Now My Heart is Full: My Top 20 Songs by Morrissey May 12, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
Artwork by Megan Diño
Some people tend to overlook the fact that Morrissey has actually released more successful singles as a solo artist than as the vocalist of The Smiths. Fans will always remember him as that charming man who appeared on Top of the Pops sometime in 1983 holding a bunch of flowers, moving awkwardly onstage, and doing a lip-sync of sparklingly beautiful lyrics that left an effortless smile in everyone’s faces. His accomplishment as the band’s lead songwriter and singer, not to mention his status as an icon for the lonely and the loveless, is a feat he has never attempted to surpass nor forget: nostalgia hasn’t got the better of him. In fact, nostalgia has made him even more vulnerable, encouraging him to compose songs he couldn’t have written if he were in a band. Morrissey loses Johnny Marr and the jangly guitar riffs that turned the emotions in “What Difference Does It Make” and “Hand in Glove” sweetly deceitful, but he gains something in return—the pleasure of aloneness, the courage to say “I find I’m OK by myself and I don’t need you or your morality to save me,” that spark of genius to create timeless, unconventional, and unabashedly pop songs that capture the nature of his enigma.
As luck would have it, Morrissey is set to perform in Manila tomorrow night. But that luck is laced with fear and anxiety, of emotions tangled in cobwebs of apprehension, of constipated excitement. Where are these feelings coming from? Why is Morrissey capable of evoking such morose sentiments from the most fervent of his supporters? Why can’t the wait for the concert just be something utterly pleasant? Well, we’re all boys and girls with thorns in our sides. This moment formed in our heads some years before, and now seeing the reality of it take shape is simply insane. We all long for a Smiths reunion, but this is the closest way to that dream. Morrissey includes at least five Smiths songs in his recent set lists, and as he mentions in an interview, “I do sing the songs, and I will sing the songs. They stand the test of time.”
Furthermore, the range and immensity of his catalog from Viva Hate to Years of Refusal disposes the myth of the nosedive that people expected to happen when The Smiths called it quits; on the contrary, his career path from the late 80s to present is one paved with overwhelming unpredictability and imperfection. His attempts at ambitious storytelling (“Late Night, Maudlin Street,” “Life is a Pigsty”) works even more strangely than before, redefining artistic subtlety by way of unsubtle words and arrangements. He matures after every record, yet still stays pretty much the same.
Therefore, making a list is both timely and unnecessary, but on account of childishness, I have decided to create one, and the labor in doing so makes me regret it in the end. Morrissey is literature, music, and cinema rolled into one, and those three arts are the most precious to me, so it’s a tough job. Another thing is that the list is ranked—to challenge myself and to cause discomfort every time I think of it. But here you go, without further ado, as deceivingly plain and simple as this idea of writing about Morrissey came to me this morning, my favorite songs by Morrissey, all twenty of them dear to my heart, always offering a spare blanket in times of need, almost interchangeable with those unmentioned.
20. “The Youngest Was The Most Loved”
Ringleader of the Tormentors
How come Morrissey can write a song about a killer and make it sound like he is the most attractive person in the world? Also, have you ever pondered on the idea of Mozza being a father after singing about rearing a child? Every time he sings that line “there is no such thing in life as normal,” a flock of birds flies freely in the sky.
The youngest was the most loved / The youngest was the cherub / We kept him from the world’s glare / And then he turned into a killer
19. “The Boy Racer”
This is another one of Morrissey’s compositions that fashions his fixation on the male psyche, this time purportedly about James Dean. The buildup towards the refrain is sumptuous, the arrangement teems with energy, and everything is rounded out by Morrissey’s amusing words and passionate singing.
Boy racer! Boy racer! We’re gonna kill this pretty thing
18. “Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness”
Morrissey and Stephen Street wrote this song for British singer Sandie Shaw, and she released it as a single in 1988. Without letting a good opportunity pass, Morrissey recorded a demo of this for Viva Hate, which hasn’t been officially public until the release of Bona Drag’s expanded edition in 2010. As expected, Morrissey’s version brims with youthful angst and torment, sung in beautiful carefreeness.
I don’t mind what time you come round / If it’s a weekend then I just might be dead, oh / I’m so very young I am so really, really young
17. “People Are The Same Everywhere”
This is one of the new songs he performs at recent gigs. Complemented by heavy drums and jaunty guitar riffs, Morrissey derides critics who accuse him of racism in the past. The line “land of the free and home of the brave exists nowhere” is nothing short of brave, considering his popularity in America, and at some point he starts to howl and everything becomes surreal.
Set me aside, you’ll find, people are the same everywhere / Hoist me from the herd and people are the same everywhere / Then our creator had to stumble and stall and our creator had to make the biggest mistake of all / Yeah, yeah, yeah
16. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
Years of Refusal
It’s a simple ditty that opens with a beautiful riff before Morrissey dives into a sad figure of speech. Eventually it becomes an earworm, the candor of his delivery as delightful as ever, his tongue-in-cheek wit never missing a mark.
I’m throwing my arms around / around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love
15. “Glamorous Glue”
Is it really about sniffing glue…from a jar…in L.A.? No one knows. Politics is written all over, but the rhythm of the song, not to mention the jumpy vibe, is gonna get ya first, for sure.
London is dead London is dead London is dead London is dead / Now I’m too much in love / I’m too much in love
14. “Satan Rejected My Soul”
How can you resist the idea of Morrissey talking to Satan, offering his soul, begging for acceptance, and being refused? Wow, Satan must be so picky.
Satan rejected my soul / He knows my kind / He won’t be dragged down / He’s seen my face around / He knows heaven doesn’t seem to be my home
13. “The Last of the Famous International Playboys”
Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce, and Craig Gannon are featured in this track, a collaboration which makes it sound like a Smiths single, and it really does sound like one: suave and hooky. Make no mistake: the title is not Morrissey’s reference to himself, but to this notorious pair of gangsters from London in the 60s, a theme also present in “First of the Gang to Die.”
I never wanted to kill, I am not naturally evil / Such things I do to make myself more attractive to you / Have I failed?
World of Morrissey
You’d feel how obsessed Morrissey was with the sport and its players, and nothing gets in his way of telling a story tinged with weary sadness. It’s a bit different from most of his hits—the theme, the dispassionate feeling, the machismo—but how could you not be charmed?
Losing in front of your hometown, the crowd call your name, they love you all the same / The sound, the smell, and the spray / You will take them all away / And they’ll stay till the grave
It contains one of the happiest hooks ever arranged, in which Morrissey laughs with cheery derision. Also, I can’t help but agree how perfect that title is.
We hate it when our friends become successful / And if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse / And if we can destroy them / You bet your life we will destroy them
10. “First of the Gang to Die”
You are the Quarry
It is easy to understand why this is one of Morrissey’s most popular songs: the words are arrestingly visual, the melody is compelling, and the sentiments are heart-tugging. Who wouldn’t like someone named Hector after hearing this?
And he stole from the rich and the poor and the not very rich and the very poor / And he stole our hearts away
9. “Bengali in Platforms”
It’s funny when someone speaks of race and makes a remark that doesn’t seem fair to everyone concerned, some people are quick to jump to a conclusion that the statements made are racist, while in fact race-related comments are what enrich the understanding of cultures in the first place. If I were a Bengali and Morrissey tells me that life is hard when I belong there and asks me to shelve my Western plans, well, wouldn’t I consider the truthfulness of that? There is more to the song than the issue of race: there’s migration, work equality, stereotypes, Westernization, nationality, an awful load of things. The complexity of it should have eclipsed the accusation of Morrissey’s alleged racism.
Bengali in platforms / He only wants to embrace your culture / And to be your friend forever / Forever
8. “There’s A Place in Hell for Me and My Friends”
Accompanied by an ominous piano piece, Morrissey talks about hell in such a positive light it doesn’t seem like a place of doom and suffering. It’s short and sweet (clocking at less than two minutes) and pours its emotions so smoothly the final note feels like divine intervention.
Oh, there is a place a place in hell reserved for me and my friends / And if ever I just wanted to cry, then I will because I can
7. “I Have Forgiven Jesus”
You are the Quarry
In “You Have Killed Me” Morrissey references the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed The Gospel According to St. Matthew, arguably the best retelling of Jesus Christ’s story. It couldn’t have been more appropriate: in “I Have Forgiven Jesus” Morrissey makes some of the sharpest statements not only on religion but also on his ever-talked-about sexuality. It doesn’t help that in the music video, in which he wears clerical clothing, he exudes sexiness that is very sinful to look at.
Why did you give me so much desire when there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire / And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world when there is no one I can turn to / To unlock all this love
6. “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
An image in mind: Morrissey drives into a seaside town, pulls over, and sits on a bench. He observes tourists walk by, munches on a sandwich, feels bored by the view, and returns to his car. He speeds away with thoughts on nuclear war and greased tea, pulls a fancy pen from his pocket, and writes this song.
This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down / Armageddon, come Armageddon! / Come, Armageddon, come!
5. “Life is A Pigsty”
Ringleader of the Tormentors
Without a doubt the outstanding centerpiece of the album, “Life is a Pigsty” is an epic and powerful piece of work, not just lyrically but sonically: the 80s synths, thunderstorms, and cannonballs add to the sinister feel of the entire track. Morrissey conveys misery at its most wounding, and it’s an opus that illustrates how commanding his voice can be.
I feel too cold / And now I feel too warm again / Can you stop this pain? / Can you stop this pain? / Even now in the final hour of my life / I’m falling in love again
4. “Let The Right One Slip In”
If this list depends on how much I pattern my life after a Morrissey song, this would be on the top spot. He may be a douche, but he gives the damnedest piece of advice.
Let the right one in / Let the old dreams die / Let the wrong ones go / They cannot / They cannot / They cannot do what you want them to do
3. “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”
Vauxhall and I
Is there any love song as creepily brilliant as this? Yes, there is. But none with the mesmerizing charisma that Morrissey injects all throughout. The tenderness puts you in a spell, like downing a glass of vodka straight on one hand and holding an unsent love letter on the other. It’s flawless.
I am now a central part of your mind’s landscape / Whether you care or do not / Yeah, I’ve made up your mind
2. “Late Night, Maudlin Street”
It’s a confessional, a masterful piece of prose filled with self-pitying lyrics that only Morrissey can piece together, a depiction of a man in various states of misery, struggling with “sixteen stitches all around his head,” remembering many things as he sits alone, talking to a loved one no longer with him. Haven’t we all experienced this? Has Morrissey sneaked into our diaries and written a story of us? Needless to say, it’s sweepingly sullen and hits the sorest part of our hearts.
When I sleep / With that picture of you framed beside my bed / Oh it’s childish and silly / But I think it’s you in my room, by the bed
Vauxhall and I
Drama is something Morrissey is closely associated with, and the drama in this song, the heaving sentimentality of hurt and understanding, the way he speaks to his fans, the hammer he sends across to people trying to bring him down, the mad beauty of it all—by all means, the storming temper present here has never been equaled since.
And when you try to break my spirit / It won’t work because there’s nothing left to break / Anymore
Honorable mention: “Alma Matters,” “I Will See You in Far-Off Places,” “Dagenham Dave,” “Now My Heart is Full,” “Suedehead,” “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me,” “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” “That’s How People Grow Up,” “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “The World is Full of Crashing Bores, “The National Front Disco,” “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” “Seaside, Still Docked,” “Jack the Ripper”