The Smiths: Ten Of The Best

2. Unloveable

Originally the third B-side track on the 12″ version of Bigmouth Strikes Again, it would be later included on the compilations The World Won’t Listen and Louder Than Bombs.

Its place as second favourite also made me think whether or not it could surpass the beauty and strength of my first choice.

It couldn’t.

And scouring the internet for some background and titbits, I read that the lyrics are reportedly a mocking reference to The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith, with whom lead singer Morrissey had a public feud with.

Wonder what that was all about. 🤔

Also, Unloveable has never been covered live by Morrissey to date. However, he has been noted to quote the lyric “And if I seem a little strange, that’s because I am.” on occasion during concerts.

Speaking of live concerts, I used to have a pair of bootleg cassettes which I found at an indoor market somewhere near Bolton.

And one of them looked very similar and might well have been the same as the one below.

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This exercise has also had me find some unofficial albums like this German one called Unloveable.

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Tracklist

Miserable Lie
What Difference Does It Make?
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
Hand In Glove
Still Ill
Barbarism Begins At Home
Still Ill (Excerpt)
This Charming Man (Acoustic)
Hand In Glove (Excerpt)
Jeane (Acoustic)
Bigmouth Strikes Again
Vicar In A Tutu
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Panic
Sheila Take A Bow
Shoplifters Of The World Unite
Hand In Glove
Rock’n’roll Part Two
Unloveable #1
Unloveable #2
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out 

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So why does Unloveable rank so high? What really works for me in this song is the tailpiece.

Beginning at 03:06 it builds up and up before the fade-out with Mozza’s vocals backgrounded a little. You hear it okay but it’s the thirty seconds of beauty when he’s… what is it exactly, who knows, who cares, if the song wasn’t great already, the finishing line nails it.

I know I’m unloveable
You don’t have to tell me
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours
Oh…

I know I’m unloveable
You don’t have to tell me
Oh, message received
Loud and clear
Loud and clear
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours

I know I’m unloveable
You don’t have to tell me
For message received
Loud and clear
Loud and clear
Message received
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours

I wear black on the outside
‘Cause black is how I feel on the inside
I wear black on the outside
‘Cause black is how I feel on the inside

And if I seem a little strange
Well, that’s because I am
If I seem a little strange
That’s because I am

But I know that you would like me
If only you could see me
If only you could meet me

Oh…
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours
I don’t have much in my life
But take it – it’s yours

3. I Know It’s Over

According to Wiki, the song was “originally meant to have trumpet on it during the refrain at the end, but it was scrapped”

Wow. Can you imagine that? Oh Mother I can feel… with brass in the background. God forbid.

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In the book Songs That Saved Your Life, author Simon Goddard explained that Morrissey did not show his band-mates the lyrics to the song until the instrumental track was entirely finished.

Simon Reynolds of Pitchfork wrote “The writing in ‘I Know It’s Over’ is a tour de force, from the opening image of the empty—sexless, loveless—bed as a grave, through the suicidal inversions of ‘The sea wants to take me/The knife wants to slit me,’ onto the self-lacerations of ‘If you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight?’ and finally the unexpected and amazing grace of ‘It’s so easy to hate/It takes strength to be gentle and kind.

It’s the really clever lyrics and the maudlin, sheer desperation of it all that won my heart and enabled the high placement in this Smiths top ten.

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In particular “love is natural and REAL but not for such as you and I”. It’s a nod to that feeling of displacement, when you question why relationships can be so simple for others but they never quite work out for you.

I’m thinking now that I’ve not seen I Know It’s Over in the many other top tens posted on Twitterland.

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Over the years, flying the flag for the song has left me open to ridicule on music forums. “It’s a horrible dirge” others protested.

Well I think it’s a beautiful dirge and I cannot always expect others to have passions just like mine.

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
And as I climb into an empty bed
Oh well. Enough said.
I know it’s over – still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go
Oh…

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
See, the sea wants to take me
The knife wants to slit me
Do you think you can help me?

Sad veiled bride, please be happy
Handsome groom, give her room
Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
(Though she needs you
More than she loves you)
And I know it’s over – still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go
Over and over and over and over
Over and over…

I know it’s over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real
And you even spoke to me, and said :
“If you’re so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
And if you’re so clever
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you’re so very entertaining
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you’re so very good-looking
Why do you sleep alone tonight ?
I know…

‘Cause tonight is just like any other night
That’s why you’re on your own tonight
With your triumphs and your charms
While they’re in each others arms…”
It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
Over, over, over, over

It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind
Over, over
Love is natural and real
But not for you, my love
Not tonight, my love
Love is natural and real
But not for such as you and I, my love

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…

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4. Well I Wonder

I do love the sound of falling rain. And thunder too. All too rare in songs don’t you find?

But that’s not the reason that Well I Wonder earns a place in this coveted ten.

It’s the sheer simplicity of it all.

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For me it’s the best song on Meat Is Murder, even surpassing the sublime That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.

And best of all, this song was on the flip-side of the twelve-inch How Soon Is Now I used to have, that song as you’ve seen was my number five though in these Twitter posts I’ve noticed someone had it down as their numero uno.

Well I wonder…
do you hear me when you sleep?
I hoarsely cry

Well I wonder…

do you see me when we pass?
I half-die

Please keep me in mind
Please keep me in mind

Gasping but somehow still alive
This is the fierce last stand of all I am

Gasping, dying but somehow still alive
This is the final stand of all I am

Please keep me in mind

That’s what I mean about simplicity. Well I Wonder kicks into gear at 0:32 (when that bassline begins) and drifts along so beautifully and no, I’ve no idea why the person was gasping and dying but it really doesn’t matter.

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Conversely I can understand how it wouldn’t rank high, say, if we were to rate all the Meat Is Murder songs; I can imagine how some might feel that Well I Wonder is fairly average.

For me it’s always been a thing of beauty and is worthy of its place here.

5. How Soon Is Now

There’s a club if you’d like to go. You could meet someone who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own. And you leave on your own. And you go home and you cry and you want to die.

But did anyone ever imagine what kind of club? A singles club? A nightclub or disco?

Whichever it was the sarcasm in the prophecy that you “could meet someone” resonated hard with those who returned fruitless from Friday night nocturnal ventures.

I think How Soon Is Now is almost anthemic as Panic or There Is A Light.

Johnny Marr’s demo was originally called “Swamp”. In contrast to the frequent chord changes he had employed in most Smiths’ songs, Marr wanted to explore building a song around a single chord (in this case, F♯) as much as possible, which also appealed to producer John Porter.

“We used to smoke dope from when we got out of bed to when we got back to bed”, recalls Porter, and Marr concurred: “You’re from Manchester, you smoke weed till it comes out of your ears.” 

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And the song rambles on for almost seven minutes though when I do play it, I never actually want it to end.

Another thing of note to me is that the fade out is succinct here. Deserving. I’m not a fan of fade-outs by any stretch but you couldn’t imagine this song just stopping on a single note.

It’s still not one of their biggest hits though is it, peaking at number twenty four in the UK singles chart.

But it wins a place in my ten favourite Smith’s songs. I just couldn’t help myself. 

6. Sweet And Tender Hooligan.

Class of ’87. Bang at it again with questionable lyricism, The Smiths came up with a bit of a rock anthem here.

In the previous year The Smiths had their big disco hit with Panic and the uplifting Ask, notwithstanding the fabulous Shoplifters and Sheila Take A Bow.

Hooligan should have been a single at the time. Available on Louder Than Bombs, heaven knows why it would be eight years before it was decided to be put out as a single release.

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In 1987, the band were still everywhere you cared to look, big posters donning the facias of HMV, Mozza back on TOTP and slammed by MP’s, yes MP’s, no strangers themselves to controversy, over lines in Girlfriend In A Coma.

The Beeb also banned Stop Me because of “plan a mass murder”.

It’s the lyrics and interpretation I want to focus on today. Because being an autie I read everything quite literally but once I’d got it, grasped the true reality, I just found it funny.

“But she was old and she would have died anyway”

At the time a family I knew had a boy who was twelve tops and I’d introduced The Smiths to him.

“Is it supposed to be funny?” he asked having heard the three bar fire lyric.

Keyword “supposed”. I saw The Smiths akin to shock jocks. Radio presenters paid to peddle controversy ergo it didn’t really represent what they truly believed.

Etcetera! Etcetera!

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So it was all a bit of fun. We all appreciate I think the sharp wit of Stephen Patrick and when it boiled down to these innuendoes I was naturally hooked, having endured a diet of Carry On movies growing up.

And being a football fan, Hooligan appeared to be a direct nod to the game. What was not to love?

The music was written by Johnny in early 1986. Morrissey must have written the lyrics soon after, or perhaps when the song was recorded.

An early, slower version of the song was recorded during the sessions for the “Panic” single, in May 1986 at Livingston Studios in London with producer John Porter and fifth Smith Craig Gannon, alongside Panic and The Draize Train.

Another version was recorded with producer John Porter on 2 December 1986 for the band’s final appearance on John Peel’s BBC programme (broadcast 17 December 1986). This is the version which has been released and with which we are now familiar.

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So when it comes to choosing ten of the best, Sweet And Tender Hooligan is a worthy pick because it does a little more than it says on the tin.

“In the midst of life we are in death, etcetera.”

An important reminder of where we all are.

Death our ultimate loss but you know, while we’re here, let’s make the most of life.

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Yawn.

They’re telling you what is good and what isn’t. Rather than, well we think that this is bigger than others.

So please please please don’t take this seriously. It’s Rolling Stone after all. Three years ago, they decided to rank all 73 Smiths songs…

  1. Accept Yourself
  2. Barbarism Begins at Home
  3. Paint A Vulgar Picture
  4. Meat Is Murder
  5. Work Is A Four Letter Word
  6. I Keep Mine Hidden
  7. Golden Lights
  8. Back To The Old House
  9. Death At One’s Elbow
  10. Money Changes Everything
  11. Well I Wonder
  12. The Draize Train
  13. What’s The World
  14. Oscillate Wildly
  15. Girl Afraid
  16. Jeane
  17. Asleep
  18. Wonderful Woman
  19. Suffer Little Children
  20. I Won’t Share You
  21. Miserable Lie
  22. Rusholme Ruffians
  23. This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  24. I Don’t Owe You Anything
  25. Vicar In A Tutu
  26. Sweet And Tender Hooligan
  27. These Things Take Time
  28. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
  29. Unhappy Birthday
  30. Nowhere Fast
  31. Pretty Girls Make Graves
  32. I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
  33. Never Had No-one Ever
  34. Rubber Ring
  35. The Headmaster Ritual
  36. London
  37. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
  38. A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
  39. I Want The One I Can’t Have
  40. Girlfriend In A Coma
  41. Sheila Take A Bow
  42. Frankly Mr. Shankly
  43. What She Said
  44. Is It Really So Strange?
  45. Unloveable
  46. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  47. You’ve Got Everything Now
  48. Shakespeare’s Sister
  49. What Difference Does It Make?
  50. Shoplifters Of The World Unite
  51. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
  52. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
  53. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
  54. Ask
  55. You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby
  56. Death Of A Disco Dancer
  57. Hand In Glove
  58. Stretch Out And Wait
  59. Still Ill
  60. Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before
  61. Bigmouth Strikes Again
  62. William, It Was Really Nothing
  63. Cemetery Gates
  64. Reel Around The Fountain
  65. Handsome Devil
  66. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
  67. The Queen Is Dead
  68. Panic
  69. How Soon Is Now
  70. Ths Charming Man
  71. I Know It’s Over
  72. Half A Person
  73. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Now because it was Rolling Stone and the article was in a scroll down, I knew exactly what the number one would be.

As predictable as when they tell us that OK Computer is the greatest album ever. It’s not even Radiohead’s best album in my opinion.

Opinions. Yes, about those. All us Smith’s fans are doing these top tens and there’s not one jot of critique, only appreciation and applause. Which is great.

But while are chosen lists will be different, I still feel that most will look at the above and say – have a word with yourselves.

While I’m thrilled to see some sanity in I Know It’s Over being third ‘best’ – two instrumentals are suddenly better than Well I Wonder? Cemetery Gates as high as eleven? Even Back To The Old House has suffered, personally that would make it into my top twenty-five.

Anyway, as we count down, I am a few days behind so without further ado, here’s my choice for number seven.

  1. This Night Has Opened My Eyes

In a river the color of lead
Immerse the baby’s head
Wrap her up in the News Of The World
Dump her on a doorstep, girl

This night has opened my eyes
And I will never sleep again
You kicked and cried like a bullied child
A grown man of twenty-five

Oh, he said he’d cure your ills
But he didn’t and he never will
Oh, save your life
Because you’ve only got one

The dream has gone
But the baby is real
Oh, you did a good thing
She could have been a poet

Or, she could have been a fool
Oh, you did a bad thing
And I’m not happy
And I’m not sad

A shoeless child on a swing
Reminds you of your own again
She took away your troubles
Oh, but then again

She left pain
So, please save your life
Because you’ve only got one
The dream has gone

But the baby is real
Oh, you did a good thing
She could have been a poet
Or, she could have been a fool

Oh, you did a bad thing
And I’m not happy
And I’m not sad
Oh…

And I’m not happy
And I’m not sad
Oh…
And I’m not happy and I’m not sad

Recorded on 14th September 1983 it’s one of the few Peel session songs I care for that appear on Hatful.

True to say that with so many non-album tracks, there might have been one or two more studio albums rather than the hotch-potch of compilations.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at for now, four songs down and six to go

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On a radiator in my lounge sits that t-shirt. It is one of the few things I have kept from the 1980’s, an original one too, purchased in HMV.

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T’was summer of ’86. The previous year had been a hot summer and the release of The Queen Is Dead in mid-June was much awaited I remember.

It would be my last summer in Southampton and I’d play this album, along with Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ repeatedly on my cassette Walkman and everyone sunbathed on the common.

“As the flames rose to her Roman nose
And her Walkman started to melt”

The Queen Is Dead is as perfect an album as So is too. What tracks would you ever skip? I think it’s packed with angst and wit and delivers the songs in a series of punches that would flatten most pugilists.

This is the first of two songs from The Queen Is Dead in my chosen ten. I could connect personally with the words, imagining loving someone so much but never having fulfilment or standing a chance.

Twenty years, seven months and twenty seven days is one hell of a long time to dream.

  1. Never Had No One Ever

Album: The Queen Is Dead
Released: 1986

When you walk without ease
On these streets where you were raised
I had a really bad dream
It lasted 20 years, 7 months and 27 days
And I know alone that I never, ever oh
Had no one ever

Now I’m outside your house
I’m alone
And I’m outside your house
I hate to intrude

Oh, I’m alone, I’m alone
I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone

And I never, never oh
Had no one ever
I never had no one ever
I never had no, no one ever
Had no one never
Never, no, oh

Now we all love a Smiths compilation but I was unaware of this unofficial release until now. So it’s something perhaps for the boy who has to have everything?

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9. Wonderful Woman

I’ve always liked this enough for it to be placed ahead of other more well-known Smiths songs. The only snag here was where it would feature in the ten. Given the strength of what’s to come, ninth position seems almost perfect.

Here’s what Morrissey later said about this song (as quoted in Simon Goddard’s book ‘Songs That Saved Your Life’):

“In a monotonous way, it’s quite tongue-and-cheek. The wonderful woman is actually an incredibly vicious person but still at the end of the day she had this incredible magnetic ray to me. All the things that she wanted to do, nasty as they were, were completely forgivable due to whatever reason. It’s all metaphysical.”

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10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

“Bloody hellfire”.

That’s what Tommy utters under his breath in The Grapes as Duffy walks in, gyrating an arm above his head in mock up of Morrissey’s dance rotuine.

“The Smiths! This Charming Man”

“Label?”

“Rough Trade”

“Year”

“1983”

“Correctomundo”

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I was fifteen when The Smiths came into my life, well on my way to becoming a charming man.

In fact, this band were to dominate my life musically for the next few years, replacing The Jam who I had been listening to fervently from the age of ten.

I’ve heard it said a few times that The Smiths came along just at the right time.

The eighties had such a vast cross-section of styles and The Smiths were something different again, a hand that fitted a glove so perfectly.

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My introduction was by my cousin Andrew when he put on Heaven Knows. “You just have to listen to this” he said.

I’d been aware of The Smiths but maybe I hadn’t heard anything that blew me away.

Yes, I liked Heaven Knows but I had to take a backward step and buy their debut album and that is where I connected and everything fell into place.

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A couple of tracks with questionable lyrics that were to come under scrutiny but still a debut album packed with songs of measure and value, not less Johnny Marr’s sublime guitar work.

And on Twitter right now, so many people are tweeting their Top Twenty-Fives and Top-Tens, I decided to make my own ten.

This Charming Man

William, It Was Really Nothing

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Some might say, how can you have a Smiths top ten without those? Oh I can. Easily.

For one thing, I think my ten will be a little different to most and perhaps contain the more deep and dark cuts.

And for another, it’s great that we all vary so much in our selections. It’s down to personal choice so in the end if I don’t include their most popular songs, what difference does it make?

So at number ten, it is Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now because for me, this is where it all began.

10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

2 thoughts on “The Smiths: Ten Of The Best

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