SIDE ONE TRACK ONE: MORRISSEY

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Continuing our celebration of album openers, and with Morrissey adding one more to his collection in the form of My Love, I’d Do Anything For You from Low In High School, we take a look at his eleven previous Side One Track One* songs.

*A vinyl, or possibly even cassette reference, for any non-hipsters.

1. Alsation Cousin (Viva Hate, 1988)

On his first post Smiths effort it seemed that Viva Hate was to be somewhat of a continuation of the final, and what Morrissey and Marr consider to be the best, Smiths album Strangeways, Here We Come. Moz tapped longtime Smiths engineer and Strangeways producer Stephen Street to produce and co-write the album (a thoughtful move considering Street had originally sent a number of demos of these songs to Morrissey with the intention of them being b-sides for the final Smiths singles), who in turn drafted a mercurially gifted black bonced Mancunian dream weaving guitarist, The Durutti Column mastermind Vini Reilly, to play on the album.

The album itself is a more diverse work than the expected Smiths lap of honour, and Alsation Cousin feels like a more diverse take on a horny Morrissey song. The sexuality here sounds more brutish and forceful, both lyrically in it’s demands for, and delivery of, declaration and musically with it’s industrial underpinning and abattoir (more on that later, sorry Morrissey!) guitars. It’s a fitting and exciting opening for the appropriately lovingly hateful album the unleashed full throttle Morrissey on the world. For better or worse.

Choice lyrics: ‘A note upon his desk: ‘P.S. Bring me home and have me.’ Leather elbows on a tweed coat. Oh, Is that the best you can do?

2. Piccadilly Palare (Bona Drag, 1990)

Whilst not technically a proper album (it’s rather, or in fact just straight up is, a compilation of Morrissey’s most popular singles from the early part of his 2 year long solo career) Bona Drag deserves to be treated as an album in it’s own right. Because it would be stupid of me to pass up on the opportunity to talk about Piccadilly Palare. And also the route of choosing to release singles rather than a follow up album was a business decision rather than an artistic one, so the 4 songs that weren’t Viva Hate songs/b-sides would’ve been their own album anyway. So get off my back, yeah?

Piccadilly Palare feels glamorously clandestine; an undercover agent in an already uncovered world, with it’s skulking bassline, Morrissey’s rolling vocals and an intermittent languid ragged ringmaster piano to boot. Pop stars had been embracing their sexuality to the gleeful ruin of the hardening world around them, and hey – all the power ever to them, and then some. But Piccadilly Palare is a supremely more nourishing exercise of taboo. It concerns itself with male prostitution and the cant slang language of Polari used by said male prostitutes, and later members of the gay community in the 60s to disguise discussion of sexual activity still considered illegal in the UK (see, why would I pass up the chance to get into this song?). It’s a ludicrously fun number, with a lingering unexplained, and kind of unexplored, darkness. It’s forever present and yet never reveals itself, which seems incredibly fitting, and is traversed with pomp and relish by Moz (who, for what it’s worth, is no fan of the song anymore, calling it “a student work of novelty that wears off before noon”, further displaying his own questionable taste , albeit it in a prime manner).

Choice lyrics: ‘On the rack I was. Easy meat, and a reasonably good buy.’

3. Our Frank (Kill Uncle, 1991)

Can I be frank with you? Frankly, Our Frank is light fare. It’s a steady semi enjoyable welcome note to an album that settles on similar terrain. The fact its horny (in that it sounds like horns – dirty, naughty you) Madness recalling bassline, provided shockingly enough by Madness bassist Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford, and echoes of near namesake Frankly, Mr. Shankly are the most prominent things to take away from every listen of it speaks volumes (along with the fact that when Morrissey sings ‘stop me’ at one point your reaction is to think, ‘Oh yeah, I should listen to Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, even it it is a pain to have to type the whole title out).

More interesting (I’m reaching here) is the video. It’s not interesting, but it has a whole load of skinheads larking abut around Kings Cross. And Morrissey doesn’t recall it fondly (along with the director John Maybury’s name): ‘I made a video years ago for the song Our Frank with the director James Maybury that was so awful that we tried to hide it’. One suspects he might feel differently about that now*.

*(Not me. My Portuguese friend One, from down ol’ South America way, suspects it. Listen, I’m not saying Morrissey increasingly subscribes to racist dog whistle ideology a handful of times a year. I’m not. No really, I’m not. One has very convincing and compelling arguments in regards to that conversation though. And we should hear him out. He has PhD’s and 4 full bookcases and the DVD boxset of Kieślowski’s Dekalog. He’s a good guy.)

Choice lyrics: ‘Give us a drink and make it quick. Or else I’m gonna be sick – all over. Your frankly vulgar red pullover. Now see how the two colours blend.’

4. You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side (Your Arsenal, 1992)

By 1992 everything had changed for Morrissey. In the sense that nothing had changed for Morrissey. I mean, sure, he had a new band backing him up and it was the start of the two longest (co-) songwriting relationships of his career with Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer respectively (although a Moz and Boz cut wouldn’t make this album). But lets not kid ourselves here, nothing much ever changes for Morrissey. Or does it?

Whyte and Boorer came from the Rockabilly scene, and it’s these roots that make You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side a cool song. It’s sonic landscape feels built on leftover guitars still droning from Sonic Youth’s Kool Thing 2 years earlier, and that’s just the start of it’s industrious flavour. It’s fuzzed up riff is a feat unto itself, sounding like a surf rock song played on instruments fused into functional states from the killing tools off the abattoir floor heard on the the opening of Meat Is Murder. It’s a thing of bastardised wonder, and the song a great punchy turn from Moz. I guess it could’ve been argued at that point that some change was afoot.

Choice lyrics: And here I am! And here I am! Well, you don’t need to look so pleased.

5. Now My Heart Is Full (Vauxhall & I, 1994)

Fuck change man! We’re back on the most maudlin of Morrissey ground with Now My Heart Is Full, and it’s one of the most Morrissey moments of his career. And simply one of his finest too. The debut outing of a Boy Boorer song is a searing soaring ballad, with one of Morrissey’s most evocative vocals, where he seems to encapsulate the exhaustion about feeling an unidentified thing. He purrs and he croons and he swoons and it doesn’t diverge much from a typical Mozza performance, but it has something not every song of his has; the most perfect lyrics. And there’s just something about when he gets down some incredible lyrics from his tip top desk drawer for himself that seems to lead him to making great choices, and takes his voice to the next level.

But don’t take my word for it: ‘To be honest, I was very happy to be able to sing this text, to have reached this state. After this song I could perfectly retire: I’ve come full circle’. Me and Morrissey are simpatico when he is a good boy doing great things.

Choice lyrics: Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt, every jammy Stressford poet, loafing oafs in all night chemists, loafing oafs in all night chemists. Underact, express depression. Ah but Bunnie I loved you – I was tired again, I’ve tried again.’

6. The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils (Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

We’ve hit our midway point. So let’s shake things up a bit. Have a little fun.

It’s time for some role play! You’re a well known solo artist, beloved by some and, well, it doesn’t matter what the rest feel about you. It’s not in your nature to think about them. Or the people you are beloved by for that matter. Look, the point is you’re a number of years into a healthy career, your legacy is well and truly locked down, and you can carry going about your usual business and a lot of people would be happy with that. But you have an idea. You’re gonna release an album that leans into the sort of art rock tendencies that sends fans running for the hills with your old records in their headphones to block out this new future you. How do you think that goes?

Terribly, right? Well that’s where you’re going wrong, and you should think about being more like Morrissey (in respect to this very particular scenario alone please). You know that song about abuse in state schools you’ve been toying with? That you’d usually use to play on a sort of contradictory upbeat sound and appear all the more biting for it? Well, and hear my out here, maybe work on making it sound ominously murky. Mix in a sample from a symphony by a Russian composer and three time Order of Lenin recipient in there to make it inexplicably sound like the most fulfilling of art house Bond songs. Then make it 11 minutes long, and pin it as the opening track. Oh, and when it comes to recording the vocal track, make sure you have a cold. Don’t just try and make it sound like you have one, fully commit. Sing from the very back of your throat, pulling up as much breath as you can muster. Really cloud and condensate the surroundings and empty spaces with your illness. And keep it for as much of the album as you can.

I’m being acidulous right? You’re wrong. You’re so so wrong. Southpaw Grammar is a great album, and Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils is one of the songs that tips it towards that greatness. It’s a grandiose symphonic exercise in scoring ever encroaching doom that purveys a variety of ills. It endures at the edges of your mind once it finishes, and is probably what’s under your bed at night.*

*Editor note: This article was written a good 3 months before John Lewis’ Moz The Monster Christmas campaign. This is just an extremely pleasing coincidence, that Moz The Man would probably hate.

Choice lyrics: ‘There’s too many people planning your downfall.’

7. Maladjusted (Maladjusted, 1997)

It’s all too easy to draw parallels between Maladjusted, the song, and Maladjusted, the album. And so, for there’s not really much to say about either, that’s what I’ll do! They are one of the same; plain sailing endeavours that drift listlessly and don’t really go anywhere of interest. If anywhere at all. Maladjusted, the song, is overly wordy and forever searching, never managing to locate its hook. On the word front, there are a number of lines in there with real literary merit, but that’s the case in many Morrissey songs. What he does with those words in Maladjusted doesn’t do them justice, and I think there’s a tendency amongst Morrissey fans to conflate and confuse good lyricism and good song writing. Other songs are much more deserving of that debate than this one.

There are attempts of a salvo lurking in the background of Maladjusted, in the shape of a build up of siren guitars. For a split second they kid you into thinking this is where the apex of the song lies; that all that has been at the fore before is a build up for bursting into a fit of calculated wreckage. But they continue subdued and sidelined, shouting from behind a mediocre frontline.

Choice lyrics: ‘You stalk the house in a low-cut blouse. Oh Christ, another stifled Friday night.’

8. America Is Not The World (You Are The Quarry, 2004)

On release, You Are The Quarry was heralded as a return to form for Morrissey, although after 7 years out the album game it’s always difficult to discern what is a return to form and what is rather just a return.

But You Are The Quarry was a return to form; albeit it after only the one bad album, rather than the handful a number of others were claiming. And America Is Not The World is a very nice song. One that despite what its title suggests, swells with a heartfelt yearning, a tenderness and progressive message worth championing. With that being said, it has some of the most ridiculous lyrics ever penned for a melody. The charm of the song itself is that it does a great job of counterbalancing the sincerity of the composition and the silliness of Morrissey phrasing (albeit of very valid points). His more goofy tendencies of Christmas past were quite endearing in a personable and engaging way, but this was the point where Morrissey’s language antics jumped the shark. In a wholly entertaining way, but not one where I can’t credit him with being witty or interesting when he does it. I still laugh though. Every time.

Choice lyrics: ‘In America – it brought you the hamburger – well America, you know where you can shove your hamburger
. And don’t you wonder why in Estonia they say – Hey you, you fat pig, you fat pig, you fat pig.’

9. I Will See You In Far Off Places (Ringleader Of The Tormentors, 2006)

I Will See You In Far Off Places is a bombastic opening for the brash and forthright Ringleader Of The Tormentors, an album emboldened by the presence of legendary producer, and primary Bowie cohort, Tony Visconti behind the desk. It’s the sound of a confident and empowered artist; by the standing his last album allowed him, by his new home city of Rome, and by the musicians new and old he’s surrounded himself with. It’s dense artful rock music, lucidly beautiful in it’s brutish commandeering of it’s audience. A song that needs neither questions or explanation.

Choice lyrics: ‘If your god bestows protection upon you, and if the USA doesn’t bomb you, I believe i will see you somewhere safe – looking to camera, messing around and pulling faces.’

10. Something Is Squeezing My Skull (Years Of Refusal, 2010)

This is fun fun fun fun fun fun. Such fun. So much fun. It’s fun in a way only Moz can really pull off. There are hints of substance involved ongoings of both the prescription and recreational persuasion that appear problematic, and yet it’s still so much fun. Until, that is, he neutralises the tone with an authentic affectation of desperation through the final refrain. And yet, even that sonically is so much fun. There’s an alleviation in the beginning despite whatever the subject matter may be. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s a freedom to the whole thing. It feels as if he’s celebrating a facilitation for what is usually perceived to be a darkness or a life that is lacking when he throws out his Lord edge lord lines. From it’s car crash soundalike opening to Morrissey listing off a dizzying variety of psychoactive and psychiatric drugs, they sound like they’re working. Until they’re not. Well, whatever it all means, it’s a punchy little number to open a punchy little gem of an album.

Choice lyrics: ‘I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out
– Thank you, drop dead.’

11. World Peace Is None Of Your Business (World Peace Is None Of Your Business, 2014)

Oh man. Oh boy. Oh deary dear dear. Ohhhhhh, I don’t want to do this. I can’t. I’m tapping out. Over to Dan:

Bona Drag aside, World Peace… marked the big 1-0 for solo Morrissey albums, and was cause for celebration all round. For a couple of weeks. Released on the iconic Harverst Records label the year after the Penguin Classics published Autobiography, the album entered the UK charts at 2, continuing a top 3 streak held since You Are The Quarry. Not long after this feat, however, Moz and Harvest parted ways as amicably as you might imagine… Not very. Planned single releases were halted, accusations were made (live, on stage, by Moz, in front of thousands), including the slating of the spoken word lyrics videos used to promote a handful of the tracks before the album’s release. (I rather liked them…) As for the title track, it’s perhaps Steven at his most to-the-point; fewer flowers in the language, almost as if this idea began as his next Penguin Classic, and a children’s one at that.

Choice lyrics: ‘Each time you vote you support the process, each time you vote you support the process, each time you vote you support the process, Brazil and Bahrain…’

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