Six Morrissey B-sides

 

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

Moz Boxers

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

Moz PP

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

Moz Roy's Keen

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

Moz Sunny

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

Moz IB,EH

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

Moz YHKM

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.

Six Morrissey Lyrics

My first full-time job was in a toy store. I was just out of school and was yet to go to college, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. And a full-time gig with a weekly wage sounded good to a working-class boy like me, who just wanted a few quid to go out and buy CDs, DVDs, and spend time with friends.

The store was, and still is, named Smyth’s. Now, judging by the title of this blog post you might be thinking “Okay, that’s the connection: Smyth’s Toy Store / The Smiths — Morrissey’s original band. Duh, we get it.” Well, that is one quasi connection to my favourite pop musician. But it’s not why I’m mentioning the store. The actual reason is because I only discovered Morrissey while working there.

The man who played Suedehead: The Best of Morrissey on repeat and pretty much initiated an irreversible re-shaping of my personality was one Paul “Jolly” Rogers, who I’m proud to call my friend to this day.

But it wasn’t an immediate romance; it certainly wasn’t love at first sound. You see, in my opinion, Morrissey is rather like the great Irish stout Guinness: it’s an acquired taste — you’ve got to train your taste buds. When it came to Mozzer, I needed to give myself time to get used to his unique sound.

Despite us not hitting it off straight away, it quickly grew into a full-blown passionate affair, and, like so many others, I was hooked for evermore.

One of the reasons I admire Morrissey so much is his unparalleled powers as a lyricist. I could’ve listed loads, but I don’t have all day, and neither do you. So, here are six brilliant Morrissey lyrics (excluding The Smiths songs) that pack plenty of wit, a good helping of poignancy, and a healthy touch of self-deprecation.

1.

“I wish you lonely, like the last-tracked humpback whale chased by gunships from Bergen. But never giving in… Never giving in.”

Track: I Wish You Lonely
Album: Low in High School (2017)

Moz Low In High School

Let’s begin with a recent track. Can you picture a lonelier figure than that humpback whale? The last of its species, being hunted by gunships no less! Emphatic, powerful lyricism that touches on Morrissey’s bête noire: man’s “war” on animals. Overall, the song, and this line, could be interpreted as a celebration of unapologetic individualism.

2.

“When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay.”

Track: The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get
Album: Vauxhall and I (1994)

Moz The More You Ignore Me...

Who knows who this track is directed at? Could it be his old foe the NME, who’ve waged war against Morrissey for years? Could it be Mike Joyce, following the legal disputes over The Smiths royalties? It was a toss-up between the above and the line from the same track “Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely high-court judges”. So, knowing that Moz is one to hold a grudge, it could be about quite a few people. Anyway, isn’t it quite brilliant?

3.

“It’s not your birthday anymore. Do you really think we meant all those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday?”

Track: It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore
Album: Years of Refusal (2009)

Moz Years of Refusal

Moz is not only one of the greatest lyricists of all time, he’s also one of the funniest. And he doesn’t like to beat around the bush, either: “Seriously, we don’t like you that much.” Pure gold.

4.

“You have never been in love until you’ve seen the dawn rise behind the home for the blind.”

Track: First of the Gang to Die
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz First of the Gang 1

Morrissey came back with a bang in 2004 with the release of his first album in seven years. The lyrics above are from the album’s second single “First of the Gang to Die”, and I’d struggle to find a more powerful way to describe the gift of sight. Again, it’s playful, but also particularly poignant.

5.

“The woman of my dreams, she never came along. The woman of my dreams – there never was one.”

Track: I’m Not Sorry
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz You Are The Quarry

There’s been an air of mystery around Morrissey for decades; something the man finds strange since he considers his work to be rich in autobiography. Unfortunately, in this celebrity-obsessed world we live in, people’s sexuality is often a hot topic of debate. It’s been said that Mozzer is a frustrated heterosexual, a homosexual, bisexual, asexual . . . One of the more popular and persistent rumours is that he’s celibate.

There were a few revelations in his book “Autobiography”, which was published in 2013, and you may read what you will into the lyric above. But at the end of the day, who cares? It’s no one’s business but Morrissey’s.

6.

“One fine day – let it be soon – she won’t be rich or beautiful. But she’ll be walking your streets in the clothes she went out and chose for herself.”

Track: November Spawned a Monster
Album: Bona Drag (1990)

Moz November Spawned a Monster 1

Who else in the world of pop music would write a song about the plight of the disabled? Apparently this memorable track tackles the underlying pity and discomfort that is supposedly felt by many in society towards individuals with disabilities. The hopeful lyric above — the final lines of the song — wishes for this particular individual to find her independence and be released from the shackles of such ways of thinking.

There we are. I could list many more Morrissey lyrics. But for now, it’s last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

Photo in header by Samuel Gehrke, borrowed from this Billboard article.