Monday, December 16, 2013

The Great Albums: The Queen is Dead by The Smiths

Jarring and jangling, The Queen is Dead is The Smiths at their brightest and brashest.  Both Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr consider their follow-up, Strangeways, Here We Come, the band's fourth and final studio album, to be the band's best work, and perhaps that argument could very well be made, but here and now, today, we are talking about the 1986 album that, a few months back, was called the greatest album of all-time by Brit music magazine, NME.  Is this the greatest album of all time?  Obviously some would say yes.  I would say no, but at the same time it is an album that I would surely include in any serious top fifty album list...hell, maybe even in a top twenty-five list.  In fact I will be compiling a list of the greatest albums, be it a top 100 or 500, or maybe even a top 1000, come sometime in the second half of 2014, to be posted right here at this blog, but more on that later.  Let's talk The Queen is Dead.

Before we go on though, I must confess to a rather terrible act.  Until earlier today, I hadn't listened to this album in what is probably twenty or more years now.  Who knows why this gap in musical knowledge, a generation gap from my relative youth to my current middle-esque age, has occurred (an obsessing over other things perhaps), but it is certianly sad really, since in the late 1980's though the early 1990's, this was easily one of my favourite albums - and this was at a time that albums actually meant a vinyl record, not some downloadable digital file - though at the moment I do happen to be listening to the album (playing it on loop as I write these words) on the digital platform known as Spotify.  I actually forgot just how much fun this album happens to be.  Yeah, that's right, I just called an album by The Smiths, often called a miserablist rock band, fun - and I stand by that.  But, at the same time, this album has its typical Smithian melancholy side as well.  The combination of Marr's guitar-driven Jangle Pop and heavy influence from such 1960's bands as The Byrds, and Morrissey's nostalgic bent and wry and whimsical Wilde-esque lyrics (not to leave anyone out, I should make mention of bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce as well), meet perfectly in the band's third album.

From the very outset, where the voice of Cicely Courtneidge, ringing out Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty, from the 1962 British film, The L-Shaped Room (Morrissey is a rather avid cinephile, as can be seen by French film icon Alain Delon adorning the Morrissey-designed cover of the album), and then rolling into the opening title track, with its tom-tom and wah-wah sound, we know right away that this is something special, something unique - something for the so-called ages.  From the giddy charm of Frankly, Mr. Shankly (an ode to Dylan's Mr. Jones perhaps), Bigmouth Strikes Again, and the drolly acerbic Cemetery Gates, to the sad, longing tones and lyrics of I Know It's Over and The Boy With the Thorn in His Side, to the perfect blending of both sides in There is a Light That Never Goes Out, possibly the best song The Smiths have ever created (though to give credit where credit is due, this song would not exist the way it does if it had not been for The Velvet Underground and There She Goes Again), The Queen is Dead is not only one of the best albums ever produced, but also one of the most influential on a future generation of musicians, having given birth to such acts as The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, and Suede.

As I said earlier, sometime next year, most likely in the second half of said year, I will be compiling my own personal list of the greatest albums of all-time, to be published in these very blog "pages."  In the meantime, I will be boning up on all the albums I never checked out before, as well as revisiting all those I have, in a sort of six or seven month research project for said list, and however long (and probably long-winded) this aforementioned list may very well be (I am guessing 500 at this point, but ya never know), The Smiths' The Queen is Dead will surely sit in one of the more upper echelon spots.  Perhaps not the top spot like NME bravely and boldly did back in October (anyone who knows me well should be able to predict what album, barring any surprises during my research project, will be sitting in that spot) but surely in the top fifty at the very least.  So stay tuned for that, and as you wait (with baited breath I am sure) make sure to check out my new running series, of which this is the inaugural one, called The Great Albums, where I, randomly and in nor particular order, take a look at some of the, well...some of the great albums of all-time of course.  Duh.  See ya 'round the web.


  1. The Queen is Dead, the best album of all-time!? Are the good folks at NME smokin' crack!? Damn, it ain't even the best Smiths album. Nice run-up on it though. It is a damn fine album actually.

    My top albums? Um, Closer, Horses, The Stooges, anything by The Clash or New York Dolls. VU&NICO of course. Newer stuff? White Stripes, Libertines, other hard rockin' bands. Maybe include some Coltrane or Leadbelly for some diversity.

    Looks like this may be a good little series. Whatchya doin' next?

  2. Great choice to start off with. NME really isn't that far off in their assessment of the record. Maybe not the best, but this would make my personal top 10. Dangerman has no idea of what he speaks. Bloody fool, if you ask me. The Queen is Dead IS the best Smiths record, and one the best albums of all time. Stupid wanker. I do agree with Closer though. That is number two on my list. But yes, quite a good one to start your series off with.

  3. I know, I know, Dangerman can be quite the ass. But he does know his music (most of the time). Coming up next (in whatever order) will be Elvis (ooh, but which one?), R.E.M., The Beatles (of course), New Order, Jack White, and Amy Winehouse. That's right. ;

  4. Quite an ass? Yeah, I see that. Rock n Roll baby!!!

  5. This is a great album. I first heard it around age twelve or thirteen. I was just starting my rebellious phase and my parents could not stand Morrisey's voice, so I listened to this a lot. Of course then I realized punk music and groups like Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins really pissed them off, and I moved on.