Songs recorded with Morrissey in mind.

Songs you've got to hear.
June 7 2004 2:21 PM

Keeping Up With the Smiths

Songs recorded with Morrissey in mind.

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Morrissey
You Are the Quarry
(Sanctuary) Click here to listen to "Irish Blood, English Heart."Morrissey's lyrics for his first single in seven years—a hiatus longer than the entire life span of the band that made him famous, the Smiths—are bitterly defensive about the infamous 1992 incident in which he sang "The National Front Disco" while clad in the Union Jack. Over the course of the song, he flicks spitballs at both major British political parties, Oliver Cromwell, and, bizarrely, "this royal line … that will salute [Cromwell] forever" (not an allegiance most historians would claim). Given Morrissey's usual delight in pushing people's buttons, it's odd to hear him declare that he wishes his fondness for the flag didn't seem "shameful, racist, or partial." (Isn't the whole point of a flag to show partiality?) As usual, guitarist Alain Whyte's terse, forceful music underscores Morrissey's words where Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr used to complicate them.

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Erlend Øye
DJ-Kicks
(!K7)
Click here to listen to "Poor Leno"/ "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.""Hang the DJ, hang the DJ," Morrissey sang on the Smiths' "Panic"—one of those whoops-did-I-mean-that moments (like his facetious declaration that "reggae is vile") that have made people wonder if he was half-serious about the National Front thing. But dance culture has more of a place for him than he has for it. The Norwegian singer/songwriter Erlend Øye (of the band Kings of Convenience) has a second career as a club DJ; on his installment of the DJ-Kicks mix-CD series, he sings along with the records he's playing—whatever tunes come into his head and seem to fit. Øye actually sang on Röyskopp's original recording of "Poor Leno," but when his mix segues into this instrumental version, he starts murmuring the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." The song's three-note melodic pivot and tightrope walk between cruelty and tenderness suit Röyskopp's doomy swells of bass nicely.

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Tender Trap
"¿Como te llamas? (Tell Me Your Name)" (Elefant)
Click here to listen to "¿Como te llamas? (Tell Me Your Name).""Cute girl, loves the Smiths/ Wants someone to share misery with." Amelia Fletcher invokes Morrissey in the first line of this bilingual dueling-personal-ads duet with Lupe Núñez-Fernández of the Would-Be-Goods and goes on to mock the cultural-icon-name-dropping specificity and wrist-to-forehead pose of Morrissey's early lyrics. (She rhymes A Bout de Souffle with "lemon and vermouth.") The first few seconds of "¿Como te llamas?" are a discofied, distinctly un-rock approximation of the signature guitar parts that opened Smiths singles, and the tremolo guitar in the song's final minute alludes to the famous riff of "How Soon Is Now?" But it's also impossible to imagine the playful, no-big-deal homoeroticism of this song ("Indie girl seeks the same") without the Smiths, the first major rock band to write offhandedly about gay desire.

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New York Dolls
New York Dolls
(Polygram)
Click here to listen to "Trash."Nowadays, the New York Dolls are probably best known for singer David Johansen's party-time '80s alter ego Buster Poindexter or for the junkie excesses of their late guitarist, Johnny Thunders. But in the early '70s, these cross-dressing American freaks were Morrissey's favorite group (in a 1978 article, he called them "the last rock and roll band"), and their surviving members have reunited at his behest for the Meltdown festival in London later this month. You can hear part of the template for the Smiths in 1973's "Trash," especially in the dry, fey sarcasm of Johansen's words ("I'd go to Planet Blue with you/ But I just don't know if I do") and the way he contorts every one of them in his mouth before he spits them out.

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The Ukrainians
Istoriya: The Best of the Ukrainians
(Omnium)
Click here to listen to "Batyar."Even translated into Ukrainian and arranged with accordion and mandolins, this 1992 recording (which appears on the Ukrainians' new best-of, Istoriya) is pretty obviously the Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again." Singer "Legendary Len" Liggins, guitarist Peter Solowka, and their group (a folk-inspired spinoff of the British band the Wedding Present) dress the song in Slavic drag but don't quite manage to shake off the specter of the Smiths: The galloping beat and Liggins' Morrissey impersonation give the game away. But they do find an echo of traditional music within the melody of "Bigmouth" that its creators didn't realize was there, as well as an unexpected historical precedent in the frantic strum of folk mandolins for the jangling rush of the indie-pop scene that spawned both the Smiths and the Wedding Present.

Douglas Wolk is the author of Live at the Apollo.

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