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Putting romance into loneliness: The Smiths’ ‘The Queen Is Dead’ at 35

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After being a fan of one of The Smiths’ most well-known songs, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’, for a number of years, I decided to listen to more of their work in my first year of sixth form. The Smiths quickly became my favourite band and their songs rapidly took over my playlist. I even discovered that they were my mother’s favourite band when she was a university student in the 1980s, resulting in many discussions over our favourite Smiths songs. Their third studio album, The Queen Is Dead, quickly became a stand-out album in my music library. 

Despite a short career spanning just five years, The Smiths established themselves as an iconic band of the ’80s, leaving behind an impressive legacy with their four studio albums and twenty-two singles. Their reputation as one of the world’s best bands was solidified when they released The Queen Is Dead in the summer of 1986. Despite delays to its release due to record label difficulties, it was regarded by many critics as the pinnacle of the band’s career. The lasting impression the album has left in music was highlighted in 2013 when it topped NME’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. 

Only The Smiths could make being killed by a ten-tonne truck sound romantic

It is obvious why The Queen Is Dead has seen such success. It delivered the sound The Smiths are renowned for – sombre lyrics intertwined with humorous undertones and sprightly melodies. The album cannot be looked at without firstly mentioning the masterpiece of ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’, which to no surprise has become their most popular and recognisable anthem. The combination of Marr’s exceptional guitars and Morrissey’s gloomy yet romantic lyrics makes this one of the album’s stand-out songs. It was even listed as the 12th greatest song of all time in 2014 by NME. Commenting on it, Marr said: “When we first played it, I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.” Only The Smiths could make being killed by a ten-tonne truck sound romantic. 

Heartbreak and loneliness are themes that are regularly explored in their songs. What captures these perfectly is the almost six-minute fan-favourite ‘I Know It’s Over’, a beautiful sounding ballad juxtaposed with sombre and downhearted lyrics where Morrissey demonstrates one of his greatest vocal performances. Marr even described Morrissey’s vocal performance in the song as “one of the highlights of my life.”  The humorous tracks of ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’ and ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ provide a contrast to some of the album’s more sombre songs, such as ‘I Know It’s Over’ and ‘Never Had No One Ever’.  One cannot help but laugh along to lyrics such as “I didn’t realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry, Mr. Shankly”.

Marr’s flawless guitar and the incredible vocals of Morrissey exploring the topics of romance, loneliness, death and heartbreak have made The Queen Is Dead the epitome of 1980s alternative rock

My favourite song of the album has always been ‘Cemetry Gates’, even with Morrissey’s infamous misspelling of the title. In strong contrast with its morbid and melancholic lyrics in which Morrissey reflects on people’s pasts as he wanders through a graveyard, Marr’s bright guitar melody gives it a merry and uplifting sound. The brilliance of the song is highlighted by The Smiths’ producer, Stephen Street, who described it as “all the best elements of The Smiths” despite Marr’s initial concerns that the guitar riff was not interesting enough to base a song around. Other stand-out songs for me include ‘The Boy with the Thorn in His Side’, originally released as a single in 1985, and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ with both titles being direct references to Morrissey’s frustration with the music industry. The latter stands out to me for its vicious lyrics such as “Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking / When I said by rights you should be / Bludgeoned in bed”.

Marr’s flawless guitar and the incredible vocals of Morrissey exploring the topics of romance, loneliness, death and heartbreak have made The Queen Is Dead the epitome of 1980s alternative rock. The Queen is Dead just beats The Smiths as my favourite album by the group, and remains a stand-out album in music even 35 years after its release. 

Recommended listening: ‘Cemetry Gates’

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