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 Maladjusted tends to get lost in the shuffle. That’s especially unjust in the case of “Satan Rejected My Soul,” a Smiths-esque jangle during which Morrissey sighs that he’s not accepted in heaven or hell. So he’s looking for a place to fit in—and someone to “call me in, haul me in, pull me in.” –AZ

  1. “America Is Not the World” (You Are the Quarry, 2004)

Having lived in Los Angeles for much of his solo career (he’s since been based in Rome, London and Switzerland), Morrissey has developed some complicated feelings about the country that has given him so much … and so much to grumble about. “In America, it gave you the hamburger,” goes the snarkiest couplet. “Well, America, you know where you can put your hamburger.” The land’s lack of true opportunity is what he most laments, though his description of a place where “the president is never black, female or gay” begs for an update. Or maybe he’s waiting for the Oval Office to score at least two out of three. –JA

  1. “The National Front Disco” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

This seems a good time to mention the racism thing. Indeed, much has been made of Morrissey’s dubious comments on UK immigration, the “disappearance” of British identity and his praise for his homeland’s “magnificent” decision about Brexit. Named after Britain’s notorious far-right party, this Your Arsenal track is often cited as proof of his less admirable opinions—and the mid-song cry of “England for the English!” doesn’t help. But that’s missing the point of this satirical examination of the allure of nationalist rhetoric to young Britons who feel powerless, which he tells from the perspective of a family who’s devastated to see the change in their “boy.” In other words: It’s complicated. –JA

  1. “Pregnant for the Last Time” (non-album single, 1991)

Of the many functions Boz Boorer served during his long tenure with Morrissey, the first was to turbo-charge the ‘50s-Elvis fetish that had been evident since the Smiths covered “His Latest Flame.” Though Morrissey was still writing with Mark Nevin, Boorer made his presence felt with this rollicking rockabilly number, which might’ve been a fine RCA single for the King—if not for sly and spiteful lyrics about the “phlegm lapels” and “tiny striped socks” that await a friend who’s decided to start a family life. –JA

  1. “Certain People I Know” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

Though Mick Ronson’s production assistance on Your Arsenal led to many a game of spot-the-Bowie-reference, the space-age rockabilly of T. Rex’s Electric Warrior may be the more accurate glam touchstone here. Likewise, there’s an edge of Marc Bolan’s bravado in the way Morrissey describes the rough types he likes: the kind who “break their necks and can’t afford to get them fixed.” It hardly matters that their clothes look like “imitation George the 23rd,” which must be tremendously gauche. –JA

  1. “Late Night, Maudlin Street” (Viva Hate, 1989)

Lasting nearly eight minutes, this gorgeous evocation of a Manchester childhood (though not necessarily Morrissey’s) is Viva Hate’s richest song. It’s also the one most clearly steeped in a particular brand of Northern melancholy perfected over time by guitarist Vini Reilly in his long-running band The Durutti Column. But what makes it especially affecting is the way Morrissey uses his self-deprecating wit (“Me without clothes? Well, a nation turns its back and gags”) to somehow lessen the blow of one of life’s crueler ironies: that the places that may have caused us the most pain can be the ones we miss most when they’re gone. –JA

  1. “Piccadilly Palare” (non-album single, 1990)

The educational aspect of Morrissey’s lyrics has long been under-acknowledged. For instance, few fans would have had any knowledge of the term “palari”—19th-century British slang for homosexuals that was common parlance in the illegal gay community of the 1960s—or of the seedier past of one of London’s most popular tourist zones. Over a buoyant melody reminiscent of the Smiths’ “Panic,” he relates a previously unspoken history about the young men who plied this “ancient trade.” –JA

  1. “My Love Life” (non-album single, 1991)

Morrissey and Mark Nevin end their creative partnership on a high note. Sweet and gentle, this has the dreamy quality of their best songs together. (It helps to have Chrissie Hynde supplying harmonies.) Yet for all its softness, there’s an intriguingly carnal note in lyrics—“I know you love one person, so why don’t you love two?”—that could be construed as a request for a threesome. Surely there’s a good Benny Hill sketch in there. –JA

  1. “You’re Going to Need Someone On Your Side” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

A threat more than a promise, this glammy rockabilly barnburner finds Morrissey cautioning a lone wolf that they’re going to need some allies and support. Morrissey’s willing to be that person, though he knows full well the gesture might not go over well—after all, the song ends with him sarcastically saying, “Well, you don’t need to look so pleased.” –AZ

  1. “Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself” (Vauxhall & I, 1994)

This deceptively breezy song is actually a cutting attack on one of Morrissey’s favorite targets: music-industry weasels. “Some men here, they have a special interest in your career,” he sings lightly. “They want to help you to grow/And then siphon all your dough.” As is his way, however, Moz blames himself for taking this abuse—and doesn’t expect the person asking for advice to heed his warnings. –AZ

  1. “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

Despite the unkind sound of his nickname for Cathal Smyth—who goes by Chas Smith as a member of Madness—Morrissey’s feelings for the subject of Your Arsenal’s delightful first single couldn’t be warmer. “You’re the one I really, really love,” he sings to the pal he once tried to hire as his manager. “Promise you’ll say if I’m ever in your way.” Smyth also earned Moz’s gratitude by introducing him to Boz Boorer, the Madness man who deemed his work with Mark Nevin on Kill Uncle to be “rubbish.” Said Morrissey: “He wasn’t necessarily wrong.” –JA

  1. “Dagenham Dave” (Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

There’s a good reason Southpaw Grammar often feels like Morrissey’s Britpop album: In addition to dramatic orchestrated epics, the record contains an abundance of spring-loaded pogo-pop tunes such as “Dagenham Dave.” No relation to the Stranglers song of the same name, though it does sound suspiciously like Blur circa The Great Escape. –AZ

  1. “Let Me Kiss You” (You Are The Quarry, 2004)

Although “Let Me Kiss You” possesses glimmers of lyrical humor (“Say, would you let me cry on your shoulder/I’ve heard that you’ll try anything twice”), the song is mostly heartbreaking, as its protagonist is willing to do anything in exchange for physical affection. ‘My heart is open,” Morrissey croons, despite knowing the person he’s kissing “physically despise[s]” him. “Let Me Kiss You” was notably covered by Nancy Sinatra. –AZ

  1. “Alsatian Cousin” (Viva Hate, 1988)

Morrissey’s debut solo record kicked off with two provocative questions: “Were you and he lovers? And would you say so if you were?” Spoiler alert: These queries were rhetorical and, unsurprisingly, things didn’t go his way. Still, “Alsatian Cousin” is more notable for the metallic sheen of its drums and anguished guitar drone; Morrissey had clearly absorbed (and was embracing) the mechanized sounds popular in the late ’80s.AZ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtzSb22p2JY

  1. “Sing Your Life” (Kill Uncle, 1991)

The first of Morrissey’s solo singles to stiff on the UK charts, “Sing Your Life” deserved a far kinder fate. Its unusual combination of rockabilly rhythm, celestial strings and Jordanaires-style backing vocals gives it an audacity missing from most of Kill Uncle. Indeed, it’s the closest he ever got to the heavenly-minded gospel numbers that had pride of place in the repertoire of Vegas-era Elvis. Of course, there’s no room for the Lord in lyrics that both celebrate and mock Morrissey’s own compulsion for self-expression—with lines like “Don’t leave it all unsaid, somewhere in the wasteland of your head,” the song serves as both manifesto and mea culpa. –JA

  1. “Jack the Ripper” (“Certain People I Know” B-side, 1992)

Covered by AFI, My Chemical Romance and The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, the stormy, low-lit “Jack the Ripper” is one of Morrissey’s most beloved N-sides—no doubt because its focus on dangerous desire resembles a great horror-movie premise. –AZ

  1. “I Have Forgiven Jesus” (You Are the Quarry, 2004)

This has such a quintessentially Morrissey title that you have to wonder how it took him nearly two decades to use it. Here, he’s once again that Irish Catholic boy in Manchester, “a nice kid with a nice paper route” who doesn’t know what to do with the desire the Good Lord “placed in me.” An anguish-filled lament about the curse of having so much love to express “in a loveless world,” the song has the same poignancy he’d later lend to the first half of Autobiography—before he got to all the rants about Mike Joyce. –JA

  1. “Disappointed” (“Everyday Is Like Sunday” B-side, 1988; Bona Drag, 1990)

Morrissey has had to reckon with people mocking his melodrama—and wanting him to go away—ever since the Smiths formed. “Disappointed” scans like Moz trolling this portion of his audience, between the “How Soon Is Now?”-esque guitar riff and the overly dramatic declarations (“Don’t talk to me, no, about people who are ‘nice’/’Cause I have spent my whole life in ruins”). The capper is him threatening to quit the business, then coyly saying, “But I’ve changed my mind again [cue audience groan sound effect] … Goodnight, and thank you.” –AZ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_VNhp7PwEQ

  1. “There Is a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends” (Kill Uncle, 1991)

Might this be Morrissey’s only true torch song? An overlooked gem from Kill Uncle, it shares its spare sound—just piano and voice until the strings and a vaguely militaristic drum beat comes in—and elegiac nature with Viva Hate’s sublime “Late Night, Maudlin Street” as well as “Sing Me to Sleep,” one of the Smiths’ greatest B-sides. There’s also an edge of early Tom Waits here to what may be his most affecting expression of Catholic guilt. –JA

  1. “Reader Meet Author” (Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

Yet another Southpaw Grammar power-pop tune, this time with an unstoppable hook and syrupy strings, this song warns about the dangers of putting your idols on a pedestal—or thinking they have things figured out. After all, the writer that seems to be immersed in an exciting life may be “safely with [their] software, all miles from the front line” and imagine things” after hearing “the way [someone’s] sad voice sings,” as Morrissey puts it. “Oh, any excuse to write more lies.” –AZ

  1. “Boxers” (non-album single, 1995)

Though it’s sadly included only on the version for the video, rather than the one included on The World of Morrissey, the opening swell of strings lends an appropriate sense of grandeur to the single that served as the impetus for Morrissey’s return to performing live after a two-year hiatus. It also emphasizes the poignance in this vivid vignette about a tough guy coping with the harsh reality of his latest defeat and his inexorable decline. Really, what could be worse than “losing in front of your hometown”? –JA

  1. “Speedway” (Vauxhall & I, 1994)

A staple of Morrissey’s live set, “Speedway” has grown more majestic and defiant-sounding with time, likely because it keeps the studio version’s dramatic tempo and smoldering guitar arcs. The lyrics—a passive-aggressive war of words about secrets, deception, and protecting personal truths—also feel more relevant than ever. –AZ

  1. “Interesting Drug” (non-album single, 1989; Bona Drag, 1990)

OK Go’s recent Trump-inspired cover points to the universality of the sentiments in the most politically barbed of Morrissey’s early solo singles. “There are some bad people on the rise,” he croons over an airy musical setting provided by the late great Kirsty MacColl, Stephen Street and three former Smiths (including future courtroom nemesis Mike Joyce). “They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives.” He may have intended it as another shot at his much-loathed Tories, but it fits just fine for ethically bankrupt villains of other eras too. –JA

  1. “Alma Matters” (Maladjusted, 1997)

As the Maladjusted song with the sprightliest melody, this was a natural choice for lead single, and a wise one too—it became his first Top 20 UK hit in three years. While the video’s unnerving images of skinheads roughing each other up was more suggestive of solo Morrissey’s less endearing fixation with thuggery, the song itself is the era’s most irresistibly Smiths-like endeavour, what with the Marr-worthy jangle and the lyrics’ nod to A Taste of Honey, the 1961 film that had been a Moz favorite since long before he put star Rita Tushingham on the cover of “Hand in Glove.” –JA

  1. “Hairdresser on Fire” (“Suedehead” B-side, 1988; Bona Drag, 1990)

Only Morrissey could make such ridiculous turns of phrase as, “And you’re just so busy/Busy, busy/Busy scissors, oh, ohh/Hairdresser on fire” sound both sardonic and sublime. Chalk that up to music that nods to manicured ’60s pop, between bell-like percussion and gentle guitar chimes, and a straight-faced vocal delivery with thinly veiled vitriol. –AZ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTNk3brHKHI

  1. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

Nobody exudes pettiness—or a passive-aggressive attitude—better than Morrissey. Exhibit A: This rather cheerful takedown of the Manchester music scene’s hatred of ambitious musicians. “In Manchester, you are accepted as long as you are scrambling and on your knees,” Morrissey told Q in 1992. “But if you have any success or are independent or a free spirit, they hate your guts.” In other words, it’s no surprise the song is dominated by Morrissey’s derisive, devilish laugh. –AZ

  1. “First of the Gang to Die” (You Are The Quarry, 2004)

A song set in Morrissey’s beloved Los Angeles that also doubles as a nod to his adoring Latinx fanbase, this chipper and earnest rocker focuses on Hector, who’s known for being the “first of the gang with a gun in his hand/And the first to do time/The first of the gang to die.” Hector is a loveable scamp, however, as he “stole all our hearts away” even though he “stole from the rich and the poor/And not very rich and the very poor.” Sinfully catchy—and even a bit underrated. –AZ

  1. “The Boy Racer” (Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

A co-write with Alan Whyte that provides Southpaw Grammar with its most exhilarating moment, this is one in a long series of character studies of young men more exciting and dangerous than Morrissey ever considered himself to be. Yet this time around, the subject inspires contempt rather than desire (“He’s got too many girlfriends, he thinks he owns this city”), culminating in a murder fantasy. “We’re gonna kill this pretty thing,” he sings in a paraphrase of Iggy and the Stooges that seems well-suited to the guitar distortion’s undercurrent of menace. JA

  1. “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” (non-album single, 1989; Bona Drag, 1990)

As vicious gangsters who ruled over London’s East End at its seediest, Ronnie and Reggie Kray were natural objects of fascination to Morrissey. The twins’ queerness only added to the glamor. No wonder this tribute—performed with Stephen Street and a trio of former Smiths—is written from the perspective of an especially ardent fan who ponders the stardom granted to those who kill yet is desperate to impress Reggie: “Such things I do/Just to make myself/More attractive to you.” Unusually wiggy guitar effects add to the unseemly drama. –JA

  1. “Tomorrow” (Your Arsenal, 1992)

Your Arsenal ends with this galloping glam swoon, which features a protagonist tortured by dreams of impossible romantic consummation. “All I ask of you is one thing that you’ll never do,” Morrissey sings, his voice filled with resignation. “Would you put your arms around me?/I won’t tell anybody.” The urgency for affection is so great that it’s unclear whether the main character can last much longer without it: “Tomorrow/Will it really come?/And if it does come/Will I still be human?”AZ

  1. “Irish Blood, English Heart” (You Are The Quarry, 2004)

This rightfully kickstarted Morrissey’s mid-’00s solo comeback. The concise song combines pulsating, jagged electric guitars and soft-loud-soft dynamics with biting political commentary. More specifically, “Irish Blood, English Heart” criticizes England’s traditional ruling system and reverence for figures such as Oliver Cromwell, and expresses pride for Moz’s Irish heritage. Of course, these days, the tune is also a nostalgic reminder of simpler days, when Morrissey wasn’t supporting Brexit and making vile comments rooted in xenophobia and Islamophobia. –AZ

  1. “November Spawned a Monster” (non-album single, 1990; Bona Drag, 1990)

As the focal point of the Smiths, Morrissey was known as a supporter of disability culture because he wore a hearing aid during live performances. This solo song—notable for a squirming bass line, corkscrew guitars, bongo percussion, and Mary Margaret O’Hara vocal interlude—continued this alliance. The tune is written from the perspective of someone using a wheelchair, who longs to be taken seriously as a romantic prospect and human being. “One November, spawned a monster in the shape of this child,” he wails, “who later cried, ‘But Jesus made me, so Jesus save me/From pity, sympathy, and people discussing me.’” The sentiment is powerful—and represents a viewpoint that deserves more of a pop-culture spotlight.AZ

  1. “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get” (Vauxhall & I, 1994)

The Smiths may have ruled college radio, but the rest of America did a bang-up job of ignoring Morrissey for years. He broke down their defenses with this irresistible display of his strengths and virtues, which also functions as a crafty demonstration of one of popular music’s core maxims: Don’t bore us, get to the chorus. And what a chorus it is. The result was his only song to chart in Billboard’s Hot 100, an achievement that added credence to the lyrics’ greatest boast: “I am now a central part of your mind’s landscape, whether you care or not.” –JA

  1. “Suedehead” (Viva Hate, 1988)

What with the signs of strain that marred Strangeways Here We Come and The Smiths’ acrimonious end the year before, the show of confidence on Morrissey’s debut solo single felt nothing less than triumphant. It turned out he could be do just fine without Johnny Marr, especially with Stephen Street providing a deft strings arrangement and The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly mustering all the jangle a heart could desire. Morrissey holds up his end just as well with his half-playful, half-poignant reverie about a teenage friendship that developed into a romantic infatuation. “It was a good lay, good lay,” he trills in the final refrain, knowing full well he’s seduced everyone he needed to. –JA

  1. “Everyday Is Like Sunday” (Viva Hate, 1988)

This is the Platonic ideal of Morrissey songs. Not only is he perceiving a weekend day as just like the rest of the week—“silent and grey,” naturally—but he’s “trudging slowly over wet sand” in a dead-end coastal town and wishing for a “nuclear bomb” to wipe out his very existence. While some may roll their eyes, few songs illuminate the alienation and boredom of suburbia (or small-town life) better than this. On a deeper level, the song captures what it feels like to be blanketed with a steely fog of depression—and then navigate the clawing desolation and isolation that comes with it. –AZ

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