It was a clash of two future musical titans, New Year’s Eve, 1983 at New York’s legendary Danceteria.
Madonna, still the part-time coat-check girl at the nightclub, was chosen to open for, of all artists, The Smiths. This was the band’s first trip to the U.S. and they had just landed hours before. It was also on this trip that Morrissey worried about being thrown out of the band, and two days later Johnny Marr sweet-talked Sire Records’ Seymour Stein into buying him a new guitar: his iconic cherry red ‘59 Gibson ES-355.
According to Marr, the jet-lagged band paid very little attention to the girl opening for them, and he personally didn’t think very highly of her. Of course, Morrissey has said a lot nastier things about her over the years.
Johnny Marr on the night Madonna opened for The Smiths:
I only recently learned that the singular British polymath artist Derek Jarman, director of Caravaggio, Blue, and Jubilee, directed a bunch of music videos in the 1980s, including several for The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys, which is a perfect fit when you think about it.
The Smiths, “Ask”
This 12-minute short movie, already tackled for DM by Paul Gallagher in 2012, is called The Queen Is Dead—basically it’s three videos strung together for the title track, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” and “Panic”:
Both of Jarman’s videos for Pet Shop Boys were for their second album, Actually.
The recent Internet rumor that Morrissey: Autobiography was no longer to be published by Penguin Books (allegedly due to a “content disagreement”) has been finally quashed by the publishers, who claim the eagerly anticipated memoir will be published in the coming weeks. This has also been confirmed by the Morrissey fan site, True To You, which posted the following:
“The publication of Morrissey’s Autobiography remains with Penguin Books. This is a deal for the UK and Europe, but Morrissey has no contract with a publisher for the US or any other territory. As of 13 September, Morrissey and Penguin (UK) remain determined to publish within the next few weeks.”
So, it looks like American Morrissey fans may have to wait for a US publisher to pick up the rights. With the interest shown in this memoir, that shouldn’t take long.
Meanwhile, the former Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, who released his debut solo album, The Messenger, in February of this year to overwhelmingly positive reviews, has been telling the press what he likes in music:
“...short, sharp, snappy songs with glamorous, sexy guitars and lyrics that sound like poetry that moves at the speed of light – that’s what rock or pop music should be about and it should come alive on the stage. Bands you can see and come away knowing they’ve put a lot into it. A lot of bands I saw when I was younger gave me that feeling of really wanting to be there. You feel like you’re having a unique experience with the band and they’re having a unique experience with you.
You’ll find a damn fine selection of short, sharp, snappy Smiths’ songs (all dressed up with poetry and guitars) on this classic edition of Rockpalast, from 1984. You’ll also note that the band repeat three of the set list as an encore—obviously they didn’t have enough songs back then—finishing on “Barbarism Begins At Home” which would feature on their 1985 album Meat is Murder.
01. “Hand in Glove”
02. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”
03. “Girl Afraid”
04. “This Charming Man”
05. “Pretty Girls Make Graves”
06. “Still ill”
07. “Barbarism Begins At Home”
08. “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”
09. “Miserable Lie”
10. “You’ve Got Everything Now”
11. “Handsome Devil”
12. “What Difference Does It Make”
13. “These Things Take Time”
14. “This Charming Man”
15. “Hand In Glove”
16. “Barbarism Begins At Home”
Johnny Marr tours the UK in October and the US October/November, details here.
Originally made for The South Bank Show, this documentary on The Smiths was filmed just days before the band went their separate ways in 1987. It’s a fitting testament to one of the most talented and influential bands of the 1980s. The film contains interviews with Morrissey, Marr, and the other two, as well as assorted fans, John Peel, and rock journalist, Nick Kent, who declared The Smiths were “the first English pop group,” who would be as popular as The Beatles in ten-year’s time. He was right to a point. And even 26-years later, middle-aged fans sigh at the thought of The Smiths.
Johnny Marr is the antithesis of a stereotypical hard rock or heavy metal guitarist. He is associated with unforgettable riffs but not endless guitar solos, whether as a solo artist, band member in The Smiths, The The, or Electronic, or as a session player for The Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Bryan Ferry or Modest Mouse.
Johnny was not camp and didn’t thrash around on stage like an attention whore but he was often quietly the center of attention anyway, regardless of what Morrissey was doing. Not only was he an amazing, awe-inspiring, seemingly effortless player, he always dressed stylishly.
It’s hard to sum up his style without using descriptors like “elegant” and “jangly” and “English.” His playing is similar to The Pretenders’ late, great James Honeyman-Scott’s and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, with maybe some Johnny Thunders thrown in. His eclectic influences include, among others, T. Rex, Motown, Nile Rodgers, Bert Jansch, Rory Gallagher, and The Stooges’ James Williamson. He told Pitchfork:
I was pretty young when I bought my first record — nine, I think. I got “Jeepster” by T.Rex on a 45rpm 7”. It was a cool start and the band were my first love, but the truth is I got it because the label had a great photo of Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn on it, so I was snagged by that. I was really into the pop singles of the day, which were all the U.K. glam stuff: Roxy Music, Bowie, the Sweet, everything…
I got into Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges because a friend of mine who was a little older, Billy Duffy, now of the Cult, heard me playing a riff I’d written, and he kept saying that it sounded like James Williamson from the Stooges, who I had never heard. There were quite a few guys in my neighborhood who played guitar and hung out together, sort of competitive, but a very healthy scene. I was one of about five or six teenage boys, and we all had our own thing. One guy was really into Neil Young, another was into Nils Lofgren, another Pete Townshend and [Free’s] Paul Kossoff, and I was into Rory Gallagher, and then I discovered Johnny Thunders in a big way.
Marr used to appear to dislike doing interviews. I remember two dullard American journalists for Creem and Spin who just did not get Morrissey and Marr’s Mancunian sarcasm and humor. Marr would wear cool sunglasses and fabulous threads and let Morrissey do most of the talking, creating an aura of mysteriousness as well as Jimmy Page ever did. But these days, especially promoting his excellent first solo album The Messenger (the one we’ve waited for for a few decades) he is wonderfully open and chatty.
Above, NME’s 2013 Godlike Genius Award winner Johnny Marr recently told NME about the guitar he conned Sire Records’s head honcho Seymour Stein into buying for him in New York—a cherry red Gibson ES-355—and how he wrote The Smiths classics “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Girl Afraid” on it in a single afternoon:
Bonus clip: Johnny Marr makes a cameo appearance on ‘Portlandia’
Children’s television can be absolutely unbearable if you’re not actually a child. Luckily, the smart shows know this and throw you a bone every once in a while.
The BBC’s Horrible Histories recently decided to teach the kiddies about the life of Charles Dickens with a decidedly Smiths-vibe, and it’s an eerily accurate impression. Despite his reputation for being a bit humorless, I hope Moz would get a kick out of this one—I mean, it’s totally funny, and it’s for the kids!
Who sunbathes in socks? Morrissey sunbathes in socks. He is immune to tanlines because his body rejects sunlight
Screaming over what sounds like a soundcheck in the background, Moz and his interviewer do their darndest to get through the spot without completely losing composure. He may have jumped the gun foretelling the end of music videos (and thank heavens, since they provided some truly wonderful examples of his weird dancing), but you have to admire that moody Mancunian’s trademark negativity!
As Britain prepares for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty, here is The Queen is Dead - Derek Jarman’s Super 8 film triptych (made in collaboration John Maybury, Richard Heslop and Chis Hughes) for 3 classic tracks by The Smiths: “The Queen is Dead,” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “Panic.”
Inner city angst, urban decay, alienation, cute hairstyles, and lots of hand held camera work, well it was the eighties.
Jump into a time machine and watch the Smiths performing “Handsome Devil,” “Still Ill,” “This Charming Man,” “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” “Reel Around The Fountain,” “What Difference Does It Make,” “Miserable Lie,” “This Night Has Opened My Eyes,” “Hand In Glove,” “These Things Take Time” and “You’ve Got Everything Now” during a pro-shot show at the Assembly Rooms, Derby, December 6, 1983. This was before their first album was released.
This concert is usually misdated as having taken place on the 7th of December. Tickets were free, John Peel announced
the ticket giveaway on his show. It was a very wild gig, the crowd was very energetic and constantly shouting requests.
It all ended in chaos (read further). “Back To The Old House” was also on the setlist but it seems like it was not played .
After shushing the audience, “Pretty Girls Make Graves” was introduced by Morrissey with the words “A little quirk…
a little quirk friends… pretty girls make!” During “Reel Around The Fountain” he handed one of the bead necklaces he was
wearing to someone in the crowd. He changed a line in “What Difference Does It Make?” to “I think i can rely on me.”
At some point during “Miserable Lie” Morrissey was hit in the eye by a flower, dropped his microphone to the floor and left
the stage. The band finished the song mostly as an instrumental. Morrissey returned to the stage on time for the ending of
“I need advice, I need advice”, adding at the end “and so do you!” for the rowdy audience. He remained playful following
this, but Johnny Marr later said in an interview that this was his most embarrassing moment. Actually in the 1985 programme
for the Meat Is Murder tour, he said this concert was his ‘greatest embarrassment’.
Following the latter number, song requests were shouted by fans and Morrissey shushed them again and shouted “No! This!”
He changed a few lines in “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” to “this night has opened my eyes and I will never see again”,
“The dream has gone, the crying is real” and “And I’m never happy and I’m never sad”. “Hand In Glove” was introduced by
Morrissey with a high pitched shout of “Hand In Glove!!!” During that song someone made it on stage and hugged Morrissey,
making him miss a few lines. After “These Things Take Time”, Morrissey just shouted “Goodbye! Stay handsome… goodbye…”
and the band left.
The band was soon welcomed back with a big collective cheer. They launched into “You’ve Got Everything Now” but it wasn’t
long before the stage became crowded with fans. Band members disappeared from view and Morrissey could barely sing his lines.
He tried as best he could but made strangling noises as he was pulled left and right and tried not to get drowned in a sea
of dancing people. The stage got filled with as many fans as was physically possible. It was one of the Smiths’ first major
stage invasions (including a small child!).
This concert was recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test and first broadcast the following Friday and Saturday. Some later
rebroadcasts were shortened to seven songs, leaving out amongst others the near-instrumental “Miserable Lie”.
As one of the YouTubers commented:
“They should make a hologram of THESE guys”
If you want to see The Smiths in their prime, absolutely killing it in front of an adoring audience, press play now. Easy to find in DVD quality via the various torrent trackers.
It’s been described as one of the most important gigs of all time, one that saw hundreds, even thousands of people claim they were there. In truth only around 30-40 people saw The Sex Pistols perform at the Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976. But of those who did, most went onto form a generation of legendary bands - The Fall, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths.
Also, allegedly in the audience were such future ambassadors of taste as Anthony H. Wilson, who would co-found Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, and nascent journalist/writer Paul Morley.
Culturally, it was an event akin to the storming of the Bastille, for it unleashed a revolution.
I Swear I Was There tells the story of that now legendary night, and talks to the people whose lives were changed by The Sex Pistols.
Lazyitis at SoundCloud made this Super Mario Bros. meets The Smiths mash-up and says, “I’m planning on doing a video as soon as I can figure out how to work with Flash. The sound effects are only there to help the listener visualize the “game.”
Morrissey has allowed high-street department store, John Lewis to use a cover version of “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” on the chain’s £6 million Christmas advertising campaign. The track has been covered by Slow Moving Millie (aka Amelia Warner, ex-wife of Colin Farrell, apparently), which follows on from last year’s take of Elton John’s “Your Song” recorded by Ellie Goulding.
According to the Daily Telegraph Morrissey is “delighted” that the chain was using the track. Craig Inglis, John Lewis’s marketing director, is quoted as saying:
“We know our audience holds The Smiths and bands from that era in high esteem.”
“It’s a magical feeling when you find that perfect present for someone; there’s a great sense of anticipation from the moment you buy it to the moment you give the gift on the big day.
“That feeling is exactly what we’ve tried to capture with this year’s Christmas campaign.”
Ruth Paterson, head of marketing at Rough Trade, the record label which released most of The Smiths’ work, said she was entertained by the collaboration.
“I do like the idea of a really good song by a really good band being played in Middle England’s living rooms,” she told The Times.
“I’m sure that wasn’t the song’s intended purpose, but I think that’s a good thing.”
As Morrissey edges towards a pensionable age, the “substantial pecuniary boost” this ad will bring will no doubt be greatly appreciated - though perhaps not by his fans, as if that will matter.
After Morrissey and Christmas, who’s next? And what other advert involving high street business and alleged hip musician would make for the most unlikely pairing? Suggestions, please.