The Smiths release their third masterpiece: The Queen Is Dead

The Smiths 1986 (

The Smiths 1986


In 1985 The Smiths had released Meat Is Murder, their second masterpiece (Hatful Of Hollow being the first). The career and trajectory of The Smiths seemed to run smoothly, but the reality was quite different. The road to masterpiece number three was bumpy, very bumpy to be exact.

Disappointing sales

The Smiths were in top form, made beautiful music, albums and singles and played to sold-out venues, but sales numbers were disappointing. After the release of the single The Boy With The Thorn In His Side on September 23rd, 1985, once again generated less sales than anticipated, the band got angry, with Morrissey (once again) being the most vocal about it.

Morrissey had a good relationship with the (English) press, which generally relished the frank way in which Morrissey articulated his grievances. This time was no exception: radio DJ’s were fascists and record company Rough Trade, and especially its president Geoff Travis, did far too little to bring The Smiths to the public. It would all lead to an official dispute between the label and the band. The Smiths didn’t release any new music until May 19th, 1986, when Bigmouth Strikes Again announced the arrival of a new album.

The Smiths 1986 (

The Smiths 1986

Internal issues

As already mentioned in the story on Meat Is Murder, the band had no management. In real life it meant that these tasks were assigned to Johnny Marr. Marr also was the band’s main composer, all music was written by him. It was too much for Marr and he subsequently turned to booze. After the Meat Is Murder tour Marr was in really bad shape:

‘Worse for wear’ wasn’t the half of it: I was extremely ill. By the time the tour actually finished it was all getting a little bit… dangerous. I was just drinking more than I could handle.

On top of that, Andy Rourke’s heroin addiction spiraled out of control. Early 1986 he was fired from the band. According to Rourke, Morrissey had left a note on his car’s windshield, stating “Andy – you have left the Smiths. Goodbye and good luck, Morrissey”. Morrissey denies he left a note at all.

It’s a miracle, but new songs were still being written. Lots of them, with the one being even more beautiful than the next. Many of them were written while on the road during the Meat Is Murder tour and were subsequently worked on during soundchecks with Marr and the rhythm section.


The first recording, the song The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, for the new album took place in July 1985 at a small studio in Manchester. Initially intended to be a demo recording, the band was so pleased with the end result that the song was released as a single on September 23rd, 1985. In August the band recorded 5 new songs at the RAK Studios in London, among which the devastatingly beautiful B-side Asleep. Also recorded was Bigmouth Strikes Again with Kirsty MacColl providing background vocals, which were discarded on the final version. After fulfilling yet more touring obligations, the band went back into the studio at the end of the year recording songs for the new album, including extra songs that would appear on singles only . Scene: Jacob Studios at Farnham. Provisional album title : Margaret On The Guillotine, a reference to Margaret Thatcher.

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

The Queen Is dead

On June 16th, 1986, the third studio album by The Smiths was released in England, followed by the US release one week later. The album title had been changed to The Queen Is Dead.

The album introduces yet another side of The Smiths. the music is heavier and, by and large, lacking Marr’s typical jingle-jangle sound. The band convincingly demonstrated that they could work very well in the studio. The rhythm section is at the top of their game and really propel the album forward. Marr’s guitar playing is impressive and Morrissey’s vocals are passionate.

Song by song

Even though the lyrics still portray Morrissey as a person who revels in self-pity and weltschmerz, the lyrics still seem to be ‘more mature’. Luckily, the (black) humor is always close by.

The Queen Is Dead

Johnny Marr stated the song was founded on the work of The Stooges and The Velvet Undergound. One of the heaviest songs ever recorded by The Smiths, the song questions the monarchy in an intelligent, and funny way.

And so, I broke into the Palace
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”
I said: “that’s nothing – you should hear me play piano”

© The Smiths 1986

The closing phrase, which is sung repeatedly, just before the musical coda where Marr shows he can also play aggressive guitar parts, is Morrissey weltschmerz to the hilt: “Life is very long, when you’re lonely”.

The great drumming was developed by drummer Mike Joyce and engineer Stephen Street, using a sampler. Beautiful, exciting opener!

Frankly, Mr. Shankly

Its music is hard to put into words, often referred to as ‘music hall’. It has the ‘feel’ of a lullaby with its simple melody and rhythm.

Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I’ve held
it pays my way and it corrodes my soul
Oh, I didn’t realise that you wrote poetry
I didn’t realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry, Mr. Shankly

Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask
you are a flatulent pain the arse
I do not mean to be so rude
but still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly
Oh, give us money

© The Smiths 1986

The song is about Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis, with whom the band, and Morrissey in particular, were struggling. The lyrics also mention the desire to be famous, yet being unable to cope with it when that actually happens. The song’s lyrics are quite funny as well, with phrases like “but sometimes I’d feel more fulfilled, making Christmas cards with the mentally ill”.

Morrissey sent a postcard to Linda McCartney asking her if she could play piano on the song. She politely declined, citing lack of time.

The original recording of the song had a technical error, forcing the band to re-record the entire song.

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead - Ads (

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead – Ads

I Know It’s Over

Beautiful ballad, that gives room for (self)doubt, something Morrissey rarely mentioned.

I know it’s over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real
And you even spoke to me and said:
“If you’re so funny then why are you on your own tonight?
And if you’re so clever then why are you on your own tonight?
If you’re so very entertaining then why are you on your own tonight?
If you’re so very good-looking then why do you sleep alone tonight?
I know, because tonight is just like any other night, that’s why you’re on your own tonight
With your triumphs and your charms
while they are in each other’s arms”

It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind

© The Smiths 1986

The song starts and finishes with the significant “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head”. Once again, beautiful and emotional.

Never Had No One Ever

The lesser song on the album, that shows Morrissey felling left out and wondering why he doesn’t feel any connection at all with his surroundings.

When you walk without ease
On these streets where you were raised
I had a really bad dream
It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days
Alone, I’m alone and I never
Never had no one ever

© The Smiths 1986

Cemetry Gates

Johnny Marr wanted to toss the music, but decided to play it to Morrissey anyway, who loved it.

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people all those lives, where are they now?
With loves, and hates and passions just like mine
They were born, and then they lived, and then they died
Seems so unfair
I want to cry

© The Smiths 1986

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Glorious up-tempo song, in which Morrissey likens himself to Joan Of Arc, because his ‘bigmouth’ gets him in trouble more often than not.

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking
when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking
when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed
And now I know how Joan of Arc felt
Now I know how Joan of Arc felt
As the flames rose to her roman nose
and her Walkman started to melt

© The Smiths 1986

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead - Ads (

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead – Ads

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

Already released in 1985 as the first precursor to the album. The album version differs from the album version, as that contains more instruments.

The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
a murderous desire for love

© The Smiths 1985

Vicar In A Tutu

Resembles Frankly, Mr Shankly musically and atmospherically. Funny song.

I was minding my business
lifting some lead off
the roof of the Holy Name church
It was worthwhile living a laughable life
just to set my eyes on the blistering sight
of a vicar in a tu-tu
he’s not strange
he just wants to live his life this way

© The Smiths 1986

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Arguably, the most beautiful song The Smiths ever released. Musically and lurically moving. A great example of the greatness Marr and Morrissey were able to achieve.

Take me out tonight
Because I want to see people and I want to see lights
Driving in your car
Oh please don’t drop me home
because it’s not my home, it’s their home, and I’m welcome no more

And if a double-decker bus
crashes into us
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck
kills the both of us
To die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine

© The Smiths 1986

Dying because of a ‘double-decker bus’ or a ‘ten ton truck’ almost sounds like something to aspire to. Friend and foe alike, advised the band to release this song as a single, but they didn’t. The question remains whether or not it would have been a hit, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

A highlight on the album and within the band’s body of work!

The lyrics are inspired by the New York Dolls song Lonely Planet Boy off the 1974 debut album by New York Dolls, Morrisssey’s favorite band: “But how could you be drivin’ / Down by my home / When ya know, I ain’t got one / And I’m, I’m so all alone”.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Placed on the album to serve as an amsusing after thought. Yet, it still is another great song. Lyrically funny.

From the ice-age to the dole-age
There is but one concern
I have just discovered:
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers

© The Smiths 1986

The ‘bigger’ refers to the breast size of women. The openly a-sexual Morrissey stated in 1986: “The fact that I’ve scuttled through 26 years of life without ever noticing that the contours of the body are different is an outrageous farce!”?.

The Smiths - Live Manchester 07/19/1986 (

The Smiths – Live Manchester 07/19/1986

Cover photo

The album cover was designed by Morrissey. The front contains a photo of Alain Delon from the 1964 movie L’Insoumis. The album title stems from Hubert Selby Jr.’s 1964 novel Last Exit To Brooklyn.


Well, what can be said about The Queen Is Dead that hasn’t been said before? It’s the perfect indie album. Musically, lyrically, conceptually: it’s all equally impressive and beautiful. Songs like The Queen Is Dead, I Know it’s Over, Bigmouth Strikes Again and of course There Is A Light That Never Goes Out all possess an alien like beauty. The compositions all are of an indescribable high level, as are the lyrics. Is there more one can expect from an album?


Just like Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead comes highly recommended to everybody with a warm heart for rock, indie and great songs with humor, feeling and passion.

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead - The singles (

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead – The singles


Only two singles were released from the album, containing beautiful B-sides.

  • The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
    B-sides: Rubber Ring, Asleep, Oscillate Wildly
    (released on September 23rd, 1985)
  • Bigmouth Strikes Again
    B-sides: Money Changes Everything, Unloveable
    (released on May 19th, 1986)

During the autumn of 1986 the single Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, including The Draize Train as a B-side, was released, only in Germany.


All music composed by Johnny Marr, all lyrics written by Morrissey.

  • The Queen Is Dead
  • Frankly, Mr. Shankly
  • I Know It’s Over
  • Never Had No One Ever
  • Cemetry Gates
  • Bigmouth Strikes Again
  • The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  • Vicar In A Tutu
  • There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
  • Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

The Queen Is Dead starts off with a sample of Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty, written by A. J. Mills, Fred Godfrey and Bennett Scott.


  • Morrissey – vocals, background vocals on Bigmouth Strikes Again (as Ann Coates)
  • Johnny Marr – guitar, orchestration (as The Hated Salford Ensemble), synthesizer-strings, harmonium, marimba on The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  • Andy Rourke – bass
  • Mike Joyce – drums
The Smiths - Panic & Ask singles (

The Smiths – Panic & Ask singles

After The Queen Is Dead

Following the dismissal of Andy Rourke, Craig Gannon was hired, but after only two weeks Rourke was re-hired, with Gannon taking up guitar duties. This line-up released the following two singles:

  • Panic
    (released on July 21st, 1986)
  • Ask
    (released on October 20th, 1986)

Panic in particular is a song The Smiths will be remembered for. The lyrics seem to hark back at some of Morrissey’s statements a year earlier.

Burn down the Disco
Hang the blessed D.J.
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Hang the blessed D.J.

Hang the D.J., Hang the D.J., Hang the D.J.

© The Smiths 1986

The Smiths in the US 1986 (

The Smiths in the US 1986


From July until October 1986 the band was on tour. After the tour closed Gannon left and the band was once again back to the original four. The tour had been a success, but had asked a lot of the band and its members. Marr was about to collapse. Managing the band, playing every day, writing songs and the search for a new record company was just too much to handle. Rourke’s addiction was far from over. Drugs and booze were all used in large amounts.

On December 12th, 1986, the band played the last show of the year at the Brixton Academy in London. It would turn out to be the last time the band had ever played live. More on that in the fourth, closing, article on The Smiths.

In closing

What do you think of The Smiths and of The Queen Is Dead in particular? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Smiths release their third masterpiece: The Queen Is Dead. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!