Football. If you had to choose only one sport to represent the working class, surely it would be the beautiful game.
I played myself. I was pretty good – not good enough to go pro, but decent enough to win a top-goalscorer award and play at the top level as a kid. A striker, I banged in plenty of goals in two seasons playing for Irish team Shamrock Rovers, and I went on to play for Home Farm F.C. before returning to Rovers again, where I spent a couple of seasons before hanging up my muck-covered boots.
How does this relate to Morrissey and B-sides, you may be wondering?
Well, most Morrissey fans will know that he was born in Manchester to a working-class Irish migrant family. Working-class life permeates Moz’s oeuvre. He was (and probably still is – I don’t happen to track his TV-watching habits) a big fan of the soap opera Coronation Street, which focuses on the daily lives of working-class Mancunians. You’ll also find many references to working-class life on the covers of Morrissey singles, such as a photograph of two boys used for the single Roy’s Keen (see below), taken by Roger Mayne, a photographer famed for his documentation of people on London’s Southam Street.
As for the football connection – there’s something about B-sides that reminds one of substitutes: back up, a suggestion of not being good enough for the starting line-up. But what about the substitute who pops up with a last-minute winner having only been on the pitch fifteen minutes? Substitutes complete the team and have an invaluable role to play. Plus, some players who regularly feature on the bench are often exceptional, even better than some in the starting eleven (think of super-subs like Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo).
The same can be said for B-sides. You’ll find some gems accompanying singles, some that are arguably better than the A-side.
With that in mind, here are six Morrissey B-sides from over the years.
1. Have-a-Go Merchant
Have a go when the pubs all close, and have a go when they open. So begins this boisterous B-side to Boxers – Morrissey’s ode to pugilists everywhere, released in 1995. Have-a-Go Merchant would also show up on the compilation album World of Morrissey, released the same year. It’s been claimed that this song was written about Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs, in response to her cover of Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Moz utterly despised. There once existed a very charming fan-made video for this, featuring handheld footage of families from years gone by. Alas, I can’t find it, but you can still listen to the track by hitting the link below.
A-Side: Boxers (16 January 1995)
Listen to ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ here.
2. Get Off the Stage
This biting B-side takes aim at aging rockers whose time, in Mozzer’s opinion, has come and gone: move on, ye old rockers, and make way for the youth of today. Many have opined that the song was originally aimed at The Rolling Stones, who, for better or worse, are still rocking some 29 years after this track accompanied the Piccadilly Palare single release. Of course, this very song could be aimed at Morrissey today, something he surely knew would happen someday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it appeared as a self-deprecating inclusion on the setlist for his next tour.
A-Side: Piccadilly Palare (8 October 1990)
Listen to ‘Get Off the Stage’ here.
3. The Edges Are No Longer Parallel
My only mistake is I’m hoping, laments Morrissey in this guitar- and strings-driven ballad. Making its appearance on the single Roy’s Keen, the track features familiar themes of hopelessness and loneliness, before launching into a snare-pounding, upbeat outro that contradicts the lyrical content. Surprisingly, this excellent B-side has never even made it onto a compilation album. It did, however, show up on the 2009 remastered version of studio album number six, Maladjusted. In a word: magnifique!
A-Side: Roy’s Keen (6 October 1997)
Listen to ‘The Edges Are No Longer Parallel’ here.
4. A Swallow on My Neck
A Swallow on My Neck was the B-side of the single Sunny, released in 1995. It went on to feature on the compilation album My Early Burglary Years. For me, this track is stronger than the song to which it played second fiddle. It’s rumoured to have been written for Jake Walters, a long-time friend of Morrissey’s, and features the wonderful opening lyrics I have been smashed again with the men from the Old Valhalla Road Crematorium, and You have been telling me that I’ve been acting childish . . . foolish, ghoulish, and childish. But I don’t mind, I don’t mind. When the result is a song like this, we don’t mind either, Moz.
A-Side: Sunny (11 December 1995)
Listen to ‘A Swallow on My Neck’ here.
5. Munich Air Disaster 1958
Returning to the football theme, Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a tribute to those who lost their lives on British Airways Flight 609 – including members of the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes. This gem was a B-side on the single Irish Blood, English Heart, before showing up on the albums Live at Earls Court and Swords. The mournful lyrics speak of keeping the memory of those players alive: We miss them, every night we kiss them. Their faces fixed in our heads. A beautiful tribute song that’s been embraced by United and City fans alike.
A-Side: Irish Blood, English Heart (4 May 2004)
Listen to ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’ here.
6. Good Looking Man About Town
A B-side with a brilliant bassline, Good Looking Man About Town showed up as a support act for You Have Killed Me – the first single from Morrissey’s eighth studio album Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006. This one reminds me of some of David Bowie’s jazz- and drum-and-bass-infused efforts like Little Wonder, and ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, but that could just be this writer. Anyway, go forth and listen – it’s a treat that’s best served with a healthy dose of narcissism.
A-Side: You Have Killed Me (27 March 2006)
Listen to ‘Good Looking Man About Town’ here.
There we are – six Morrissey B-sides. Share some of your favourite Moz B-sides in the comments below if you’re bothered.
Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.