Taking pleasure in creating a smattering of controversy, Morrissey is pretty hard to pin down in spite of his lyrics. All we really know for sure about Morrissey is that he dabbles in pedantry, likes to leave notes on car windscreens and is a dedicated vegetarian. In fact many a middle-aged veggie, when pushed, will admit the decision to shun meat was inspired by Morrissey, just like Willy Russell’s character Raymond Marks in The Wrong Boy.
We could have gone with vegetarian recipes, favourite flesh smells or other famous people who have taken a vow of celibacy (which, unlike chastity, simply means a vow to never marry – oh Moz you’re a sly one). Instead we went with Morrissey tracks, which quickly descended into a Smiths tracks appreciation. Happy Birthday Morrissey...
2. Bigmouth Strikes Again. While we’re all celebrating Morissey’s birthday I feel I should confess – I’m not a Smiths fan. Or a Morrissey one. I suppose his birthday is as much a cause for celebration as the Queen’s, but only insofar as I might use it as an excuse for a drink while ignoring it. I don’t even have a particular reason for disliking Morissey – I remember there being accusations and counter-accusations of racism being thrown around a few years ago, but I didn’t even follow that closely enough to have any idea of the background or conclusion.
All that aside though, you can’t ignore Morissey completely. I’d say it’s harder than ignoring the Queen. And he did (sort of) give me one fantastic song. Bigmouth Strikes Again soundtracked a teenage summer for me. And although it was the Placebo cover I was listening to, it wouldn’t have existed without Morrissey. It’s a glorious chunk of arrogance: “Now I know how joan of arc felt/as the flames rose to her roman nose/and her walkman started to melt…” Although listening to it now makes me feel old: Placebo updated Joan of Arc’s walkman to a discman. Remember those? That used to be modern. Someone needs to do a new cover, featuring a melting iPod. It could be a birthday present to Mr Morrissey. Squeamish Louise
3. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. As a British teenager growing up in the capital of suburbia (AKA Washington DC), I missed out on all of the bands that most rebellious British teenagers encounter as a matter of course. The Smiths and the Manics are probably the best examples of these. Anyway, ever since I became aware of the existence of Morrissey, he's just been a whining vegetarian to me. But before I had any of that associative baggage to deal with, I discovered There Is A Light That Never Goes Out courtesy of the soundtrack to Trainspotting. And it is one of the most romantic songs ever. Is there anyone out there who hasn't been the melodramatic teenager who crushed on someone so hard they'd happily take a joint death? The pleasure, the privilege is mine. F1 Kate
4. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I want. It's one of the few Smiths songs that doesn't use humour or self-deprecating irony to cushion the emotion of the content; Morrissey's vocal sounds completely honest and (if this is possible for him) without ego, with the effect being all the more striking for it.
The sentiment of the song, the longing, the plaintive way he sings 'Lord knows it would be the first time' get me every time. And that's before Johnny Marr's shivering guitar comes in, somehow managing to sound like a harpsichord.
In fact, my love for the song hasn't diminished even after the 'breathy female twee cover version' in the John Lewis Christmas ad. It's the resigned, desperate sound of someone for whom it's all gone wrong one too many times, Morrissey once again capturing thoughts and feelings that are universal for us all at some point in our lives. And it sounds gorgeous. Squeamish Chris
5. I Want The One I Can’t Have I wasn’t even born when The Smiths found fame, at 19 I was able to recognise the apt Morrissey-esqueness of having a favourite band who’d disbanded before I’d started primary school. A cloistered life wrapped up in books (encouraged by his assistant librarian mother) contributed to Morrissey’s howling and yap ridden lyrics that could have been lifted from the diary of a teenage girl suffering the unbearable pangs of unrequited love. Realising late that there’s “more to life than books you know, but not much more” meant that much of Morrissey’s experience was via Shelagh Delaney plays and Corrie. These are my suspicions anyway and as a fellow late starter with the vocabulary of a Dawson’s Creek character and about the same emotional maturity Meat is Murder is my favourite album. I Want The One I Can’t Have is probably my favourite track. Sigh. Squeamish Kate