The Smiths are one of the most beloved bands in British music history, and The Queen Is Dead – considered by many to be their finest album – turns 30 today (June 16).
To celebrate, here are 30 things you (probably) didn’t know about Morrissey and co’s third album:
1. The album takes its name from a controversial novel
American author Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn to be precise. The book courted controversy through its frank portrayals of subjects such as drug use, gang rape, transvestism and domestic violence. It became the centre of an obscenity trial in the UK and was banned in Italy.
2. Though the working title was much stranger
The album was recorded during the winter of 1985 under the working title of Margaret Under The Guillotine.
3. The cover art is taken from a French film
It’s a still from L’Insoumis (The Unvanquished) a 1964 film noir directed by Alain Cavalier.
4. The title track emerged from a 13-minute jam session
The music was born from a pounding 13-minute session, during which Johnny Marr captured accidental feedback from his wah-wah pedal. And an iconic intro was created.
5. The guitarist claimed he held his breath “for 10 minutes”
“I held my breath for 10 minutes while I was doing it [creating the title track],” Marr recalled to the NME in June 2011:
“Conceptually I was trying to do that Detroit thing… and I just got it wrong – but if you’re lucky that stuff comes out sounding like yourself anyway.”
6. It also includes a sample of a World War I standard
The track and albums opening sample is one of music hall veteran Cicely Courtneidge singing the World War I standard ‘Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty’ in the 1962 British film The L-Shaped Room.
7. They wanted Linda McCartney to play piano on the record
Specifically on ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’. Marr told the NME that Morrissey sent a postcard to McCartney asking her to play the piano part on the track, however she politely turned down the offer.
8. ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’ had to be re-recorded
The version originally intended for inclusion on The Queen Is Dead was ruined by a technical glitch on the tape, and so the song was re-recorded at Wessex Studios in London.
9. A lot of the songs were written under intense circumstances
A lot of Morrissey and Marr’s writing sessions involved them sitting inches away from each other, face-to-face. Marr would play an acoustic guitar, recording it on a tape player between his knees.
10. Which gave rise to some of their bleakest tracks
One ‘legendary’ night in the late summer of 1985 saw the duo write ‘Frankly, Mr. Shankly’, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘I Know It’s Over’, often considered the band’s most desolate song.
11. It’s their darkest album for a reason
Talking to The Guitar Magazine in 1997, Marr revealed the reason’s behind the record’s outward darkness:
“It came out of a very dark period. We did have a good time making it, but… we had no manager, plus we were still on an independent label. But out of all that adversity we managed to make this great album.”
12. They used an early form of auto-tune
A few songs on the album feature pitch-shifted backing vocals by Morrissey, who liked to experiment with effects on his voice. Studio engineer Stephen Street ran his voice through a harmoniser for the backing tracks.
13. It was used to replace Kirsty MacColl’s takes
The singer lent a backing vocal for ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, but it was considered “really weird” by Marr, and replaced by Morrissey’s pitch-shifted takes in the final mix.
14. Morrissey found it hilarious
Bassist Andy Rourke told the NME:
“He could hear himself sounding like one of The Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky and he was rolling on the floor laughing. in the end they just took a sample of him singing normally and tuned it up because he was laughing so much he couldn’t pull it together.”
15. Backing singer ‘Ann Coates’ doesn’t exist
The album’s credits list an Ann Coates as providing the backing vocals on the record, however no such person exists. The psuedonym was named after Ancotes, a district of north-east Mancheter.
16. Morrissey genuinely couldn’t spell ‘Cemetery’
It’s why the band’s dour track discussing mortality is know officially as ‘Cemetry Gates’; the singer admitted he’d always had trouble with the word.
17. The lyrics of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ are often updated
When Placebo covered the track, they changed the lyric about Joan of Arc’s “Walkman” to replaced it with a “Discman.” When Morrissey had performed the song in recent years, he’s changed it to “iPod.”
18. The album saw their first ever music video
Despite being on their third album, ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ was the first track from the band to be accompanied by a promotional music video.
19. But only because they had to
To appease label Rough Trade. Marr told Q magazine:
“We said, we will, under duress, allow you to interrupt this space we’re in but we refuse to move more than one foot away from where we are right now, and hurry up.”
He then commented: “The video is utterly crap.”
20. Though they were more keen on expressionistic short films
‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and ‘Panic’ formed part of a 13-minute short film, directed by the avant-garde filmmaker, Derek Jarman, in 1986.
21. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was the best song Marr had ever heard
Never one to shy from talking about his own achievements, Marr told Select magazine in 1993:
“I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.”
22. But it’s not an entirely original track…
The song’s rythmic intro was taken from The Rolling Stones’ cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitch Hike’, also heard on The Velvet Underground’s ‘There She Goes Again‘.
Speaking to Select again, Marr said:
“There’s a little in-joke in there just to illustrate how intellectual I was getting. At the time everyone was into The Velvet Underground and they stole the intro from The Rolling Stones’ version of ‘Hitch Hike’. I just wanted to put that in to see whether the press would say, ‘Oh it’s the Velvet Underground!’ Cos I knew that I was smarter than that; I was listening to what The Velvet Underground was listening to.”
23. It took six years for it to be released as a single
The track wasn’t released as a single during the album’s initial run, instead being reissued in 1992 to promote a compilation album. Marr told Uncut Magazine in 2008:
“I thought it was a sign of a really great album that there was a track that everyone wanted as a single, but you had stronger singles instead.”
24. The album featured synthesisers
Though the band are known as one of the finest guitar groups of the 80s, there were a few electronic tricks on The Queen Is Dead.
Most notably on ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, which featured synthesized strings. Morrissey was averse to the idea, but due to lack of funds, eventually came around.
25. ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ took the band by surprise
Marr wasn’t expecting his instrumentation to be paired with such comedic lyrics, and drummer Mike Joyce told the NME in 2011:
“Only Morrissey could get away with that lyric – vegetarianism, sexism, children being murdered.”
26. Though Marr has called it “a beautiful piece of music”
In Simon Goddard’s book Songs That Saved Your Life the author writes:
“Possessing one of his most alluring guitar melodies… it seemed very nearly blasphemous of Morrissey to christen it ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ and bestow it with its notoriously frivolous lyric”
27. The track’s strange production may have been a mistake
Music enthusiast Roddy Ashworth suggested to Smiths fan site, It May All End Tomorrow, a reason for the curious fade at the beginning of this song:
“Engineers and producers often ‘spoil’ mixes they send to record companies… to ensure payment for a track. My guess is that production on The Queen Is Dead was so behind schedule, and Rough Trade in such a hurry to get it out, they didn’t bother to check the master too thoroughly.”
28. There are a lot of nods to other works
‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ features lyrics drawn from ‘Lonely Planet Boy’ by the New York Dolls, and the music for ‘Never Had No One Ever’ was allegedly based on ‘I Need Somebody’ by The Stooges.
29. It’s also a bit Wilde
Oscar Wilde is something of a hero to Morrissey. A Wilde quote – “Talent borrows, genius steals” – was etched in the vinyl grooves of the first single, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’.
30. Marr and Morrissey don’t think it’s their best album
Contrary to popular opinion, Marr and Morrissey cite their final, 1987 album Strangeways, Here We Come as their favourite.