It’s always been a particular bugbear of mine when people describe Morrissey as an unrelenting misery guts, and his records as hopelessly depressing. It’s pure nonsense – firstly, because misery loves company just as much as Morrissey loves misery, and there’ll always be something comforting about listening to ‘How Soon Is Now?’ or ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ and knowing that so many other people feel exactly the same way.
And secondly, because Morrissey is responsible for some of the most joyous, uplifting songs that I can think of. Not just songs of sly humour (‘Girlfriend In A Coma’) or isolated lines of life-affirming wonder – the peerless “And if you must go to work tomorrow/ Well if I were you I wouldn’t bother/ For there are brighter sides to life, and I should know/ Because I’ve seen them/ But not very often” from ‘Still Ill’ for instance – but songs that are positive, and optimistic, and full of hope. Here’s eight of the best…
’There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’
And so let’s begin with the quintessential Smiths song: their most cherished ode to loneliness, to frustration, to the love stories that exist only in your own brain, to hopeless crushes and bumbling advances. But ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is also The Smiths at their most defiant, and their most stubbornly optimistic. Often, for Morrissey, unrequited love is the cause of great misery, like on the deflated grumble of ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ or the cruel rejection of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, but here it’s strangely positive; here, he’s so wrapped up in a romance that dare-not-ever-begin that he yearns for a car crash just so he and his companion can be fused together by twisted metal forever. “There is a light and it never goes out,” murmurs Morrissey again and again, backed by Johnny Marr’s gorgeous, glistening synthesised strings, and trying to crush all that optimism and hope and belief seems impossible.
’Sheila Take A Bow’
Some of Morrissey’s finest lyrics come from his gleeful love for making mischief: just listen to ‘Nowhere Fast’, in which he crows “I’d like to drop my trousers to the world”, and try arguing he doesn’t enjoy being the fly in the ointment. Likewise, ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ finds him cast as a scampish devil on a young girl’s shoulder, urging her to ignore the humdrum and dreary in favour of a more exciting life. “Boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear,” he sagely advises over that lurching, glam-rock crunch of guitars, “And don’t go home tonight/ Come out and find the one that you love.”
Time to slay another Smiths’ myth now – although Morrissey himself is partly to blame for this one, given that, through the years, he’s variously described himself as asexual, celibate and the owner of a set of genitals which resemble “the result of some crude practical joke”. The popular idea among know-nothings is that Morrissey doesn’t really do sex in his songs, only a lack of it; that, save for the odd coded exception a la ‘This Charming Man’, he’s too obsessed with all that stymied passion and wasted desire to ever exalt the simple joys of shagging. But ‘Ask’ is one of his most inspiring lyrics (and combined with one of Marr’s prettiest, perkiest riffs, too), in which he urges someone to make a move, take a risk and finally consummate this awkward dance. “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you’d like to,” he teases. “So if there’s something you’d like to try… ask me, I won’t say ‘no’, how could I?” Witty, winning and utterly endearing.
’Vicar In A Tutu’
“He’s not strange, he just wants to live his life this way,” insists Morrissey on ‘Vicar In A Tutu’, mounting his defence for the cross-dressing clergyman to do whatever he damn well pleases. For someone so routinely accused of being a self-obsessed misery guts who persists in singing about his own woes, here he reduces himself to a mere bystander in someone else’s story. Like many of The Smiths’ best songs, it’s more complex than it lets on: it starts out as a mere farce, with the image of an ‘innocent’ Moz who’s “minding my business/ Lifting some lead off the roof of the Holy Name church”, but it’s a take-down of the church’s penchant for hypocrisy and intolerance, embodied by the “monkish monsignor” who tells the vicar to “get your vile soul cleaned”, while the repeated sight of Rose as she greedily “collects the money in the cannister” is a dig at religion’s love for money-making.. But ultimately it’s a victory for the imaginative over the dull and the rebels over the strait-laced, as the titular hero defies orders and proves it doesn’t matter what fabric you’re wearing, even if you are a man of the cloth.
Like ‘There Is A Light…’ and its car crash fantasy, Morrissey takes another activity that sounds ghoulish and morbid to ordinary folk and turns it giddy and romantic, as he and a friend brave the scorching heat outside to take a walk in a graveyard. An anthem for outcasts, and a tale of solace contentment with a supporting cast of John Keats, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde and a field full of old, rotting bones.
’I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’
After years of getting the brush off from would-be lovers, Morrissey finds himself in an unfamiliar role: now he’s the consoling friend offering gentle wisdom, the same knowing so-and-so who’d have told him to keep faith and keep waiting in ‘How Soon Is Now?’, a man who’s less Kill Uncle than he is agony uncle. And it’s one of his most loveliest songs, ever, too, as a hubbub of fuzzy noise and snatches of melody finally burst into a full-blooded torch song, with Morrissey’s voice at its most earnest and most gorgeous. “You say that the day just never arrives,” he yelps, “and it’s never seemed so far away/ Still I know it’s gonna happen someday.”
’Do Your Best And Don’t Worry’
You could, of course, accuse the Morrissey of ‘Do Your Best And Don’t Worry’ of being the world’s most obsidian-shaded pot calling the kettle black, as he essentially tells a down-in-the-dumps acquaintance that there’s no need for all that self-indulgent wallowing in despair. But that would be to miss one of his most underrated solo songs, which starts with a strange, subdued burble of noise before erupting into rough, jagged guitars, as Morrissey offering comfort in his own strange way: “With your standards so high/ And your spirits so low/ At least remember/ This is you on a drab day, you in a drab dress.”
’Sing Your Life’
Morrissey’s grandest mission statement of all: don’t be shy, don’t be coy, don’t be drowned out by others, and make sure you’re heard among the din of idiots, because self-expression is everything and the only thing. “Just walk right up to the microphone/ And name all the things that you love/ All the things that you loathe,” he sings, distilling a whole lifetime of going against the grain and singing his heart out into 3 minutes and 29 seconds of carpe diem beauty.