View Full Size 8 / 11   
  • Morrissey And Cats: A Pictorial History
Morrissey and Cat

A handful of weeks back, Morrissey took ill and was forced to cancel a run of US tour dates. The source of his malady was mysterious, and the nature of his response to the cancellations was typically, pricelessly acid and morbid. In what may as well have amounted to the Gettysburg Address of press releases (or at least Lincoln as imagined by Kingsley Amis) he commenced with the following rollicking and slightly unnerving reverse of a famous epigram: “The rumors of my death have been greatly understated.” He was just kidding. We think.

But that is the thing about Morrissey, isn’t it? The jokes are great, but we never really know when the witticism ends and the real life trauma begins. Has any songwriter ever existed so fully and tantalizingly in the imagination of his audience despite (or because) of his unwillingness to truly reveal himself to them? From his politics to his sexuality to his attitude toward the arts in general, paradox and enigma are Morrissey’s true mediums. He invites conjecture with lyrics that seem profoundly personal and relatable, but shrugs off attempts to connect them to his actual biography. He is generally on three sides of every thorny issue, with the seeming exception of his volatile commitment to vegetarianism. He is either the most rigorously self-involved major rock star of his era, or the most drolly ironic in his shrugging self-deprecation, depending on which single, full-length album, or concert you happen to catch. Throughout his sometimes ingenious, sometimes stupefying, always compelling stylistic digressions, Morrissey’s stock has only risen to the point where few would dare to question his place in the pantheon of all-time greats.

In the aftermath of the Smiths, Morrissey was inevitably going to be compared in terms of achievement with his crucial collaborator in that great group, Johnny Marr. As we sit down to wrestle with the knotty and obviously highly subjective question of the ten best songs of Morrissey’s solo years, Johnny Marr has just this week managed his first release. Nobody doesn’t love Johnny Marr, but it begs the question — what happened?? Who would have guessed that Moz would have a 25-year head start on enhancing his legacy, while Marr worked diligently but was also often largely overlooked as a sideman? What does this tell us about the dynamics that really drove the Smiths? It seems myopic to at least not draw some logical conclusions in that regard.

And it would seem myopic to not at least ponder the proposition that as unimpeachably great as the Smiths were, Morrissey as a solo artist might someday soon, if he hasn’t already, eclipse their achievements. His most recent records Years Of Refusal and Ringleader Of The Tormentors have scorched the Earth in different ways from his early classics Viva Hate and Your Arsenal, but scorched the fucker just the same. Health concerns aside (and they seem at least somewhat genuine) there is zero reason to imagine that the man has anything less than a few more classics left in him. If it feels heretical to say it (and it does) consider the following future proposition: The Smiths were that great band that lasted a few years. Eventually, they launched the Mancunian Sinatra — a brilliant four-decade entertainer who knew no limits. Not bad for a small fat child in a welfare house.

(When you’re done looking over Moz’s 10 best songs, check out the gallery for 10 11 great pics of Morrissey with cats! You can also listen to all 10 songs on our Spotify playlist.)

10. “All You Need Is Me” (from Years Of Refusal, 2009)

This sterling, no-holds-barred rocker from 2009′s tour de force Years Of Refusal finds Morrissey’s signature style of bare-knuckled romantic brawling refined to a uniquely hardened edge. Over a catchy, full band progression, Moz lays bear one of his cruelest and most clever romantic indictments in years. The lyrics “You hiss and groan/and you constantly moan/ but you don’t ever go away” will be familiar to any individual who has found themselves on the business end of a co- dependent nightmare that can only be adjourned via the harshest terms.

9. “My Love Life” (1991 single)

The gentle, chiming, and uniquely sentimental 1991 single “My Love Life” is every bit as life affirming as many of Morrissey’s more dyspeptic musings — a kind of unexpected antidote for all that would make you want to crawl into the darkest available hole in the ground. As much as we love Morrissey dressed handsomely in all of his considerable rhetorical armor, there is something even more appealing when he lets his guard down and is at his most vulnerable. That is the version we hear on “My Love Life.” He wonders, “I know you love one person, so why don’t you love two?” It is amidst the saddest laments in the modern tradition. And on some level we have all been there. Here Morrissey puzzles over why, in spite of everything, he is not special enough.

8. “Now My Heart Is Full” (from Vauxhall and I, 1994)

For an artist with an arsenal of fantastic lead tracks, “Now My Heart Is Full” might rank as the very best. This is Morrissey at his most Dylan- or Costello-addled, overcome with things to say, but uncharacteristically confused about the time and meter in which to say them. And yet, the effect is incredibly exhilarating, whether it’s a seemingly arbitrary but entirely appropriate reference to Graham Greene or just a firsthand report of intimate family dysfunction writ large. Emerging in 1994, this is a crushingly powerful moment that anticipates two decades of visceral music from one of our greatest artists.

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

That the cheerful, winsome melodic rush of “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” belies its fundamentally toxic message is likely not a coincidence. Morrissey has often contemplated his contemporaries and critics, but rarely had anything overly cruel to say. This particular paean from 1992′s Your Arsenal likely addressed the ascendant successes of fellow Manchester acts like the Stone Roses or Happy Mondays, while allowing as an aside, “It should have been me.” By the end of the day he would prove more prolific and trenchant by orders of magnitude. But as a great pop song and intriguing look into Morrissey’s mind, this bit of semi-vituperative bare envy stands the test of time as his very own “Positively 4th Street.”

6. “Hairdresser On Fire” (from Bona Drag, 1990)

The impeccably rendered character study “Hairdresser On Fire” is the sort of thing one can only imagine Morrissey pulling off. Over the course of its infectious 3:53 running time, the tone regarding the titular, hot-running hair stylist (“you are repressed/ but you’re remarkably dressed”) shifts from longing to exasperation to withering sarcasm, before ending again on a note of longing. Here Morrissey exhibits his strange capacity to come off as utterly hectoring and deeply compassionate within the space of the same song. In the tradition of the best lyricists, he is also able to pull back from his personal drama and give a panoramic overview of his community at large — beginning the song with the memorable, evocative verse: “Here is London, giddy London/ Is it home of the free/ Or what?”

5. “First Of The Gang To Die” (from You Are The Quarry, 2004)

This undeniably infectious but morally complicated track from You Are The Quarry recalls similar romantic portraits of career criminalsmeeting their demise such as Bob Dylan’s “Joey” or Moz’s own “The Last Of The Famous International Playboys.” The depiction of young Hector — the first of his criminal street gang to meet his mortal end — is both indictment and tribute. Morrissey (who lived for many years inLos Angeles and deeply identifies with his large Mexican native audience) portrays his subject warts and all: as a “silly boy,” one who stole from “the rich and the poor, and the not very rich and thevery poor.” Whatever the troubling associations of the protagonist, this is a track pitched as pure human tragedy played out as romantic power pop. No matter what Hector pilfered in his criminal dealings, Moz informs us that the greatest loss was that he “stole our hearts away.”

4. “Glamorous Glue” (from Your Arsenal, 1992)

The second track from Morrissey’s brilliant glam-digression Your Arsenal, “Glamorous Glue” sounds like a tougher-edged take on the Smiths classic “Sheila Take A Bow,” courtesy of terrific production from the legendary former Ziggy & the Spiders lead guitarist Mick Ronson. With Ronson providing a stripped-down and guitar-heavy sound reminiscent of Moz’s early heroes T-Rex, Morrissey engages his most stringently contrarian impulses, intimating such apparent nationalistic sentiments as “We look to Los Angeles for the language we use,” “We won’t vote conservative/ because we never have,” and “London is dead.” All of this raises the question of whether Morrissey is either parodying or explicitly flirting with right-wing sentiments, or both. Typical of the artist, it still remains unclear even after he has walked us through the thoroughly catchy, possibly appalling “The National Front Disco.” Any way you look at it, this is some of Morrissey’s best and most troubling music. If Your Arsenal is, in fact, a 39:45 consideration of the relative virtues of right-wing politics, it nevertheless remains a brilliantly rendered distillation of the best of the recent British tradition of rock and roll, and every bit as challenging (and confusing) as the edicts of the Pistols and the Jam.

3. “The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils” (from Southpaw Grammar, 1995)

Like Marmite, people seem to either love or hate Southpaw Grammar. We love it. Album opener “The Teachers Are Afraid Of Their Pupils” is perhaps the best example of why this record might be polarizing (and also why it’s great). It’s 11 minutes long, punctuated by a repetitive — some might argue punishing — sample from Soviet classical composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s fifth symphony, and is not big on laughs or bonhomie (first line, “There’s too many people planning your downfall” does not make one’s faith in humanity necessarily swell). In short, some might consider it a tough hang. But this is also one of Moz’s most inventive and exciting contributions to his already estimable catalogue. In a typically contrarian gesture, the song’s content flies directly in the face of such classics as Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” or for that matter, the Smiths’ “Headmaster Ritual,” both of which address the problem of abusive teachers looming over impressionable and easily intimidated students. This track takes the opposite position — that the noble pursuit of being an educator is just an exercise in humiliating futility.

2. “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” (from Vauxhall And I, 1994)

As the emotional centerpiece of Vauxhall And I this masterful and moving track is a grand, sweeping declaration of love and loyalty refracted through the lens of anger, disillusion, and unmet expectations. Over a classic riff and fetching mid-tempo arrangement, Morrissey unleashes a handful of corkers, demonstrating his peerless skills as a lyricist. Who else would think to wring great humor from the repetition in the lament “I will be at the bar/ with my head on the bar,” or to worryingly underscore his pledge of fidelity with the ominous promise: “Beware I hold more grudges/ than lonely high court judges.” But mainly what we are left with is a modern standard with a chorus that posits true love not as a cute accident, but rather a deliberate and forceful act of will: “The more you ignore me/ the closer I get/ I’ve made up your mind.”

1. “Suedehead” (from Viva Hate, 1988)

Perhaps Morrissey’s best-known, most loved track (fellow Stereogum contributor James Jackson Toth describes “Suedehead” as Morrissey’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”) — and with good reason: It’s unimpeachably, undeniably great, and utterly ubiquitous. If nothing else, Morrissey proved to us that, fresh out of the gate as a solo artist, he was able to write one of the best Smiths songs never written by the Smiths. Soaring, catchy, mordant and stirring, “Suedehead” finds Morrissey bang to rights as the true genius behind the Smiths. No one else could — or should — ever sing, “I am so sickened now” and then immediately launch into a singalong refrain of “It was a good lay.” No one but Morrissey.

Comments (65)
  1. While I’m sure nobody will agree with one another as far as proper order of “best work” is concerned when it comes to Mozzer, some songs that I instantly feel like were left out would have to be: “Now My Heart is Full”, “Everyday is Like Sunday”, “Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together”, & “Speedway”.

  2. Obligatory where is Everyday is Like Sunday post.. but seriously, where is Everyday is Like Sunday!?

  3. i kinda don’t really disagree with this list. he’s got so many great songs, but i at least feel like “tomorrow” should have been listed.

    • I agree with your disagree. This is one of those lists where personal bias is prevalent over reason (the above mentioned classic omissions, for example.) If It were me making this list, “Let Me Kiss You,” “Jack the Ripper” and “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me” would probably be on there.

  4. Weird, I thought Everyday is Like Sunday is his most well-known solo track.

  5. Please, please, please, Stereogum, let me get what i want : “Speedway” and “Tomorrow”.

  6. A “worst to best Morrissey albums” list would be fun.

  7. Moz’s discography is pretty unwieldy, and like the Smiths his singles were paramount, so more power to ya for throwing this together. That being said, “Piccadilly Palare” is my personal favorite.

  8. Any list that includes The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils deserves my unconditional approval. If Southpaw track was in it, I would have to ask the author of the list to marry me (which would be a bummer for my girlfriend). Great work.

  9. Suedehead’s where it belongs
    Maladjusted’s missing though
    pretty confident Optimistic off Kid A is a take on Maladjusted

  10. What about “Irish Blood, English Heart?” Brings me back to my Fifa ’05 days.

  11. I would have made room for “Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself,” but whateves, that’s just a personal preference thing.

  12. Interlude. That one is missing, though.

  13. “Late Night, Maudlin street” is my favorite by Morrissey. Check it out:

  14. No love for “November Spawned A Monster”?

  15. Just listened to Viva Hate again yesterday. I’d have to include Angel Angel and Everyday is like Sunday on my list. I know Everyday is the “popular” one but cmon. it’s the best.

  16. “Break Up The Family” should’ve been on this list. Otherwise, I would say this is a pretty excellent list sans “Everyday Is Like Sunday.”

  17. Girl Least Likely To — without a doubt!


  19. No “Last of the Famous International Playboys?” Can’t be.


  21. Tomorrow?

  22. My favorite Morrissey song by a wide margin, and as a superfan, is Billy Budd. “I took my job application into town. Did you hear they turned me down? And it’s all because of us.”

  23. Playboys, Tomorrow, and Break Up the Family should’ve been there. LIttle Man, What Now is a personal favorite, but probably not for everyone. Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself is pretty great as well. Really a lot to choose from. I could see a list with ten completely different songs that would still be pretty good.

  24. No “Last Of The Famous International Playboys” ? Fuck right off.

  25. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  26. “Nobody doesn’t love Johnny Marr, but it begs the question — what happened??”

    This is a common misuse of the phrase “begs the question.”

  27. With Morrissey like The Big Lebowski it’s the one liners that rattle in your brain and then sink in your soul and stay with you until there is appropriate time when you quote it and sound like the witty genius who actually wrote them. So with that said my top ten have such one liners that have never left me, it would be different if I could include Smiths song but even narrowing down solo stuff is tough enough.
    10. Alma Matters. So : the choice I have made May seem strange to you But who asked you, anyway ? It’s my life to wreck My own way
    9. Some People I know : They break their necks And can’t afford to Get them fixed
    8. King Leer : Well, could it be He’s only got one knee ? & I crept up behind you
    With a homeless chihuahua
    7. Driving Your Girlfriend Home : Not for the lyrics but just the feel of the song maybe one of his most smithesque songs (yes that is a good thing).
    6. Irish Blood English Heart : This was his comeback and a solid one at that.
    5. Sing Your Life : Any fool can think of words that rhyme & make no mistake my friend your pointless life will end
    4. The End of The Family Line : Until I arrived (with incredible style) a beautifully heartbreaking song.
    3. Such a Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference : Can you Write? & Most people keep their brains between their legs.
    2. Suedehead : just a perfectly brilliant pop song.
    1. Disappointed : I can listen to this over and over.
    Young girl, one day you will be old
    But the thing is, I love you NOW
    Mmm …This is the last song I will ever sing (Yeah!)
    No: I’ve changed my mind again (Aaw…)


  28. Cool, I love all of Jim Morrissey’s songs!

  29. 10.You Have Killed Me (Ringleader)
    9. The Boy Racer (Southpaw)
    8. Tomorrow (Arsenal)
    7. Certain People I Know (Arsenal)
    6. He Kows I’d Love To See Him (Bona)
    5. Alma Matters (Maladjusted)
    4. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (Refusal)
    3. Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself (Vauxhall)
    2. Speedway (Vauxhall)
    1. Seasick, Yet Still Docked (Arsenal)

  30. Suedehead – not “it was a good lay” but ” it was a bootleg”

  31. Unfortunate typo. 6. Knows not Kows!

  32. Alma matters is a remake of a previous and much better Morrissey track: Nobody Love Us.

  33. Did [you] really sing, “It was a good lay” at the end of “Suedehead”?
    “No, ‘It was a bootleg’. I mean, good heavens, in my vocabulary? Please…”
    “Well, have I ever been dishonest?” he laughs. “Do people think it was ‘a good lay’?”
    I do.
    “And is that quite racy?”
    Oh, yes.
    “Well, it was actually ‘a good lay’.”
    And was there one?
    “No, I just thought it might amuse someone living in Hartlepool.”
    - Morrissey, Sounds, June 18, 1988

  34. I don’t know, this is kind of a strange list, but I guess it would have been quite difficult to put together.

    I probably would have swapped out “The Teachers…” for “Southpaw” (or just had them both on there)

    I would have also found room for “Tomorrow” ” Lucky Lisp” “Billy Budd” “Picadilly Palare” and “Alsatian Cousin”

  35. I love Morrissey as a singer and a songwriter but him without Johnny Marr is just a lesser version of the stuff that all Smiths fans knows that he is. All of his solo stuff sounds the same. With The Smiths, because of Johnny Marr’s awesome guitar, every song sounded different and could stand alone. All of the songs were tremendously layered and complex. I think Morrissey is a great songwriter but the musicality is really lacking.

  36. I am so in love with Bona Drag that I am biased, but “November…” “Playboys” “Interesting Drug” “Lucky Lisp” “Sunday” “Disappointed”- I love all of those songs. And I also think that “Tomorrow” is one of his best. “Suedehead” was first and there are some musical similarities bit “Tomorrow” is more touching so it is maybe personally preferred.

    “Suedehead” is wonderful, and I endorse “Glamorous Glue”

  37. As a Hoosier, I am eternally happy to see “Suedehead” at the top of this list. Morrissey riding a tractor is the greatest thing ever.

  38. Here’s my top 10

    10. Tomorrow (Your Arsenal)
    9. In The Future When All’s Well (Ringleader of the Tormentors)
    8. Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself (Vauxhall and I)
    7. Will Never Marry (Bona Drag)
    6. Yes, I am Blind ( Bona Drag)
    5. Billy Budd (Vauxhall and I)
    4. Sister I’m A Poet (Single and My Early Bulgary Years)
    3. Reader Meets Author (Southpaw Grammar)
    2. Southpaw (Southpaw Grammar)
    1. At Amber (B-side and My Early Bulgary Years)

    • I really like yr list. Paired with mine it makes for a killer moz mix. Better than the list above. At Amber is a top choice for no 1.

    • Brian, thanks for your top ten. More informative than the unimaginative list in the article. I sort of lost track of Morrissey after Vauxhall and I so mine is a 80s/90s list:

      10. Certain People I Know (from Vauxhall and I, Cynically cheerful like Frankly, Mr. Shankly)
      9. He knows I love to see him (from Bona Drag, ‘because when I lived in the arse of the world’)
      8. Break up the Family (from Viva Hate)
      7. We Hate It When Our Friends become succesful (from Your Arsenal. Mainly for the laughable ha, ha, ha, ha, ha’s)
      6. Boxers (Single, World of Morrissey)
      5. The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get (from Vauxhall and I, fantastic bass line)
      4. Our Frank (from Kill Uncle. I was hooked on the manic last 50 seconds of this song)
      3. Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself (from Vauxhall and I, if only for the line: “Some men here
      They know the full extent of Your distress They kneel and pray And they say : “Long may it last” )
      2. Piccadilly Palare (from Bona Drag, I consider this the true opening track to Morrissey’s solo career and of course Suggs rules)
      1. Disappointed (Bona Drag, this track sums it all up as far as I’m concerned)

  39. This list is iffy. Not horrible, but I would probably pick at least 7 different ones. My favorite is “Driving your Girlfriend Home.” I also like “Spring-heeled Jim” and “Boxers” a lot. “Disappointed” and “Dial-a-Cliche” are great. None of these are on the list here.

  40. What about “I have forgiven Jesus”????Is a great song

  41. Would’ve loved to have seen “I Have Forgiven Jesus” on here, that being said this is a solid list.

  42. Nobody else really liked “You Are the Quary,” did they? “Come Back to Camden?”

    • That is my favorite Moz album. “Come Back to Camden” kills me. So does “Let Me Kiss You” and “The World is Full of Crashing Bores.” I do believe a couple people commented earlier about “Irish Blood, English Heart” – definitely a solid track. The only track I can’t get behind, actually, is “America Is Not The World.”

  43. Hairdresser on Fire is from Viva Hate. Bona Drag is a compilation album. Basically, every one of these lists you post has factual errors on top of the usual bad grammar and hilariously bad rankings that your $20-per-story “writers” come up with. My recent favorite was wading through 20 paragraphs of twaddle in order to be enlightened with the revelation that Who’s Next is the best Who album. I can’t wait until you rank the best Sex Pistols albums!

  44. Morrissey overload on Stereogum right now. Go back to Wayne Coyne… errrrr… wait, don’t do that either.

  45. i never could bear his music. every single song i’ve ever heard from him has made me want to pulverise teh equipment just to shut him up.

    that said, i hope the indisposition is mild and brief

  46. Couldn’t narrow down to 10, had to do my top-15. Nevertheless, top ten can be gleaned as they are in number order:

    1). I’ve Changed My Plea to Guilty (Bona Drag)
    2). Everyday is Like Sunday (Viva Hate)
    3). The National Front Disco (Your Arsenal)
    4). I’m Throwing My Arms around Paris (Years of Refusal)
    5). Trouble Loves Me (Maladjusted)
    6). Alma Matters (Maladjusted)
    7). Suedehead (Viva Hate)
    8). Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself (Vauxhall & I)
    9). On the Streets, I Ran (Ringleader of the Tormentors)
    10). Certain People I Know (Your Arsenal)

    11). Sweetie Pie – original version (b-side to ‘I Just Want to See the Boy Happy’)
    12).The Last of the International Playboys (Bona Drag)
    13). Now My Heart is Full (Vauxhall & I)
    14). The Ordinary Boys (Viva Hate)
    15). We’ll Let You Know (Your Arsenal)

  47. /\
    ..and yet despite my top-15 listed above, my favourite Morrissey album would have to be ‘Southpaw Grammer’!

  48. It is really hard to pick a top ten. But I did always loved Piccadilly Pilare. Was this Morrissey on his birthday? Seems unlikely, but the resemblance is uncanny!

  49. Tough list to limit to 10, no doubt. I would definitely keep Suedehead, Hairdresser On Fire, First Of The Gang To Die, but I think many others could have quite easily trumped most in your list:
    Every Day Is Like Sunday (most criminally neglected, as it likely should be number one, as it is with most fans)
    Ouija Board, Ouija Board
    Will Never Marry
    Now My Heart Is Full
    Spring-Heeled Jim
    Late Night, Maudlin Street
    Break Up The Family
    Margaret On The Guillotine
    Irish Blood, English Heart
    Sing Your Life

    I love these lists – great fodder for great discussion!

  50. Jack the Ripper was as close to the Smiths as you can get. Love that song… not surprised it’s not on the list but plenty surprise no love from other readers. Great song…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2