Saturday, 26 April 2014

50 albums to take to my grave #4: The Queen Is Dead

It’s almost pointless to write gushing words of praise about ‘The Queen Is Dead’ as it’s all been said so many times before. But as tempting as it is to just post a pic of the album sleeve and a couple of tracks and let the music do the talking, I felt I should make a bit of an effort.

As previously documented, my initiation into Smiths fandom came rather late – so late in fact, they split before I had chance to appreciate them fully. So I had to work backwards from ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ and discover the delights retrospectively. When I found ‘The Queen Is Dead’, I wondered just how it had eluded me, for it was one of the most remarkable records I had ever heard. I picked up a near-mint vinyl copy in Second Spin, Barnstaple’s premier second-hand shop. A mere fiver, it was. Probably the best £5 I ever spent.

Quite simply, ‘The Queen Is Dead’ must be remembered, for the benefit of future generations, as one of pop music’s greatest achievements. It is one of those rarest of items – an album without a single weak song. It sashays from the incisive polemic of the title track, to the glorious stick-your-job resignation letter that is Frankly Mr Shankly. It mopes solemnly yet triumphantly through the plaintive laments of I Know It’s Over and Never Had No One Ever, before cheekily cavorting through a smart-arsed riposte to Morrissey’s critics in Cemetry Gates.

But more than anything, it was side two that really did the business for me. I mean, any record that can boast this sequence of songs just cannot be ignored:

Bigmouth Strikes Again
The Boy with the Thorn in His Side 
Vicar in a Tutu 
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out 
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Boisterousness, defiance, hilarity and the utterly, utterly gorgeous follow one another seamlessly before the quirky, seemingly out of place[1] sign-off nips in cheekily, signalling the climax of what was at the time, and remains today, a benchmark for all recordings that followed. Unlike some of the albums I’ve featured in this series (and others to come), there is no back story that adds to the endearing worth of this record. There are no myths; there were no bust-ups or disputes; the recording sessions went smoothly and everyone was happy with the outcome. ‘The Queen Is Dead’ stands tall purely on its musical value, nothing else. Oh, and Morrissey’s lyrics are jointly among his most cutting and hilarious:

   “So I broke into the Palace with a sponge and a rusty spanner.
   She said: ‘I know you and you cannot sing’,
   I said: ‘That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano.’” – The Queen is Dead

   “Frankly Mr. Shankly since you ask
   You are a flatulent pain in the ass.” – Frankly Mr. Shankly

   “Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said 
   I'd like to smash every tooth in your head.” – Bigmouth Strikes Again

   “As Rose collects the money in the canister
   Who comes sliding down the banister?
   The Vicar in a tutu, he’s not strange
   He just likes to live his life this way.” – Vicar In A Tutu

The very fact ‘The Queen Is Dead’ is almost universally accepted as one of the greatest albums of all time is testament to its quality. It was a huge influence on Britpop nearly a decade later, and it continues to draw plaudits as its 30th anniversary draws ever closer. I see no reason for that to change.


[1] I always felt that Some Girls… really does not belong here. Anyone else would have had There Is A Light… as the closer. But then, maybe that’s the point. The Smiths never were “anyone else”. They clearly knew something we didn’t as, on reflection, it just kind of works.


  1. Agrred on pretty much every point you make. I think closing with Some Girls works really well, the carry On Humour after There Is A Light and the fade out/fade in.

  2. If you ever want to become a huge band, have your own dress sense!! Like Cure heads you could see Smiths fans from 12 paces!!