The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
Ah, record shops. How we loved record shops and record shopping. Those grey, overcast days in February and March where we were absolutely adamant that we would walk home with a bag containing a CD or two dangling from our wrists as our hands were thrust in the pockets of our overcoats, even if there was nothing there we particularly wanted. But how curious we were about this band as pre-millennial seventeen year-olds, how we’d read the stars of the moment say how wonderful they were, how we would come to revere them, to this day, as The Greatest Band Of All Time. We would walk three miles home from our mundane part-time jobs, sharing an earphone each from a Walkman, listening to a tape on which a strange man sung of the soil falling over his head and knowing how Joan Of Arc felt and never ever wanting to go home. How we felt like we understood everything life could possibly be at that tender age. How we fell in love with The Smiths.
A personal approach, yes, but there really is no other way you can evaluate this band. In many ways, ranking Smiths albums is pointless because you consume the entire package rather than their works. No other band in the history of music has inspired such devotion, worship and adoration.
You could live in a Smiths song, you could feel the drizzle in your hair and kick through the puddles and you could do as ten thousand grubby indie kids have done and barricade yourself in your room and listen to Morrissey’s glorious vocal on I Know Its Over as the one you’re meant to be with dumps you for the twentieth time. I remember when I had started gigging with Sal Paradise and Xavier and I were sat in Sharkey’s Bar one evening. A barmaid came over to us with some promo postcards on which you were encouraged to scrawl whichever vodka-drenched nugget of wisdom that you saw fit and then give them it back so they could post it. I addressed it to our boss and wrote “I want to leave, you will not miss me, I want to go down in musical history.” Didn’t happen.
The Queen Is Dead, the track, is ferocious. The most frantically garbled vocal since Subterranean Homesick Blues and guitar-work that left Johnny Marr shaking upon leaving the booth. Cemetery Gates has some of the finest word-play of any lyric ever and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is home to a musical composition entirely unique, with no comparison in rock. And then we have There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, in this writer’s opinion, the very apex of music itself; The Greatest Song Ever Written. It is effectively a love song to a friend (Morrissey to Marr, allegedly, actually, not allegedly) and, like a great episode of Twin Peaks, there are so many levels and hidden secrets to it that you will never get tired of hearing it. When I saw Morrissey solo at the MEN in 2004, he ran offstage before he sang the final refrain, as if he couldn’t handle the immense emotion of it all, and if you youtube Noel Gallagher covering it at his Teenage Cancer Trust benefit, he strums his guitar so delicately he looks like he’s delivering a baby, like he’s completely terrified of not doing the song justice.
Many people who know my taste in music may have thought I would have put this album much higher up in this list, and despite the high points being as good as popular music has ever got, the album as a whole has some noticeable lows; Never Had No-one Ever doesn’t really go anywhere and Vicar In A Tutu is lightweight, while Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is rumoured to be the song that started the demise of the greatest songwriting partnership ever seen, and yes I am including Lennon and McCartney in that. The peaks far outweigh the troughs, and although it deserves its constant place in Best Albums Ever lists, The Smiths made a better album than The Queen Is Dead.
Best Tracks: The Queen Is Dead, I Know Its Over, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Best Moment: The vocal outro to I Know Its Over. To idiots, the carping of a self pitying drama queen. To everyone else, the emotional peak of one of the most moving songs ever written.
Like this? Try: The First Tindersticks Album by Tindersticks, 1993
Allen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx