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Best Morrissey Lyrics: 10 Unforgettably Insightful Smiths And Solo Works
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Best Morrissey Lyrics: 10 Unforgettably Insightful Smiths And Solo Works

Whether written for The Smiths or his own solo albums, the best Morrissey lyrics rank among the most insightful in rock music.

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One of rock music’s most singular lyricists, Morrissey first staked out his territory during The Smiths’ remarkable five-year run before embarking on a distinguished solo career. As befits a man who loves nothing more than “the goodness of privacy in a warm room with books”, his famously flamboyant and erudite style has been informed by writers as diverse as Oscar Wilde and Keith Waterhouse, but he’s a highly original talent with a formidable body of work in his own right. In celebration of his best bon mots, Dig! earmark the ten best Morrissey lyrics.

Listen to the best of The Smiths here, and check out our 10 best Morrissey lyrics, below.

10: November Spawned A Monster (solo single A-side, 1990)

Co-written by Morrissey and producer Clive Langer (also famed for co-writing Shipbuilding with Elvis Costello), 1990’s November Spawned A Monster is one of the singer’s personal favourites – and it’s not hard to hear why. Sonically, it’s memorable for its atypically funky arrangement, featuring then on-trend housey piano riffs and a killer Andy Rourke bassline but it also brought out the best in Morrissey’s lyrical aspirations.

He pulls few punches about the song’s subject matter (which concerns the plight of a disabled child), and his words are particularly effective because they’re riddled with ambiguity. Indeed, brilliantly conceived lines such as “Sleep on and dream of love/Because it’s the closest you will ever get to love/Poor, twisted child, so ugly, so ugly” leave the listener in two minds as to whether the song’s narrator is the child’s saviour or his tormentor.

November Spawned A Monster was reputedly inspired by the 19th-century French poetic novel Les Chants e Maldoror (The Songs Of Maldoror), but whatever its origins, it provoked one of the best Morrissey lyrics, which, in biographer Johnny Rogan’s words, “forces the listener to confront their own prejudices head-on”.

9: This Night Has Opened My Eyes (from ‘Hatful Of Hollow’, 1984)

Though only the John Peel session recording of This Night Has Opened My Eyes appeared on the Hatful Of Hollow compilation, it remains one of The Smiths’ best songs. Lyrically, Morrissey’s inspiration stayed close to home, as his storyline was drawn from precocious, Salford-born Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 play, A Taste Of Honey. Like This Night Has Opened My Eyes, Delaney’s play was a no-holds-barred examination of the harsh consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.

Understanding the backstory, however, does nothing to blunt the impact of Morrissey’s self-penned lyric. Stark and concise, his opening gambit (“In a river the colour of lead, immerse the baby’s head/Wrap her up in the News Of The World, dump her on a doorstep, girl”) remains every bit as affecting when you hear it for the 500th time, but the harshness of his lyric is brilliantly juxtaposed with the sophisticated music, which The Smiths perform with palpable poise.

8: Suedehead (from ‘Viva Hate’, 1988)

After The Smiths split, Morrissey immediately found his feet as a solo artist, when his first single, Suedehead, peaked at No. 5 in the UK – higher than any of his former band’s singles. It helped, of course, that the music was eminently catchy, but while Morrissey delivered one of his most emotive vocals, his lyrics were equally arresting.

The singer copped the song’s title from Richard Allen’s 1971 pulp novel of the same name, but the book’s theme (post-skinhead gangs) was a red herring as the song was effectively a treatise on obsessive love. The lyric seemingly homed in on Morrissey’s love of his screen idol, James Dean (the song’s promotional video was shot in Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana), yet the ambiguity writ large in lines such as “You had to sneak into my room/Just to read my diary/It was just to see, just to see/All the things you knew I’d written about you” suggested it could just as easily relate to a young fan’s idolatry of Morrissey himself.

7: Everyday Is Like Sunday (from ‘Viva Hate’, 1988)

Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, On The Beach, reputedly inspired Morrissey’s second classic solo single, Everyday Is Like Sunday. However, while Shute’s book concerned a group of people waiting for nuclear devastation in Melbourne, Australia, Morrissey’s lyric relocated this impending Armageddon to the British seaside: a place being slowly strangled by ennui, where “every day is silent and grey”. The whole song is eminently vivid, yet the lines “Hide on the promenade, etch a postcard/’How I dearly wish I was not Here’” somehow perfectly encapsulate the sheer folly of the out-of-season British seaside holiday, when sunshine is the very last thing the intrepid holidaymaker is liable to encounter.

Everyday Is Like Sunday has been widely praised for having some of the best Morrissey lyrics, with no less than Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde later telling Q she felt it was “a masterful piece of prose”. A Top 10 hit on release, the song is a confirmed cult favourite and it remains one of Morrissey’s most significant achievements.

6: Cemetry Gates (from ‘The Queen Is Dead’, 1986)

Though unquestionably a singular lyricist, Morrissey has often sailed close to the wind when it comes to adapting famous prose for his own ends. For example, while he was taking the plagiarists to task in no uncertain terms on The Queen Is Dead’s Cemetry Gates, he had the audacity to include the line “’Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”, which bears an undeniable resemblance to “Hath twice done salutation to the morn” from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Still, they say talent borrows and genius steals, and Morrissey’s own contributions to Cemetry Gates’ great plagiarism debate (“And then produce the text from whence was ripped/Some dizzy whore, 1804”) are rarely less than sublime. Oh, and that final flourish that’s hard to decipher? It’s “Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose/’Cause whale blubber Wilde is on mine – sugar!”

5: Hand In Glove (from ‘The Smiths’, 1983)

As debut singles go, The Smiths’ Hand In Glove still takes some beating. First released in May 1983, and later included on their debut album, it bagged the band their deal with Rough Trade and revealed that Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr were already developing into songwriters of major repute. Establishing his singularity from the off, Morrissey proclaimed, “No it’s not like any other love/This one is different because it’s us!” As devastatingly memorable lines such as “We may be hidden by rags/But we’ve something they’ll never have” made abundantly clear, he already knew that few other indie-pop frontmen during the 80s would have the guile, the daring or the eloquence to match him. As The Guardian later declared, Hand In Glove “sounded like a teenager’s heart rendered in song”, and it certainly contains some of the best Morrissey lyrics of all time.

4: We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful (from ‘Your Arsenal’, 1992)

As barbed broadsides such as Frankly, Mr Shankly and Paint A Vulgar Picture revealed during The Smiths’ career, Morrissey is never backwards in coming forwards when it comes to shooting down his contemporaries or critics. However, he did it in especially waspish style on Your Arsenal’s brilliant lead single, We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful. The title’s a mouthful, but don’t let that put you off – it’s a terrific pop song and the lyrics are pure gold.

Widely believed to be his riposte to Manchester contemporaries such as The Stone Roses and James making it big during the late 80s and early 90s, Morrissey is in gloriously catty form throughout (“And if we can destroy them/You bet your life we will destroy them”), but his best line (“And if they’re northern, that makes it even worse”) is spiked with a tinge of the poisonous provincial pride which – if we’re honest – can infect us all.

3: The Headmaster Ritual (from ‘Meat Is Murder’, 1985)

Morrissey’s autobiography and Tony Fletcher’s Smiths biography A Light That Never Goes Out both delve deeply into the singer’s miserable experiences during his school days. Yet he turned the tables on his sadistic former teachers on the Meat Is MurderMeat Is Murder: How The Smiths Cooked Up A Classic Second Album highlight The Headmaster Ritual. His entire lyric is vivid, visceral and economic, but it’s the lines “Midweek on the playing fields/Sir thwacks you on the knees/Knees you in the groin/Elbows in the face/Bruises bigger than dinner plates” which perfectly reflect what it feels like when your face doesn’t fit and you’re forced to deal with systematic bullying on a daily basis. Morrissey tackles a difficult (and, sadly, still contemporary) subject here, but because he’s brave enough to share the worst of his own experiences, his outspoken lyric turns The Headmaster Ritual into an anthem of defiance for underdogs everywhere.

2: The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get (from ‘Vauxhall And I’, 1994)

Undoubtedly one of Morrissey’s finest solo albums, 1994’s Vauxhall And I also includes quality tracks such as Now My Heart Is Full, Speedway and Hold Onto Your Friends, all of which could have been contenders for inclusion among the best Morrissey lyrics. Ultimately, though, it’s the album’s emotional centrepiece, The More You Ignore Me, The Close I Get, which best displays Morrissey’s peerless skills. A sweeping declaration of love and loyalty tempered by anger, disillusionment and unmet expectations, it’s by no means devoid of humour (“I will be/In the bar/With my head/On the bar”), yet you instantly feel a chill when Morrissey changes tack and croons the ominous lines “Beware/I hold more grudges/Than lonely high court judges”. A masterpiece of light and shade, it’s a great pop song to boot.

1: The Queen Is Dead (from ‘The Queen Is Dead’, 1986)

The magnificent title track from The Smiths’ landmark third album is usually hailed for Johnny Marr’s innovative musical backdrop, but it’s also a lyrical tour de force. Vacillating between hilarious and remorselessly bleak, it’s effectively Morrissey’s state-of-the-nation address at the height of Thatcherism – and it’s still utterly enthralling.

Topping our list of the best Morrissey lyrics, the song paints an imaginative portrait of what goes on behind the royal family’s bolted doors (the George Formby-esque “She said ,‘Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing’/I said, ‘That’s nothing – you should hear me play piano’” directly refers to Michael Fagen, who broke into the Queen’s boudoir in 1982), but in more general terms, Morrissey’s ire is directed at the negative connotations of Thatcherism and its numbing effect on the country’s young (“Pass the pub that wrecks your body/And the church, all they want is your money”). Stirring, witty and deeply moving, The Queen Is Dead remains an exceptional lyric from a writer for whom being extraordinary has long since been a default position.

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