nuts and bolts of The Headmaster Ritual came together during the first album, and I just carried on playing around with it. It started off as a very sublime sort of Joni Mitchell-esque chord figure; I played it to Morrissey but we never took it further. Then, as my life got more and more intense, so did the song. The bridge and the chorus part were originally for another song, but I put them together with the first part. That was unusual for me; normally I just hammer away at an idea until I've got a song. It's in open D turning, with a capo at the second fret. Again, it was heavily overdubbed."
- Johnny Marr, The Guitar Magazine, January 1997