That’s how long it takes The Queen Is Dead to cover sleazy record company executives, unrequited love, regicide, suicide, organized religion, women’s bodies, dead poets, and pretty much every other theme you could possibly imagine. In one swoop, The Smiths perfectly summed up the personal and political challenges of life in the UK during Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s.
While the album is definitely a product of its era, these songs feel just as timely three decades later. The music industry is as shallow as ever, there’s no shortage of moral crusaders getting ensnared by their own vices, and in case you haven’t noticed, Morrissey hasn’t exactly learned to love Queen Elizabeth quite yet. (These things take time.)
Prepare yourself for mood swings because we’re celebrating 30 years of The Queen Is Dead with a track-by-track look at Morrissey’s, well, Morrissey-est lyrics. Follow along with every heartbreaking lament, witty turn of phrase, and devilishly sassy insult.
The pleasure, the privilege, is yours.
“The Queen Is Dead”
Sample Lyric: “Pass the pub that wrecks your body/ And the church who’ll snatch your money/ The Queen is dead, boys, and it’s so lonely on a limb.”
Long before he discovered the joys of taking to the internet with his acid-tongued open letters directed at [insert your favorite target here], Morrissey saved his vitriol for songs like “The Queen Is Dead”.
Mad Mozzer pulls no punches as he makes his way through a lyrical hit list, taking on religion, imagining Prince Charles in drag, and fantasizing about “her very lowness with her head in a sling.” (Remember on Meat Is Murder when he just wanted to moon her? Yikes…)
Thank god he hasn’t mellowed with age.
Morrissey Scale: Five open letters on true-to-you.net about the Canadian seal hunt
“Frankly, Mr. Shankly”
Sample Lyric: “Fame, fame, fatal fame/ It can play hideous tricks on the brain/ But still, I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy/ Any day, any day, any day.”
Morrissey is a complicated guy. He knows he’s unlovable (you don’t have to tell him), and the life he’s had could make a good man bad, but it’s all balanced out by a weird, vain side. This is the guy who defended wearing leather shoes shortly after releasing an album called Meat Is Murder, for god’s sake.
But having a public image as a wilting flower doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to be a little fame-hungry now and then. “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” is a smart-ass song about Geoff Travis, the head of Rough Trade Records. He mocks his poetry, calls him a “flatulent pain in the ass,” and shrugs it all off at the end by asking for more money from the label. So thirsty…
Morrissey Scale: Nine hairdressers on fire
“I Know It’s Over”
Sample Lyric: “If you’re so very good-looking, why do you sleep alone tonight?/ I know, ‘cause tonight is just like any other night.”
Without even the slightest hint of Morrissey’s signature wit, “I Know It’s Over” might be the single most devastating song The Smiths ever recorded. But what good is humor when you’re alone? It’s a six-minute musical punch in the gut, reaching peak Moz in the song’s bridge.
The lyrics become dismissive of all the narrator’s good qualities, asking why he’s still alone if he’s so damn great. The reason? It’s just like any other night.
Did you hear that? It’s the sound of thousands of hearts breaking at the same time because of that line. Oof.
Morrissey Scale: 10 double-decker buses crashing into us
“Never Had No One Ever”
Sample Lyric: “I had a really bad dream/ It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days.”
“Never Had No One Ever” is a good song, but it ends up feeling like a low point compared to all of the highs on The Queen Is Dead. (That said, any song would probably feel like a letdown sandwiched between “I Know It’s Over” and “Cemetry Gates”.)
The narrator is clearly a stalker, but Morrissey never feels committed to the role. He can definitely write scary songs when he feels like it, but “Never Had No One Ever” feels like a lesser version of “Suffer Little Children” or “Jack the Ripper”.
Morrissey Scale: 1 dear hero imprisoned
Sample Lyric: “All those people, all those lives/ Where are they now?/ With loves and hates and passions just like mine/ They were born and then they lived and then they died.”
For better or worse, The Smiths paved the way for bookworms like The Decemberists to get away with writing rock songs about the things most of us only remember from Cliffs Notes. Here we find Morrissey traipsing through Manchester’s Southern Cemetery and referencing John Keats, W.B. Yeats, and his hero, Oscar Wilde. In a nutshell, “Cemetry Gates” is where we hit peak Morrissey levels.
As the narrator reads the graves, he can’t help but wonder about the people inside of them. But it doesn’t really matter who they were or what they did with their lives because it’s all the same in the end. Maybe they liked or disliked some things along the way, but he nails it with “They were born and then they lived and then they died.”
Morrissey Scale: 10 lovers entwined, passing you by
“Bigmouth Strikes Again”
Sample Lyric: “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt/ As the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt.”
While his fans love him for being opinionated, it’s easy to see how others find Morrissey’s brutal honesty to be a little off-putting. He’s been accused of racism by the NME, created long-lasting feuds with contemporaries like Robert Smith, and even found himself under investigation by Scotland Yard after he released “Margaret on the Guillotine”.
So it’s no surprise that he sees himself as a bit of a martyr in the name of free speech. Still, Joan of Arc? There’s that amazing Morrissey ego again… “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is the moment Morrissey really started to indulge in his rock star status.
Morrissey Scale: Nine sweaty Prada shirts tossed into the crowd
“The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”
Sample Lyric: “And when you want to live, how do you start?/ Where do you go?/ Who do you need to know?”
Youth is supposed to be fun, but most people tend to forget all of the terrifying uncertainty and insecurity that comes along with it. We’ve all been “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” at one point or another. (Like from age 13 until about … now-ish?)
But the only thing harder than being misunderstood is when you can’t even figure this shit out for yourself. It feels like everyone else got to take Life 101, and you’re just making it up as you go along, trying to convince them just as much as you’re trying to convince yourself.
Morrissey Scale: Seven girls afraid
“Vicar in a Tutu”
Sample Lyric: “The monkish monsignor, with a head full of plaster, said: “My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned.”
While no one in their right mind would dispute Morrissey’s reign as rock’s ultimate sad bastard, that reputation is what makes a lot of people miss his amazing (if twisted) sense of humor. Just because a guy writes songs like “Miserable Lie” and “Will Never Marry” doesn’t mean he can’t do one about a pirouetting priest!
From the sassy “My god…” to the description of an innocent, oblivious church volunteer, “Vicar in a Tutu” turns up the camp by putting a man of the cloth in a skirt. Even though he recognizes the absurdity of a judgy, conservative clergyman in women’s clothing, Morrissey isn’t about to knock him for it. (“As natural as sin, he dances again and again and again.”)
Morrissey Scale: Three girlfriends in comas