I’ve been reading Morrissey’s Autobiography (which I will review for Books and Culture soon), and of course this has sent me into quite a fit of listening to his music, both the Smiths and his solo stuff. The Pope of Mope certainly has built an impressive catalogue. And, being the lover of top ten lists that I am, I’ve been thinking about my favorite Moz solo tunes. So here they are, lightly annotated for your reading pleasure. To save myself the agony of trying to rank order them, I’ve decided to list them chronologically.
- “The Girl Least Likely To” (1989) – Morrissey is known for his lyrical daggers. This one, directed at one of the singer’s many benighted critics, is as good as it gets. “She lives for the written word, and people come second or possibly third,” the Moz sings over an addictive arpeggio guitar line. Some call this Morrissey’s very best solo tune, and they might be right.
- “Interesting Drug” (1989) – More beautifully melodic jangly guitar lines, a tumbling drum part played by former Smiths band-mate (and eventual despised enemy) Mike Joyce, as well as a rare female harmony vocal (by Kirsty MacColl), all couch a truly depressing lyric: “A government scheme designed to kill your dream. Oh mom, oh dad.” It works. Man, does it work.
- “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” (1989) – Featuring some “Suffragette City”-esque keyboards played by producer Stephen Street, this song is an ironic musical ode to two notorious British gangsters from the 1960s. “In our lifetime those who kill, the news world hands them stardom…” So sadly true.
- “National Front Disco” (1992) – There are several great songs on Morrissey’s rockabilly-tinged Your Arsenal album. This one might be the best, featuring some vintage guitar work by Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte. Unfortunately, the song created controversy because of supposed racist lyrics (e.g. “England for the English”). Never understood that fatuous charge.
- “Hold on to Your Friends” (1994) – Steve Lillywhite’s debut at the production helm for the Moz resulted in a classic with Vauxhall and I, including this beauty—a veritable feast of melodic guitar parts (Boorer and Whyte, again, at their best) as well as some genuine practical wisdom: “Give up your job, squander your cash, be rash…just hold on to your friends.” Amen to that.
- “The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get” (1994) – This is the very next song on Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I album, and its just as musically scrumptious. It also has an unusually bold and confident lyric for the Moz: “Beware, I hold more grudges than lonely high court judges. When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay. Take the easy way and give in.” Wow.
- “First of the Gang to Die” (2004) – After a seven-year hiatus, Morrissey returned right in stride with You are the Quarry. This dark anthem is one of the album highlights. “Hector was the first of the gang with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his gullet and the first lost lad to go under the sod… And he stole all hearts away.” More classic Moz dark humor.
- “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” (2006) – Under the direction of legendary producer Tony Visconti, Ringleader of the Tormentors featured some classic Morrissey tunes that took real chances, like this one with its powerful use of a children’s choir and a gritty mellotron. “There is no such thing in life as normal.” Indeed.
- “In the Future When All’s Well” (2006) – Human mortality is an abiding theme on Ringleader, and it is especially pronounced on this song, which hammers home the message with harmonizing Rickenbacker guitar lines. “I will lie down and be counted in the future when all’s well.” Won’t we all.
- “That’s How People Grow Up” (2009) – During his younger years, Morrissey’s perpetual lovelorn state was an invitation to pity. Decades later (after many “years of refusal,” as the album title declares) it is a badge of maturity: “I was wasting my time praying for love—for a love that never comes from someone who does not exist. And that’s how people grow up.”
Got your own top ten (or top five or top three) Moz tunes? I’d love to see it.