Because Morrissey and co’s artwork was just as challenging and inspired as their music…
Ever wondered who each of the characters and faces adorning the covers of The Smiths records were? Here’s an exhaustive guide to each and everyone of their 27 single and album releases’ sleeves, and what they mean…
2‘Hand In Glove’
‘Hand In Glove’: The Smiths’ first release, and a controversial one to boot. Keen to stoke the theme of homoeroticism, Morrissey chose a buttock-baring photo of actor George O’Mara. Andy Rourke’s parents weren’t best pleased. The bassist said: “He said to me, ‘That’s a bloke’s bum’ and I said, ‘yeah’ but when he asked me why I just didn’t have an answer for him.”
3‘This Charming Man’
‘This Charming Man’: As would become common throughout the career, The Smiths baulked at the idea of putting themselves on their artwork. Instead, Morrissey preferred to parade his pop culture heroes on record sleeves instead. Here’s French swashbuckling actor Jean-Alfred Villain-Marais, in a still from Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus.
4‘What Difference Does It Make?’
‘What Difference Does It Make?’: Terrence Stamp eventually gave permission for The Smiths to use an image of him from The Collector on the cover for The Smiths’ third single. The image, which wasn’t used in the film but is a still taken on set, shows Stamp holding a chloroform pad. Until he relented and allowed the image to be used, The Smiths had to come up with an alternative…
‘The Smiths’: For The Smiths’ self-titled debut, the band used an image of 1960s actor and sex symbol Joe Dallesandro. A protege of Andy Warhol, it’s also Dallesandro’s bulging, denim-clad crotch that takes pride of place on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’ cover.
6‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’: Viv Nicholson, pictured here, found fame in 1961 when she won £152,319 (roughly £3m today) but squandered it all. She was a favourite of Moz’s – he even pinched a quote from her autobiography for ‘Still Ill’ and recycled it for the lyric “Under the iron bridge, we kissed/ And although I ended up with sore lips“.
7‘William, It Was Really Nothing’
‘William, It Was Really Nothing’: According to Moz, The Smiths’ artwork needed to “take images that were the opposite of glamour and to pump enough heart and desire into them to show ordinariness as an instrument of power – or, possibly, glamour.” Here’s a perfect example – this image was originally used as an advertisement for A.D.S speakers.
8‘How Soon Is Now?’
‘How Soon Is Now?’: A sore point for Morrissey – the original cover, a still from war film Dunkirk of Brit actor Sean Barrett in the middle of praying, was deemed too racy for US audiences, who worried that Barrett looked like he was fondling his crotch. It was replaced in the States by a picture of the band backstage at Glastonbury, which Moz called “abhorrent”.
9‘Meat Is Murder’
‘Meat Is Murder’: Emile de Antonio’s controversial Vietnam War doc, In The Year Of The Pig, scandalised some viewers for its pro-Vietnamese sentiments. Morrissey pinched the film’s iconic image of Marine Cpl Michael Wynn, but with a twist: Wynn’s helmet was originally scrawled with the message ‘Make War Not Love’, but The Smiths changed the slogan to match the title of their LP.
‘Shakespeare’s Sister’: The ultimate Morrissey pin-up, here’s legendary actress Pat Phoenix on the sleeve of ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’ in character as the much-loved Elsie Tanner from Manchester soap Coronation Street. One of the show’s most celebrated characters, Phoenix portrayed Tanner on television screens for nearly 25 years.
11‘Barbarism Begins At Home’
‘Barbarism Begins At Home’: Another image of Nicholson, although her friendship with Morrissey would soon sour: in later life she became a Jehovah Witness, and she objected to the band using her image for a reissue of ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ due to the explicit lyric “Belligerent ghouls/Run Manchester schools/Spineless bastards all“.
12‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’
‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’: “The eyes are encrusted with hurt and premature wisdom,” said Morrissey of this single’s cover star, an unknown child actor from Russian film The Enchanted Desna. The band, who found the picture in a film magazine, could have ended up with something rather different – a proposed alternative cover featured a dead chicken instead.
13‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’
‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’: Writer Truman Capote is the jumping, jubilant cover star of ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’. Morrissey later said of the cover: “When I put him [Capote] on the cover of the Smiths single ‘The Boy With the Thorn In His Side’ a certain member of the Smiths (who unfortunately is still alive) said, “is that Ernie Wise?” …. dear God …”
14‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’
‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’: James Dean again – and this time, he’s riding a motorbike. Morrissey would later pay further tribute to the actor by filming the video for solo single ‘Suedehead’ in Fairmount, Indiana, which is where Dean grew up.
‘Panic’: Man In A Suitcase was a 1960s TV series in which Richard Bradford played a disgraced ex-CIA agent turned private detective who lives out of his suitcase in London. The Smiths chose Bradford to adorn the cover of ‘Panic’.
16‘The Queen Is Dead’
‘The Queen Is Dead’: French thesp Alain Delon is pictured on The Smiths’ masterpiece ‘The Queen Is Dead’. Delon wrote to the frontman giving his approval for them to use an image from 1964 noir film The Unvanquished. It came with a caveat, though: in Autobiography, he reveals that Delon told him that his parents were upset that “anyone would call an album ‘The Queen Is Dead’.
‘Ask’: British sitcom George And Mildred turned actress Yootha Joyce into a small-screen star. Here she is on the cover of ‘Ask’ – only the image used by the band is a still from the film Catch Us If You Can instead.
18‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’
‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’: Morrissey’s screen heroes tend to trump his musical icons when it comes to Smiths sleeves, but ‘Shoplifters…’ bucks the trend with this image of Elvis Presley. One of the singer’s first ever press shots, it was taken in 1955 by his hairdresser.
19‘Sheila Take A Bow’
‘Sheila Take A Bow’: ‘Sheila…”s cover star is Candy Darling: a transgender actress who became closely associated for her work with Andy Warhol, and was also a huge source of inspiration for The Velvet Underground; she’s the muse for their song ‘Candy Says’, among others.
20‘Girlfriend In A Coma’
‘Girlfriend In A Coma’: “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney,” Morrissey once said of one of his favourite playwrights: he borrowed the words “I dreamt about you last night/ And I fell out of bed twice” from her play A Taste Of Honey for ‘Reel Around The Fountain’.
21‘I Started Something That I Couldn’t Finish’
‘I Started Something That I Couldn’t Finish’: Comedian and actress Avil Angers became one of post-war England’s most cherished performers. Angers, who also had a role in Morrissey’s beloved Coronation Street, was chosen by The Smiths to star on the cover of ‘I Started Something That I Couldn’t Finish’.
22‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’
‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’: This still of British actor Murray Head is taken from the 1966 film The Family Way – it’s the same flick that’s also the source of the Angers photo from the ‘I Started…’ cover. Head would later become best-known for singing the song ‘Superstar’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
23‘Strangeways, Here We Come’
‘Strangeways, Here We Come’: Morrissey’s first choice Harvey Keitel refused the cover of ‘Strangeways…’. Instead, he had to settle for a shot of Richard Davalos, co-star of James Dean in East Of Eden. Dean was one of a young Morrissey’s heroes, to the extent that the singer once wrote a piece of fiction in his honour: the 1983, pre-Smiths fame book James Dean Is Not Dead.
24‘Louder Than Bombs’
‘Louder Than Bombs’: The Smiths use another image of playwright Delaney. One of the tracks on the compilation album, ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’, retells the story of Delaney’s play A Taste Of Honey and the central character of Jo.
25‘Hatful Of Hollow’
‘Hatful Of Hollow’: Another reference for director Jean Cocteau: the model on the original artwork for ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ is Fabrice Colette, who sported a tattoo inspired by a Cocteau drawing on his shoulder. The sleeve was redesigned in 1987, however, with the image cropped so the tattoo is no longer visible. The original photograph was taken by Gilles Decroix.
‘Rank’: British actress Alexandra Bastedo was chosen by the band to adorn the cover of live album ‘Rank’. Like Morrissey, Bastedo was a committed vegetarian and an advocate for animal welfare – after her acting days were over, she briefly served as the president of her local branch of the RSPCA.
27‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’
‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’: Another outing for a pop star on a Smiths’ cover. Bequiffed rock superstar Billy Fury, who died in 1983, was one of Morrissey’s heroes, and was a sensation in the ’60s due to his charisma and sexualised stage show. “Billy Fury is virtually the same as James Dean,” said Morrissey. “He was entirely doomed too and I find that quite affectionate.”