30 years is a long time. I haven’t been alive 30 years yet, though I have been exposed to a band for almost that entire time. My father bought a first edition vinyl in 1984, 6 months before I was born, of a band that were relatively unknown at the time. He wasn’t prospecting – I don’t think- he just bought a lot of albums, a hell of a lot of albums.
The record was the self-titled debut from The Smiths, a quirky northern band fronted by a bespectacled, gladioli waving boy with a distinguishable voice. Their style was very different for the time – jingly jangly guitar riffs, heavy drums padding the background and bass solos to wrap songs about the moors murders and yearly fairs in Rusholme, an inner city area of Manchester. By contrast at that time Duran Duran were on boats with synthesisers singing about some Brazilian girl and Spandau Ballet were putting out an ode to a precious metal.
I now have this record, and I daren’t play it. Although it’s been played before, I stick to Spotify or the MP3 recordings I made of it through a USB turntable (the only time I’ve played it). I don’t want it to scratch or crack, I want to pass it on to my son one day, so he can get the same enjoyment out of it that I did, and still get – that is of course if record players can still be found in 15 years’ time anywhere other than on the landfill heap.
It’s said that the best things are the shortest lived, and this can be vouched for with examples like the TV show Fawlty Towers (only 13 episodes, but a world renowned classic) or the movie career of James Dean (3 movies, but forever immortalised). The Smiths were only together for 4 years, and in that time put out 4 albums, but they are culturally one of the best known bands and widely sourced as “inspirational”, and Morrissey voted 2nd “Greatest living icon” in a 2006 BBC Culture Show poll.
People that grab on to the media tagging of The Smiths – and Morrissey in particular – as “miserable”, “depressing” or “sombre” have clearly not listened to more than a few tracks, as in their short history they managed to produce songs that covered the entire emotional spectrum.
There’s a track for every mood. If you’re happy, The Boy with a thorn in his side; depressed, Asleep; feel like dancing, This Charming Man; silly, Vicar in a Tutu; anti-establishment, The Queen is dead - I could go on.
I will concede that The Smiths did put out a good dose of depressing, upsetting or just plain sad songs, but they managed to disguise a few of them well by mixing high noted guitar riffs with particularly unhappy lyrics, Girlfriend in a coma & Unhappy birthday.
But seriously, Frankly Mr Shankly - which is an attack song – is one of the happiest and funniest of the mid 1980’s (and since); without The Smiths my world, and the world in its entirety would be a much gloomier place.
The post title is a lyric from the song Half a Person