Moz might not be pop’s most charming man, but ever since the Smiths doodled their signature onto the nation’s pencil cases, the quiffed singer has been pumping out lyrics that are remarkably easy to get along with – down-hearted yet upbeat, literate yet lively, never less than loveable. Whether they’ve induced tears of laughter, misery, or both at once, these 10 lyrics see Manc’s beloved pop-poet on his fiercest form.
10 ‘Handsome Devil’ by The Smiths
For all his flamboyance and melodrama, Moz knows when to dial up the deadpan for a savvy punchline. The first line here sounds like the haughty admonishment of a parent who just doesn’t get it, while the second wryly implies the narrator’s superiority: I’ve seen quite enough, he seems to say, and I’ll choose the life that suits me.
9 ‘Reel Around the Fountain’ by The Smiths
A classic Mozza bait-and-switch, this – “’Take me to the haven of your bed’” flashes a rare happy ending before the last line snatches it away. But it’s the setup that nails it: by painting himself as an ornamental butterfly, the narrator strikes an alarming power balance between the keeper and the kept, with the “pin and mount” sounding at once seductive and exploitative of the precious, helpless butterfly.
8 ‘Jack the Ripper’ by Morrissey
This track, a B-side from Morrissey’s 1992 single ‘Certain People I Know’, finds the reliably unpredictable singer take a compassionate turn, burrowing sombrely into the mindset of a cutthroat killer. There’s something disarmingly childlike about the closing couplet, which leaves a chilly sympathy hanging even as the tone turns from eerie to evil.
7 ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’ by The Smiths
One consistently rewarding Morrissey go-to is the murky world of adolescent misadventure, from brushed shoulders to broken hearts. But few reflections capture the psychological conflict of teen romance quite as bluntly as this, which pinpoints how status envy and subconscious popularity contests shape young desires.
6 ‘Jeane’ by The Smiths
The first rule of Moz ideology is that reaching the bottom-most pits of despair isn’t enough: once you’ve hit rock bottom, you’re in prime position to burrow deeper down than ever. That’s precisely what makes this ‘Jeane’ heartbreaker great: not content with distancing himself from the frivolous concept of happiness, the narrator nonetheless diagnoses its total absence in his muse.
5 ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ by The Smiths
He’s a slippery character, is Morrissey: this gloomy tale, set amidst a backdrop of social ruin, is about a baby reluctantly abandoned by its poverty-stricken mother, seemingly proving Moz to be pop’s great misery guts. But this is actually bigmouth at his most tender and thoughtful, and instead of sliding into moral judgement, it astutely pins the blame on a society that’s lost sight of its most vulnerable.
4 ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ by The Smiths
An unforgettably evocative lyric to open ‘The Headmaster Ritual’, and in turn 1985’s ‘Meat is Murder’, this is the sharpest snapshot of Morrissey’s miserable experience with Thatcher’s education system. The “cemented minds” perfectly capture everything regressive and ugly about murky urban schools.
3 ‘The Queen is Dead’ by The Smiths
We’ll never know what goes on behind the Royal Family’s bolted doors, but it’s unlikely we’ll hear a more imaginative portrait of the Palace than Morrissey’s. The image of a hapless, power-hungry Charles posing in monarchic getup is pure Moz, taking irrepressible glee in its irreverent social commentary.
2 ‘How Soon is Now?’ by The Smiths
It’s easy to picture Moz as the gloomy narrator here, stewing in resentment as he’s forced to mingle with the species at large. But, as anyone who’s heard it bellowed solemnly at an indie DJ on a Saturday night will testify, these words have come to represent something more than misanthropy. Because once you’re through the shitshow of adolescence, the song’s message becomes about submitting to heartbreak’s inevitability, and learning, instead, to love your own misery. That’s a good thing, honest.
1 ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ by The Smiths
This lyric isn’t just about Morrissey – it’s the story of all of our lives. Spat out of the education system, you soon find yourself in desperate pursuit of a meagre living, your relentless daily slog lifted only by the faint promise of a piss-up at the weekend. The only thing more depressing is the alternative: no job, no money, no weekend relief and, in the eyes of “aspirational” society, no dignity. Sound depressing? Sure is, but that’s life, right?