Tonight, a song which, when I first heard the album it lives on, was probably my least favourite song by the band in question. And that’s despite it featuring rather a good joke, which I can’t be the only one to have noticed, but which I’ve never seen anyone else mention.
Tonight’s song is by The Smiths, and is lifted from their final studio album, 1987’s Strangeways Here We Come.
Now. I know many people feel conflicted about The Smiths these days, on account of Morrissey turning out to be a a supporter of extreme right wing views. But back in the 80s, he and his lyrics, combined with Johnny Marr’s often juxtaposed guitar work, were the main appeal of The Smiths.
Integral parts of the whole that they were, literally nobody loved The Smiths because of Mike Joyce’s drumming or Andy Rourke’s bass lines. It was all about Morrissey’s tormented words, making a virtue of solitude and outsider-ness, offset against Marr’s chiming, jangly guitar.
How we all laughed, as we earnestly did our Morrissey impressions on the dancefloors of indie clubs, wearing our cardigans, pretending to have either a hearing aid or a fistful of gladioli, wagging a finger and furrowing our brow as we sang-a-long-a-Mozzer.
We suspected, of course, that something was not quite right – the interview where he announced that “all reggae is vile”, for example (he’s just thinking of UB40, surely?) – but these thoughts never encroached or disturbed the lyrical content, which remained steadfastly both left-wing and Northern. But we chose to ignore it.
Until tonight’s record.
I’d like to think that Marr had some degree of creative control, and refused to allow some lyrics through. He doesn’t mention it in his excellent autobiography, Set The Boy Free, but then again he was never the kiss-and-tell type.
And although Death of a Disco Dancer seems to be a pondering of life, death and the afterlife, that title has always bothered me. It seems to at best to witheringly accept, at worst condone, the bludgeoning of someone who likes disco music – a genre usually associated with either gay or ethnic communities – in a manner which didn’t manifest itself again until Morrissey’s solo work – see Bengali in Platforms‘ “Life is hard enough when you belong here”, or all of The National Front Disco, with all it’s orchestrated Union Jack waving, skinhead baiting Finsbury Park rhetoric.
So what to do? Do we deny our experience and love of The Smiths on the basis of what Morrissey patently is, or at best, has become. I know of many people who cannot bring themselves to listen to the band’s records, because of what he now represents. I get that, totally.
Me? Until now, I’ve made a disctinction between him in The Smiths and his solo work. The Smiths stuff has the dust blown of its grooves every now and again, but the solo Morrissey records have obstinantly remained on the racks. Fortuitously, much of the latter has been dull and plodding pub-rock – watch his band try and perform The Smiths’ hits live compared with how Marr handles it, and there’s a world of difference.
My rule has been this: post nothing of his solo work, but if you absolutely must, thenposting The Smiths is fine because everything was (almost) okay back then.
On my commute to and from work on Friday, my trusty iPod kept shuffling Smiths’ tunes into my ears which I’d not listened to in ages because, well….because. And it was lovely to hear I Don’t Owe You Anything, and tonight’s tune, and Rusholme Ruffians. And then it gave me Suedehead, and I began pondering cancel culture.
Suedehead is a magificent record which holds many memories for me; am I to deny myself the pleasure of ever listening to it, of reliving those memories, simply because I disagree with the singer’s political views? Am I heck.
Have I stopped posting Ian Brown’s records because he was a vocal anti-vaxxer? No. I rarely post anything from his solo canon because it’s not very good (bar F.E.A.R.).
Do I refuse to post anything by Gary Numan just because he does more than dress to the right? No (but again, get passed Are Friends Electric? and Cars and there’s little I’d be likely to mention.
Why do radio stations continue to play Micahel Jackson, but not Gary Glitter? Does it make a difference that one was convicted whilst the other paid off his
The list goes on. And the thing with being cancelled is that rarely has the person moaning about having been excluded actually been so – if they had, then we wouldn’t hear them complaining about it.
So I refuse to deny myself the pleasure of listening to or featuring records by artist swith whom I disagree. But when I do, I’ll be mentioning why I feel conflicted. And I think I’ve covered that tonight.
So here’s Death of a Disco Dancer in all it’s possibly racist and homophobic, sounds-a-bit-like Dear Prudence grandeur:
And here’s Morrissey wearing a For Britain badge on The Jimmy Fallon Show in May 2019:
And here’s a close-up, just in case you weren’t sure:
And as for that joke I mentioned earlier? Well, the pawing at the piano described as being keyboards on that is none other than Morrissey himself, and this after him singing on The Queen is Dead : “She says ‘I know you and you cannot sing’; I said ‘That’s nothing you should hear me play piano!'”.
That joke isn’t funny anymore.
But this is: Jools Holland playing piano with The Beach Boys after Adam Buxton has “just tweaked the sound ever so slightly”: