50 Best Morrissey Songs

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02: Singer Morrissey performs at Hollywood High School on March 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

When the Smiths broke up in 1987, Morrissey wasted no time going solo—or finally achieving global fame. The Manchester icon became a superstar by amplifying his unlucky-in-love persona and embracing a forever-lonely stance that’s remained firm, even as his sonic approach has shifted.

With the release of Low in High School, his 11th studio album, Morrissey is poised for a musical upswing—though his career is more controversial than ever. (And we’re not talking about his penchant for canceling shows.) His increasingly vocal anti-immigration views and questionable political commentary—including accusations of “rigged” elections against an Islamophobic candidate and a Manchester bombing statement that deservedly caused an uproar—are disappointing, especially since Morrissey built a career by aligning himself with the marginalized and alienated. These opinions have crept into his music, with “My Love, I’d Do Anything For You” referencing the “mainstream media.”

That said, our list of Morrissey’s top 50 solo songs features some of the most meaningful moments in alternative music’s history. And they became indelible because they sought out community and empathy, not division.

  1. “You Have Killed Me” (Ringleader of the Tormentors, 2006)

The glum, symphonic “You Have Killed Me” finds Morrissey disappointed (once again) when he attempts to relate to another person. Things go south and Moz is devastated (“Yes, I walk around somehow/But you have killed me”). Yet he keeps a stiff upper lip and takes the high road: “Always I do forgive you.” –Annie Zaleski

  1. “Redondo Beach” (Live at Earl’s Court, 2005)

In Morrissey’s world, cover songs are as much of a rarity as thoughtful thank-you notes to former managers and bandmates. But he’s always had a special reverence for Patti Smith, which is fully evident in his treatment of this semi-reggae curiosity from Horses. Written by Smith after a fight with her sister, it describes a quarrel on a beach that leads to a mysterious death and a keenly existentialist moment of desolation. Needless to say, Morrissey sounds like he’s enjoying himself tremendously. –Jason Anderson

  1. “At Amber” (My Early Burglary Years, 1998)

This oddly jovial Viva Hate-era B-side, which contains whimsical guitar spirals, reflected Morrissey’s preoccupation with disability imagery. Lyrics take the form of a conversation between two guests at an “awful hotel”: an “invalid” and someone else, who’s “disputing the bill” and sleeping in their clothes. The point seems to be that every person’s life is held back by different things—either external obstacles or self-imposed barriers. –AZ

 

  1. “I Wish You Lonely” (Low in High School, 2017)

Over a foreboding electro throb and an unusually muscular beat that briefly suggests he’s been hanging out with Trent Reznor (or possibly Gary Numan), Morrissey delivers his most strident song in years. Ever the iconoclast and individualist, he espouses a bloody-minded attitude of “to hell with everybody else” as he decries the tombs “full of fools who gave their life upon command,” a category that seems to comprise soldiers and heroin addicts alike. Once a curse he bemoaned, solitary life is now a means of survival: Going it alone is to be like “the last tracked humpback whale chased by gunships from Bergen,” apparently. If Ayn Rand was ever reborn as a Greenpeace activist, she’d undoubtedly concur. –JA

  1. “Earth Is the Loneliest Planet” (World Peace Is None of Your Business, 2014)

No music video in 2014 yielded a sight as incongruous as that of Morrissey pensively posing on the roof of Capitol Records HQ with Pamela Anderson. Of course, the two are allies in the animal-rights movement, a subject no doubt on his mind as he bemoans that “humans are not really very humane.” But for all the despair he expresses about the idiocy of our species, the music has surprising vitality thanks to flamenco flourishes and florid rock guitar. –JA

  1. “Billy Budd”  (Vauxhall & I, 1994)

This psychedelic burst has ambiguous origins. Some say the lines “Now it’s 12 years on/Yes, and I took up with you” are a reference to forming the Smiths with Johnny Marr; as a result, the tune is about Moz feeling hampered by the association. However, “Billy Budd” could also be read as Herman Melville fan fiction: Instead of following the plot of the book—where Billy Budd panics and kills shipmate John Claggart—the two men are actually a couple, and the latter wishes the former would be cured of a devastating speech impediment. AZ

  1. “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” (Ringleader of the Tormentors, 2006)

The chorus of braying kids may sound like they’re straight out of a West End production of Oliver!, but it’s an entirely appropriate touch for this chilling character study about a lad who’s been spoiled and protected by his family with dire results. Lines like “The youngest was the cherub/We kept him from the world’s glare and he turned into a killer” suggest Morrissey may have been keeping Lionel Shriver’s then-ubiquitous bad-seed literary thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin on his bedside table. –JA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR5txeafe54

  1. “Black Cloud” (Years of Refusal, 2009)

The minor-chord moodiness of “Black Cloud” establishes Morrissey forever as the Charlie Brown of alt-rock. No matter how hard he tries, or what he does—whether flirting with or ignoring someone—“There is nothing I can do to make you mine.” –AZ

  1. “Spent the Day In Bed” (Low In High School, 2017)

After the drudgery of 2014’s World Peace Is None of Your Business, this compact burst of misery felt like a breath of fresh air. (Akin to when, say, Dorothy landed in colorful Oz from staid Kansas.) Baroque keyboard spirals, sizzling strings and horns, and a brisk tempo cushion Moz’s laments that the state of the world (and his sorry life) has kept him in bed. –AZ

  1. “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils” (Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

Never one to rest on his laurels, Morrissey followed up the relatively commercial Vauxhall & I with Southpaw Grammar, an album that opened with this Shostakovich-sampling 11-minute opus. An inversion of the Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual,” the song is from the perspective of teachers who can’t wait until the school year is over—because then they’ll be free of the stress and humiliation of dealing with students. –AZ

  1. “That’s Entertainment” (“Sing Your Life” B-side, 1991)

Morrissey’s Jam cover is faithful to the original’s acoustic foundation and glass-half-empty worldview—in which even lighthearted activities (“feeding ducks in the park”) come with a down side (“and wishing you were far away”). But a slightly slower tempo, as well as keening backing vocals from Madness member Chas Smash, amplify the lyrical yearning in even more profound ways. –AZ

  1. “The Ordinary Boys” (Viva Hate, 1988)

Morrissey inexplicably decided to leave “The Ordinary Boys” off a 2012 reissue of Viva Hate, which was a shame: The piano-driven waltz praises a stubborn outsider who retains their iconoclastic outlook and nonconformist attitude despite the small-minded boys and girls around them. –AZ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JisVNL_PMRc

  1. “I Just Want to See the Boy Happy” (Ringleader of the Tormentors, 2006)

A quasi-companion piece to You Are the Quarry’s “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” this angry rocker sees Moz adopt the perspective of another person desperate to get a prayer answered—this time on behalf of a forlorn youngster like the lad in the earlier song. “I want to see the boy happy, with his arms around his first love,” Morrissey sings over a clamorous slab of glam-rock that sounds even heavier during Michael Farrell’s trombone solo. Indeed, it’s too bad he’s otherwise been so averse to brass. –JA

  1. “All You Need Is Me” (Years of Refusal, 2009)

Thrilling evidence of his rejuvenation in the wake of signing to Decca, this track for 2008’s Greatest Hits (later on Years of Refusal) boasts a surplus of vim, vigor and vitriol. Morrissey clearly relishes every shot he takes at an unnamed (and possibly journalistic) adversary who really ought to have better things to do than “complain about me.” As the band—including songwriting partner Jesse Tobias, who shares the credit here—builds into a thunderous finale, Morrissey reminds his target, “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” –JA

  1. “That’s How People Grow Up” (Years of Refusal, 2009)

Powered by an especially chunky riff by Boz Boorer, this latter-day rocker—initially released to promote 2008’s Greatest Hits—matches its musical aggression with lacerating lyrics that essentially tell this disappointing, unsympathetic world to go stuff itself. The cryptic bit about the vehicular mishap—“I was driving my car, I crashed and broke my spine/So yes, there are things worse in life than never being someone’s sweetie”—was seemingly fictitious, though it may refer to the crash that almost killed Johnny Marr in 1986. Or the one Morrissey wished for Smiths biographer Johnny Rogan. –JA

  1. “Satan Rejected My Soul” (Maladjusted, 1997)

Morrissey’s ’90s solo albums were so strong that