This week’s listmaker: James Sholly. James is a Commercial Artisan and an unapologetic Morrissey enthusiast.
Morrissey is regarded as a seminal figure in indie music for his work with The Smiths and—for 25 years—as a solo artist. His hits (if that’s what they can be termed) are well known: “How Soon Is Now,” “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” “Suedehead.” Never one to reveal all of his cards, Morrissey also has a substantial collection of songs that have yet to see the light of day. Far from stinkers, some of these rate among his best. Here are some favorites:
1. “Art Hounds.” Played live only once (Brixton Academy, London 2011), “Art Hounds” is a withering assault of a song. In this peppy bit of character assassination, our hero calls out the repressed and pretentious art world snobs who haunt European hushed museums. “Art Hounds see the Greek ideal. Gaze on what they’ll never feel.” Funny, cutting and clever—a character study akin to others like “Spring-Heeled Jim,” “Black-Eyed Susan” or any of his other 10,000 character studies. That is, until he turns the tables and operatically proclaims “my life IS art.” Is the song now about him and his bottle of pharmacological struggles, or is he singing in the voice of the titular hound? Then, out of nowhere, he inverts the focus again and offers the listener his extended hand “when you cannot stand the real word,” and PRESTO!—the song’s now about you. Like much of his great work, the ultimate message might be that all you really need is Morrissey.
2. “Please Help The Cause Against Loneliness.” This outtake from Viva Hate, Morrissey’s first album as a non-Smith, might be described as Moz does Motown. Known to be a lover of girl groups like The Cookies and Martha and the Vandellas, Morrissey employs the upbeat music of this number to pay homage to those ladies, but the lyrics are all him. “I don’t mind what time you come round. If it’s the weekend then I just might be dead,” Moz cheerfully extols, accompanied on vocals by 1960s tough-but-sexy British girl singer Sandie Shaw. The two had worked together previously when Morrissey lured Shaw out of retirement to sing lyrics like “the sun shines out of our behinds” with the Smiths. This pull-your-heroes-out-of-the-mothballs approach isn’t uncommon now, but it predates Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, The KLF and Tammy Wynette and Jack White and Loretta Lynn. Shaw-only and Morrissey-only versions of this song have been released, but never this collaboration.
3. “I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong.” This is a beautiful demo version of the song “I Know Very Well How I Got My Name,” a B-side on Morrissey’s debut single “Suedehead.” Essentially a lament on awkward childhood experiments gone wrong and unrequited lost love, this is a little-known beauty that arrived just months after the collapse of the Smiths. Accompanied by Durutti Column guitar mastermind Vini Reilly, the simple arrangement with Spanish-style flourishes suggests a version of the song superior to the one that was released . . . almost. Moments before the song’s completion, Reilly plucks a clunker of a note that causes the studio to erupt in laughter. Although never appearing on a Morrissey release, the song did show up on an obscure Durutti Column release as a bonus disc credited to Vincent Gerard and Steven Patrick—whoever they are!
4. “Dear God Please Help Me.” Lush, expressive, liberating and a little bit squirmy — “there are explosive kegs between my legs” — indeed! A version of this song appeared on Morrissey’s 2006 release Ringleader of the Tormentors, and a cover version by Marianne Faithfull showed up on her Easy Come, Easy Go album, but this is the one to listen to. While recording Tormentors with Bowie/T-Rex producer Tony Visconti in Rome, the two made contact with famed spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone in an effort to persuade him to contribute something to the proceedings. Many pop and rock artists had tried and been turned down (U2 among them). Who knows why or how he agreed, but this gloriously over-the-top orchestral SOS to the man upstairs is the result. Who else but Morrissey would decide that it just wasn’t his style and send the tapes (and maybe Morricone himself!) into the vault?
5. “People Are The Same Everywhere.” In 2012, we must accept that Morrissey belongs to the world: a man who can’t be contained by just one country. Just look at a few of the cities on his current tour: Nagoya, Seoul, Edinburgh, Singapore, Jakarta . . . Flint, Michigan. “People Are The Same Everywhere” is another new song and a staple on the current tour. With hooks aplenty, this is the one that prompted me to wonder who else from the musical class of 1983 has remained a vibrant and vital force, consistently (okay, every once in a while) putting out music of an extremely impressive quality. In this particular outing, Moz and his Nico-clad band of man-rockers seem to be reassuring us that we, as a species, are united and strong, only to shatter the solidarity message moments later when it turns out that in Morrissey’s world, that’s a bad thing. And don’t think God gets off the hook: turns out he’s the one responsible for all this samey-samey! This is a terrific song that shows us that Morrissey still has plenty to say, or at least has a few newish ways to say the same wonderful things he’s been saying for 30 years. Won’t someone give this man a record deal?
Photo by mrmatt @ flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmatt/ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmatt/116581582/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.