17 Best Morrissey Songs that Illustrate His Brilliance

The abrasive and often outspoken indie music troubadour Morrissey is the Marmite of modern music, you either love him or hate him. Those who love his music develop a deep connection with him. It’s not hard to see why. His work, starting with The Smiths back in the ’80s and into his solo career (which we’ll cover here), is music for the disenfranchised, lost, or rejected (which, to be honest, is the majority of us at some point in our lives).

He’s frustrated with modern living, but rather than putting a polished pop star veneer over it, he’s brutally honest about the wrongs of the world as he sees them, from animal rights to political correctness (the latter getting him into plenty of hot water in recent years.)

In this article, we take a deep dive into this Manchester-born icon. If you know and love him, you’ll be right at home but will no doubt disagree with the song choices and order. That’s ok, we’re all different.

So without further ado, here’s our pick of the best Morrissey songs.

17. Jim Jim Falls

We’ll start with one of his more recent compositions. It’s a song that only Morrissey could write. Many will interpret the lyrics as dark and twisted, but if you know anything about Morrissey, you’ll know the opposite is often true. It’s really a message to “get on and make the most of life” rather than wining and feeling sorry for yourself (slightly hypocritical, you could say). A similar message appears in Alma Mater (featured below.) Musically, the vibe is very different, with aggressive electronic beats and not a hint of jangly guitars, but it works brilliantly. Incidentally, Jim Jim Falls is a plunge waterfall in the Northern Territory of Australia.

16. Break up the Family

“I’m so glad to grow older, to move away from those younger years, I’m in love for the first time, and I don’t feel bad.” Here’s a wistful song about growing up, escaping a small-town mentality, and finding love. There’s the tyrannical sports teacher (“captain of games, solid framed”), the drive home in a car with no brakes (“no brakes? I don’t mind”), and the final farewell (“wish me luck, my friends, goodbye.”) Fellow Mancunian Vini Reilly, famed for his work under the Durutti Column moniker, provided a lot of the guitar work (and songwriting, apparently) on this song and the entire Viva Hate album (the whole album is great).

Related: See more songs about growing up and moving away.

15. Now My Heart is Full

Who said Mozzer’s songs were pessimistic? ‘Now My Heart is Full’ is about as optimistic as any Michael Buble number, and yes, it has to be admitted, it’s quite uncharacteristic for Morrissey. It’s from his great album Vauxhall & I, which most people agree is his best solo work. “This song was the definitive expression of my change to adulthood, of my maturity,” he told Les Inrockuptibles in 1995. In case you were wondering, “Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt” alludes to the gangsters from Graham Greene’s 1938 classic novel Brighton Rock.

14. Hairdresser on Fire

Appearing as a B-side to Suedehead (see further down), ‘Hairdresser on Fire’ opens up with an uncharacteristic string-based intro, but from the moment he starts singing, it’s classic Morrissey. The song is a critique of vain London glitterati (in this case, hairdressers), whom he portrays as “repressed, but remarkably dressed” while they flit around Sloane Square “busy clipping.” Here, “on fire” doesn’t mean “alight” but “quickly.” One assumes the barbers who helped him get his famous quiff weren’t overjoyed with this track.

13. Speedway

Likely an autobiographical song, “Speedway” is one of the few songs in the history of pop that features a chainsaw (name another?). In the song, Morrissey airs his grievances. With whom or what is unclear, but there are numerous targets that are all plausible, such is the flack he’s endured from the British music press, tabloids, not to mention a legal spat with ex-Smiths band members. In typical ambiguous Morrissey style, he says the rumors are “completely unfounded,” but then, in the same breath, tells us, “well, they weren’t lies.” It’s hard to know what to believe, but it’s a fine song nonetheless.

12. You’re the One for Me, Fatty

From his 1992 album Your Arsenal, here’s another standout song. A pun on the Marvelettes’ song “You Are the One for Me, Bobby,” it’s whimsical and fun, and while “fatty” is used as a term of endearment, it’s probably rubbed plenty of people up the wrong way. The fact that it was produced by rock legend Mick Ronson (of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars fame) is reason enough to give it a listen.

11. Spent the Day in Bed

In one of Mozzer’s more recent compositions, he takes a shot at the news media in a sort of John and Yoko-style stay-in-bed protest. Morrissey tells his listeners that the best way to deal with life’s worries is to spend a day under the covers with the TV off. The news, he declares, “conspires to frighten you.” He’s not a fan of work, either, with the line “no bus, no boss, no rain, no train.”

10. The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get

In this classic “resistance is futile” number, Morrissey dares the listener to ignore him. Try to dismiss him, and he gets even stronger. He’s now a “central part of your mind’s landscape” whether you like it or not. For someone who likes to shy away from the limelight, it’s pretty bizarre.

9. You Have Killed Me

The first two lines of the lyrics (“Pasolini is me, Accattone you’ll be”) allude to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone, a film about prostitution in Rome’s slums. Some fans think it’s just an example of how Rome influenced Morrissey, while others think it’s about losing one’s virginity since Accattone was Pasolini’s first movie. It appeared on 2006’s Ringleader of the Tormentors, an album that Tony Visconti (a long-time Bowie collaborator)produced.

8. Irish Blood, English Heart

Morrissey made a name for himself as a bit of an England nationalist with this one (thanks to lines like “England for the English”). Despite the controversy, it was his highest-selling single in the UK (reaching number three) and charted well elsewhere. The song’s themes of split identity resonated with Hispanic Americans who live in the United States, garnering him plenty of fans.

7. Alma Matters

In this bittersweet pop song, Morrissey makes a reference to the movie “A Taste of Honey” for the first time since his early days with The Smiths with the line, “it’s my life to ruin my own way.” The title is a pun on the phrase “alma mater,” a Latin phrase used to identify a school, college, or university that one has previously attended. But “alma” also translates as “soul” in Spanish or “mother.”

6. Boxers

In Boxers, Morrissey depicts a downtrodden boxer who’s taken a beating in front of his home crowd. His “weary” wife is leaving him, but his nephew still thinks the world of him, and, rather touchingly, the crowd loves him all the same. The song touches on the notion of trying to please everyone, which, incidentally, is something Morrissey could never be accused of doing. He never played to the crowds, which is one of the reasons why he’s revered by his fans. “I have to dry my eyes,” he sings.

5. Let Me Kiss You

A song that was supposedly written for his neighbor in Los Angeles, Nancy Sinatra (who performed her own version of the song with Morrissey on backing vocals), “Let Me Kiss You,” is textbook insecure, self-loathing Morrissey. He wonders if a simple trick of the mind—suggesting his lover close their eyes and imagine he’s someone else while they kiss—will make her want him. Somewhat bewildering, considering the amount of love there is for him out there.

Related: See our list of songs with the word kiss in them.

4. First of the Gang to Die

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Morrissey’s career is the fanbase he’s acquired in South America. By all accounts, it’s huge, especially in Argentina. The main protagonist’s name (a young guy from Mexico named “Hector”) would play out well with his Hispanic following. This song from the ‘You Are the Quarry’ album also includes some of the best one-liners you’ll ever hear in a song, such as “You have never been in love until you’ve seen the sun rise behind the home for the blind.”

3. Everyday is Like Sunday

With one of indie music’s most recognizable openings (that jangly, Johnny Marr style guitar), ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’ is widely regarded as one of Morrissey’s finest solo songs. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was apparently “very jealous” when he first heard it. Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde called it “a masterful piece of prose”, before she did her own cover. The subject matter – a dreary seaside town he thinks is so dead you may as well nuke it (“come, come nuclear bomb”) – is Morrissey at his dark, brooding best. He said, “The British holiday resort is just like a symbol of Britain’s absurdity really. The idea of a resort in Britain doesn’t seem natural.” No wonder he moved to L.A.

Related: Check out our list of songs that mention Sunday in them.

2. The Last of the Famous International Playboys

Morrissey’s lyrics for the brilliantly titled ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’ were inspired by East End gangsters The Kray Twins, whom he saw as an example of how the media glorify violent criminals. Morrissey joked in a 1989 interview, “‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’ are Bowie, Bolan, Devoto and me”. If the intro sounds familiar, it could be that it resembles Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” The video also features former Smiths bandmates Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, back when they were still talking to each other.

1. Suedehead

While you could make the case for any of these songs, it’s safe to say that Suedehead is a worthy contender for the numero uno spot. Morrissey’s first release as a solo artist was a reassuring moment for us heartbroken Smiths fans that the music would live on. The title came from the British suedehead subculture of the early 1970s, popularized in a book by British author Richard Allen of the same name. It’s a love song full of pent-up guilt (“I’m so sorry”), proving that Mozzer and his brilliant brand of pop were alive and well. In case you hadn’t realized, he sings “It was a good lay” in the outro, dispelling the myth that he was celibate once and for all.

Related: This appears on our list of iconic 80s songs (along with a heap more.)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Late Night on Maudlin Street
  • We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful
  • Ouija board, Ouija board

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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