June 7 – Old Sounds Sped Up New Charts

After racing up the British charts for the past two years, The Stray Cats were Built for Speed on the Billboard charts in North America. Their first North American album came out this day in 1982. The New York retro-rockabilly trio had moved to London at the end of the ’70s thinking the UK more receptive to their ’50s-inspired rock. They were likely right; their first album, a self-titled one was a top 10 hit there and that helped them eventually got a deal with EMI to release a record at home.

The album, culling songs from their first two UK records, was a monster – and surprise – hit. It hit #2 in the U.S. and was double-platinum there and in Canada as well, largely on the strength of a pair of top 10 hits that sounded like nothing else on the air then – “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock this Town.” The latter had already been a top 10 across the sea the year before, as had another song on Built for Speed, “Runaway Boys.” All three were produced by another talented rockabilly fan – Dave Edmunds. They reciprocated somewhat, appearing on the song “The Race is On” another UK hit, on Edmunds 1981 album, Twangin‘.  Built for Speed contained one brand new song, the title track.

Brian Setzer, the singer and guitarist soon took a sabbatical to join Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers and the other two formed a spinoff band as well; after one more album the band was history, something Setzer now says “was silly…at the peak of our success.” Since then he’s played idol Eddie Cochran in the movie La Bamba and kept busy with his retro-swing outfit, the Brian Setzer Orchestra.   Although he’s worked on a number of other projects since, Setzer has reunited the Cats who put out a new album, 40, in 2019, and later a live album culled from the live performances that year. 


June 7 – Funkytown Was The Destination Of Choice

Some artists liked lips-synching in videos, others refused to. The topic is a musical debate, some people being all for it, others hating it. But on this day in 1980, it seemed like no matter what their position on “lip synch” in music, everyone loved Lipps Inc. They held down the #1 spot for the second week in a row in the U.S. with “Funkytown” and would hang on to the top spot for two more weeks. OK, so it was a #1 hit – not bad, but not like it was the world’s biggest hit, you might be saying. Or was it?

Well… while it sold in the millions, it wasn’t the biggest-selling single of that year, let alone of all-time. And I seriously doubt many people, even dance enthusiasts, would suggest it was the greatest record ever made. But, on at least one count, it did become the most successful single ever, a distinction it would hang onto for over two decades. We’ll get to that, but first a little background.

Lipps Inc. were a funk/dance group out of Minneapolis, the brain child of Steven Greenberg. He was a popular wedding DJ in the Twin Cities, and one assumes he noticed people liked to dance to the disco hits at weddings. So he decided to make some music of his own. He was joined by Cynthia Johnson, a singer and sax player from a band which would morph into Prince’s backing band later on. They formed Lipps Inc. ( the name a play on words for “lip synch”), adding in various singers and musicians including David Rivkin, a drummer who’d done some work with Gram Parsons. They recorded their first album, Mouth to Mouth, in 1979, with Greenberg producing. While sounding quite highly synthetic and produced, they did utilize seven ordinary musicians, two more additional backing singers and a real quartet of violinists on the album.. which was perhaps better described as an EP. The release, on Casablanca which was hot at the time selling Donna Summer records, was a four-song, 30-minute dance affair.

The standout, and first single was “Funkytown”, a nearly 8-minute dance workout on the album cut in half for the 7” single and radio version. Sung by Johnson and written by Greenberg, it had her asking you to please take her to “Funky Town”, which to the pair was New York City. Although Minneapolis had a happening scene back then, to Lipps Inc., New York was where it was at.

The song would go on to spend four weeks at #1 in the States and end up as the eighth biggest hit of the year. As Time Out put it, “’Funkytown’ came late to the disco party but it gave it a jolt of electricity.” Indeed it did, being one of the very last major hits that fell clearly into the “disco” category. It also hit #1 in Canada. And Australia. And New Zealand. And Switzerland, where it was the #2 song for the year. And it made the top of the charts in some 23 other countries. That set a record. The 28 countries it topped charts in was the most by any song, ever, at that point. Take that “Hound Dog” or “Hey Jude”! It would hold on to the distinction until 2005, when Madonna’s “Hung Up” eclipsed it by getting to #1 in 41 lands – ironically, the U.S. not being one of them.

VH1 listed Lipps Inc. as their 36th greatest “one hit wonder” ever, and while the term generally fits, “Funkytown” wasn’t the only thing Lipps Inc. did that was popular. The song “All Night Dancing” was a dance chart #1 hit soon after “Funkytown”, and a year or so later they’d hit the top 30 again in most European nations with their take on the Ace hit “How Long.”

Lipps Inc. called it quits in 1985 after four albums, but several members had decent careers afterwards. It would seem no story about dance or funk music in Minnesota would be complete without mentioning Prince. Perhaps too, no story about June 7 in music is complete without the Purple One, who was born this day in 1958. At least a couple of members of Lipps In. went on to work with Prince in the late-’80s and ’90s, including singer Margaret Cox and drummer David Rivkin, who would later go by “David Z.” He is given a writing credit on Prince’s hit “Kiss”, and suggests he actually was a major collaborator on the Parade album which it appeared. Rivkin would also be very successful producing for the Fine Young Cannibals. And Steve Greenberg himself went into the music business, rising to VP level of Mercury Records, and signing another major “one hit wonder”, Hanson.

June 6 – Country Night Fever

Could lightning strike thrice? Hollywood, and record exec Irving Azoff, betted it could. And they weren’t entirely wrong. In 1977, John Travolta danced his way into superstardom with Saturday Night Fever, the music of which dominated the record charts the following year. In 1978, he did the same with Grease. Could the public buy Travolta in a cowboy hat, doing a two-step? And would it produce a mega-selling soundtrack? Turns out it would. And although neither the film nor the soundtrack quite matched the success of the previous two, Urban Cowboy certainly was a hit on the big screen and on big radios. The album came out this day in 1980.

The movie starred Travolta as Bud, a Texan oil worker and his at times problematic relationship with Sissy, played by Debra Winger. At night, they liked to hang out at Gilley’s, a huge bar near Houston which played itself in the film. It was billed as the “world’s biggest honky tonk” , having a capacity of 7000 people and famous mechanical bulls. It was owned by Mickey Gilley, a country music, piano-playing cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, who saw the possibilities as soon as someone suggested a film be shot there. “I’m thinking ‘Saturday Night Fever’? Country Night Fever,” he told Billboard.

The bar had live music and musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Charlie Daniels appeared as themselves in the movie (and also appeared on the soundtrack.) And like Saturday Night Fever, they put together a double-LP (66 minutes of music, which was on a single CD when finally released in that format) using a mix of existing hit songs (like “the Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “Nine Tonight” by Bob Seger and “Lyin Eyes’” by the Eagles) and brand new ones for the movie. Those included a couple by Gilley himself and contribtuions from country acts like Johnny Lee and Kenny Rogers as well as rockers like Joe Walsh as well as adult contemporary stars like Boz Scaggs and Anne Murray. It was a winning combination, with Travolta getting a Rolling Stone cover that summer to publicize it and no fewer than six singles from it making the American top 40: “All Night Long” by Walsh, “Love the World Away” by Rogers, Gilley’s own cover of “Stand by Me”, “Lookin’ for Love” by Lee, “Look What You’ve Done to Me” by Scaggs and “Could I Have This Dance” by Murray. Three of those hit the top of country charts and overall, the album got to #3 in the U.S. (only #21 to the north in Canada, and worse elsewhere) and went triple-platinum.

It generally got good reviews, with retroactive ones like allmusic‘s 5-star one and Billboard pointing out how it was able to make “the music and the culture that surrounds it a pop phenomenon.” The latter says “40 years later, country owes a lot to Urban Cowboy.” Indeed, we’ve noted here how in 1981, just after this movie and album, the charts briefly had a good run of country crossover hits from the likes of Juice Newton, Dolly Parton and Eddie Rabbitt. One can only wonder what would have happened if Travolta had taken up waltzing on the big screen in ’81!

June 5 – Forgotten Gems : Hugh Marsh

He’s had an over 40 year career in music, played with stars and on smash movies…but few have heard of Hugh Marsh. The seemingly anonymous violinist turns 68 today, so happy birthday to him. And it brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem – his take on “Purple Haze”.

Marsh was born in Montreal and grew up in Ontario, largely in Ottawa. Unlike a lot of kids of the ’50s, he loved jazz and R&B and began playing violin at the age of 5. He would end up taking 13 years of classical training on it, and picked up some sax chops in high school too. For awhile he said he preferred the sax to the violin, but his real talent was the latter and in the ’70s he switched over primarily to an electric violin, opening up a whole new world of sound for him.

He began playing shows behind Moe Koffman, a respected jazz musician at the time, which drew the attention of Bruce Cockburn, the folkie who was starting to become an international star at that time. Hugh played in Cockburn’s backing band for a few years and worked on two of his albums, 1980’s Humans and ’83’s The Trouble with Normal, even playing some mandolin on a few tracks). By the mid-’80s, he was signed to Toronto indie label Duke street (who also had quirky Jane Siberry on their roster) and put out a solo record. Which got him the chance to do a second one, 1987‘s Shaking the Pumpkin, which is where the Forgotten Gem was from.

As we mentioned recently in regards to Joe Cocker taking on a Beatles song to cover, it takes some amount of guts to do a cover version of a “classic rock classic.” Which Marsh did with Jimi Hendrix’ iconic “Purple Haze”. Besides the electric violin and jaunty beat Marsh applied, the most obvious thing about the track is that it sounds like a Robert Palmer song. And with good reason. Marsh got Palmer to do the vocals on it and several other tracks on the album. Amazingly, the pair didn’t know each other until then.

I was a huge fan of Robert Palmer’s in the ’80s,” Marsh told Talkhouse, “and I would always try and find ways of getting ahold of somebody, not just the usual route…I read he was recording at Compass Point in the Bahamas, so I just went ‘Ok, I’ll send (a demo tape) to the recording studio. If he opens up the package, he can just put it on and see what he thinks.’” About three days later, Palmer called Marsh up and told him it sounded “great” and agreed to fly to Toronto to work on the record!

The pair remained friends after that, with Palmer apparently prone to calling Hugh up in the middle of the night to talk music. “He was a real musicologist,” Marsh remembers, “he was interested in World Music way before it became popular in North America.”

The song became a radio hit in Canada (it was the #55 record of the year at CFNY in his hometown Toronto for example) and in some markets in the U.S. when it was released there a year later.

Hugh’s had four more jazz albums since then and kept very busy. He’s been a member of Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt’s band for 30 years now. She calls him a “sound poet” but notes he refers to himself as a “music conversationalist, there to serve other people’s music.” More recently he’s toured with Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and been a member of alt rock faves the Rheostatics. And if that’s not enough, he’s been a regular on the Hollywood scene, working on scores for, well, scores of movies including Sinbad, Shrek II and the Chronicles of Narnia. Sounds like he could be quite an interesting music “conversationalist”, doesn’t it?

June 4 – A Worldwide Phenomenon No Matter Where It Was From

The Boss” got promoted on this day in 1984. Bruce Springsteen put out his seventh album, the iconic (and perhaps ironic) Born In The U.S.A. While Bruce was already popular and had already famously been on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, this was the record that took him to an entirely new level of worldwide popularity.

The cover photo is iconic, being right up there with the other mega-hit of the early-to-mid ’80s, Thriller, when it comes to fame and recognition. It’s also where the irony begins. It looks about as patriotic and flag-waving as it could be – it has the flag as a backdrop after all – but hides the fact that much of the record’s message is about the problems of America in the 1980s and the woes of the ordinary American. Barry Miles noticed that discrepancy, but gave Springsteen some latitude for it. Writing in The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time, he opines “the choice of working class symbols (such as the baseball cap and Levis) rather than the symbols of corporate America reveal Springsteen’s leftward leanings and pro-working class stance.” Of course, the only leads into the title track and it’s similar dichotomy of an anthemic, in-yer-face “Born in the U.S.A.” bellowed between gritty lyrics about the country’s disregard for its veterans. Journalist Bruno MacDonald noted that as well, pointing out “millions heard the song but not all listened – then-president Ronald Reagan cited the song’s ‘message of hope’”.

The rather discouraging lyrics on songs like that one, “Glory Days” and “My Hometown” don’t stray far from the downbeat themes of the album’s predecessor, the acoustic Nebraska. But the sound itself was something entirely different – mainly loud, rocking and enthusiastic. Springsteen himself says of it, “if you look at the material…it’s actually written very much like Nebraska – the characters and their stories, the style of writing. It’s just in a rock band setting.”

Whether people heard it as a message of a middle class in decline and indifferent politicians or just a great Friday night party soundtrack, hear it they did… and buy it. It was easily the biggest of his career, hitting #1 in most major markets including his homeland (where it topped the charts for seven weeks), Canada, Australia, the UK and Germany, where he’d never even had a top 30 hit before. When all was said and done it had sold something in the range of nearly 30 million copies – about 15 times that of Nebraska. It ended up as the biggest-seller of 1984 in Canada and of 1985 in the U.S., helped along by a major world tour of huge outdoor stadiums and the many singles.

The album dropped an incredible seven singles – there were more singles than songs not released as 7” 45s on it – and more incredible, all seven hit the Billboard top 10, something only Thriller could match in the decade. From the first, the lively “Dancing In The Dark” (which went platinum as a single in both the U.S. and Canada) to the final one, “My Hometown”, the singles dominated rock radio for fully two years.

Critics at the time largely loved the album. The Village Voice picked it as the top album of 1984; LA Times gave it a 4-star rating (their highest) loving how he got his political message out to a wider audience with solid rock songs, and Rolling Stone lauded his “rowdy indomitable spirit”. It said of the songs, he “May shove his broody characters out the door” but at least “he gives them music they can pound on the dashboard to.” The same publication would rank the album among the 100 greatest of all-time nearly thirty years later calling it “immortal” and buoyed by a “Frank mix of soaring optimism and the feelings of, as he puts it, ‘being handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.’” Allmusic rate it a perfect 5-stars, noting that he “remembered that he was a rock & roll star” and for the “first time… Springsteen’s characters really seemed to relish the fight and to have something to fight for. They were not defeated and they had friendship and family to defend.”

And yes,if you haven’t noticed it before, that is a young Courteney Cox he dances with in the video for “Dancing In The Dark”. Imagine how big the record would’ve been if he’d used Jennifer Aniston!

June 3 – A Return To Avalon ?

Close to three years to the day after Roxy Music’s final studio album, Avalon, we look at the closest thing to its follow-up… Bryan Ferry‘s Boys and Girls. That album came out this day in 1985.

While labeled as just Ferry, it had more in common with the previous couple of Roxy albums than it did with the majority of his prior solo works, of which there was no shortage. His previous solos had been put out as a side-project to his Roxy Music work, and most had consisted mainly of Ferry’s own take on various oldies. He’d had hit singles, for instance with covers of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall” and Willie Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together.”

This record however, followed along with the sonic landscape Avalon had painted – romantic, sultry, sometimes danceable, well-crafted pop. And while it lacked core Roxy Music members Andy MacKay and Phil Manzanera, it did have a rather accomplished band backing up his velvety voice and keyboard work. Andy Newmark, a part time member of Roxy, did the drums, and there were David Gilmour, Nile Rodgers and Mark Knopfler adding guitar work, and Dire Straits’ keyboardist Guy Fletcher amongst others. The result was one of the best-recorded and played records of the decade and more or less the ultimate late-night, candlelight and wine accompaniment.

The album didn’t have any significantly weak songs, but the standout was his first single from it, “Slave to Love.” Rolling Stone singled that one out and considered that the album was “too fluffy” but “it does have one of the greatest love songs ever, the hypnotic, slow dance ‘Slave to Love.’” Later, allmusic would grade it 4-stars, saying it has “Aged well”, especially that track which they describe as “Samba-derived”.

The album didn’t match the success of Avalon three years earlier, but did quite well for him. In his native UK it was his first solo record to hit #1 and go platinum (with “Slave to Love” being his fifth top 10 single and “Don’t Stop the Dance” also hitting the top 30), in Canada it topped out at #11 with the first single being his first to make the charts at all. In the States, it eventually sold enough to go gold, largely thanks to heavy MTV play of “Slave to Love” and a prime-time appearance at Live Aid which showcased three of the songs on the album including the title track and “Sensation”.

Ferry continues to record, putting out a new release about every three years it seems, and has toured with a re-formed Roxy Music several times. This spring they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Duran Duran welcoming them to the stage mentioning “without Roxy Music, there’d be no Duran Duran.”

May 31 – The Heads Were Speaking 40 Years Back

Picking up where The Clash left off, perhaps. If Joe Strummer’s outfit was lauded for pushing the boundaries of punk rock with their varied sound, Talking Heads blew down all its border walls and invaded all sorts of other musical territory. Although many of us would wonder just why the band was considered “punk” in the first place. Other than hanging out at CBGB with the Ramones, Talking Heads were always a somewhat odd, artsy band with little in common with punk beyond making music that wasn’t highly mainstream. They continued to broaden their scope and their audience with their fifth album, Speaking In Tongues, which came out this day in 1983.

Perhaps their living in New York City broadened their views; they utilized more influences and forms of music than most, at times blending American college rock with African and Caribbean beats and British prog rock (which was enhanced by previous collaborations with producer Eno). That they were all talented didn’t hurt either. On this album, which they shared writing credits for, each of them played different instruments; all four of them played synthesizers and keyboards on at least one song beyond their regular tools like Tina Weymouth’s bass and Chris Frantz’s drums. If there was a weak link – and that’s an “if” – it might be the seemingly incomprehensible lyrics, mainly created by David Byrne. Byrne though sees the world a bit differently, being not only an art school student (he created the album cover, by the way) but being mildly autistic. That aspect led one interviewer to suggest he has a “disembodied sci-fi feel about him” which carries into his words; he notes that he feels “very uncomfortable socially” but has an “intense focus” on his music.

By ’83, their time had come, with the mainstream radio world opening up to new wave and all sorts of varied songs (think “Come On Eileen”, “She Blinded Me With Science”) so the Talking Heads fit in by, well, not fitting in! The album rose up the charts to #15 at home, #7 in Canada and #3 in New Zealand, all their best showings to that point and earning them a platinum album in both the U.S. and Canada, their first. Much of that was on the strength of their biggest single, “Burning Down the House”, a top 10 in both those countries and New Zealand as well as an MTV classic. Their previous high position at home had been #26, for their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.”  “Burning Down the House” didn’t make the charts in the UK, but “This Must Be The Place” did and “Swamp” got a fair bit of radio love despite not being released as a single.

At the time, Smash Hits in Britain rated it 9 out of 10 while over here, Rolling Stone gave it an impressive 4.5-stars. They declared it “obliterates the line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk” and created music “that would make Prince envious.” Both it and Slant ranked it among the 100 best albums of the decade.

Not only did it sell, it kicked open the doors for them. their next two albums, released the two years following, Stop Making Sense and Little Creatures, would be the biggest-selling of their career.

May 30 – Third Time Was The Charm For Peter

Monkeys may have been shocked. So too, Atlantic Records because 43 years back, Peter Gabriel really found his stride. On this day in 1980, he released his third solo album (which like his previous two was self-titled.) The album is sometimes nicknamed “Melt” for the distorted portrait of Gabriel on the cover, a photo created by pressing a Polaroid while it was developing. Throughout most of the world, it was released on Charisma Records but in North America it came out on Mercury Records. His prior works had been on Atlantic but that label dropped him when they heard this distinctive record!

Big mistake, Atlantic – PG3 was his biggest-seller to that point, and to this day remains his most critically-acclaimed record. In the UK it was his first #1 hit and in Canada it went double-platinum and was a top 10 hit, thanks no doubt to Toronto’s CFNY which had it as the #1 album of the year. Rolling Stone gave it a 4-star review noting “while (its) instrumentation is utilizing African drums, Scottish bagpipes and electronic effects, and the most evocative whistling since The Bridge on the River Kwai, the music is built on a sound that makes rock & roll an ally.” Later on allmusic would give it a perfect 5-star review, calling it his finest work and “for the first time, Gabriel has found the sound to match his themes.” His themes were bleak – the standout tracks were “Biko”, about an anti-apartheid activist murdered in an African prison which would become a show-stopper at his live shows in the ’80s, “Not One Of Us“, about the pressures to conform to the norm and the hit “Games without Frontiers”. That track was on the surface about a weird European game show where contestants from different cities played each other in bizarre games while dressed in costume; more obliquely it was a statement about leaders who saw war as a game. “No Self Control” off it also made the British top 40 while “Games Without Frontiers” reached #4, tied for his best-showing there to date.

Gabriel has been releasing new music this year, part of a new album to be called I/O, with him releasing a new song every full moon. Which is one way of not conforming to the norms!

May 23 – Waite Was Pretty Musical In His Youth

As a youth, he was pretty musical! Remembering the lad who hit the charts soon after he hit his teen years – Freddie Waite Jr. of Musical Youth. He was born this day in 1967.

Waite and his younger Patrick grew up in a musical home in England, with his dad having been a well-liked reggae musician back in Jamaica as a member of The Techniques. Senior had a buddy who also had two sons about the same age who were musically-inclined, Kelvin and Michael Grant. He decided to put them together into a young reggae act, Initially he sang, but by the time they were getting a few gigs around Birmingham and were invited onto the John Peel radio show, he thought it would be much better to have a singer around the kids’ age instead of a middle-aged man, so the lads recruited another schoolmate, Dennis Seaton (born in ’67 like Junior) to be the main vocalist though they all added some backing vocals and Freddie, their drummer was the most prominent of those.

The Peel Session got them noticed by MCA who quickly signed them. They put out their debut album, The Youth Of Today, in 1982 (when some of the kids were only just 13). The result was a dozen-song, upbeat album that fit the times, with Bob Marley’s legend and popularity growing wildly after his death the year before. Eleven of the songs were written by the band, Freddie Jr. more than the others… he wrote three of them by himself and was listed as the primary writer on three more including the title track, which was a hit in the UK. MCA wanted something more instantly-catchy for a single though, and they set about doing a cover of a Jamaican hit, “Pass the Kouchie” by Mighty Diamonds. The song had the right sound, but not the right lyrics as “kouchie” was Jamaican slang for a hash pipe…not quite what the label would want to be presenting a bunch of almost pre-pubescent kids to the world singing about. So they changed to another kind of pot, “Dutchie”, slang for a big cooking pot, and references to marijuana (“herb”) in the original lyrics were switched to be about food.

Pass the Dutchie”, complete with Roadrunner “Beep Beep”, was instantly distinctive and different from the rest of mainstream radio fare, and the early-’80s were a perfect time for “different.” The song raced to #1 in their UK, as well as Canada, Ireland, New Zealand (where it would end up in the top 10 for the whole year) and some other lands; it made #10 in the U.S. The title track and “Never Gonna Give You Up” from the album were also top 20 hits at home for them and the album pushed to gold there, and platinum in Canada. “Pass the Dutchie” ended up selling a lofty five million copies around the world and made them the very first Black artist to be played on MTV. Oddly, the first individual Black artist on that channel was Donna Summer, with whom they worked in ’83, doing a TV concert with her and appearing on her single “Unconditional Love.”

However, the group was seen as a bit of a novelty act and like most such ones, they didn’t stick around for long. Their follow-up album Different Style failed to chart even in Britain, and Seaton quit the band in 1985, causing it to break up. A planned reunion in the ’90s was canceled due to Peter Waite’s death in 1993; eventually they did get together again but only as a duo.

As for Freddie Jr., it wasn’t a happy story. The kid the Birmingham Mail described as “the best drummer in the world – for his age” had what the band described as a “nervous breakdown” shortly after they broke up and predicted he’d never be able to return. They were right it would seem, the same newspaper reported he had severe schizophrenia and sadly, he died last year in a mental hospital. He was 55.No longer a youth, but perhaps still a bit musical according to reports.

May 22 – Moz’s Day, Remembering Rourke

Happy 64th birthday to rock’s great mopester contrarian – Morrissey! Love him or hate him, one has to say Steven Morrissey is a colorful and memorable character.

Although he did poorly in school, his librarian mother instilled a love of reading in him and he spent much of his youth reading (he particularly loved Oscar Wilde) and listening to pop music of the likes of T-Rex, Dusty Springfield and Roxy Music. “I lost myself in music at a very early age, ” he says. When his first band, the Nosebleeds, with Billy Duffy (later of the Cult) didn’t pan out, he spent a few years writing about music, getting a gig with the Record Mirror and penning a book on James Dean on the side. Then came the Smiths, the seminal Britpop band of the ’80s.

As rock historian Alan Cross says, before The Smiths, bands eschewing synthesizers “seemed to be suffering from an overdose of testosterone.” The Smiths changed that and Morrissey still is proud of the music, although chances of a reunion are slim to, now probably zero. Morrissey sand and penned the lyrics to their classic alt-rock anthems like “How Soon Is Now?” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This Before” while guitarist Johnny Marr usually composed the tunes. Throwing a monkey wrench in the band’s reunion chances, drummer Mike Joyce sued him over royalties he said were due him and won; Morrissey counter-sued and lost and said “the Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it and Mike destroyed it.” 

Since then, he’s put out 13 solo albums, three of which hit #1 in the UK, the most recent being 2020’s I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, with songs like the single “Love is on Its Way Out” . While lacking a #1 hit, he’s had 21 solo top 20 singles in his homeland, with memorable titles such as “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get”, “Novemeber Spawned A Monster” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” A man of contrasts, while private and “quintessentially English”, Morrissey always seemed embroiled in controversy with his anti-monarchy (on Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, “a celebration of what- 60 years of dictatorship!”… one would imagine he wasn’t on the guest list for King Charles coronation!), animal rights – he’s a vegan and typically won’t play shows in places selling burgers -, and sexuality. He says he doesn’t recognize terms like “heterosexual” or “homosexual” and is “humasexual– attracted to humans,” although he adds “not many!”.

He calls out the decadent star lifestyle but relocated to L.A. years ago and in the words of his biographer, Mark Simpson, he is “ the nicest man who says the nastiest things about other people.” Remarkably, a glimpse of the “nicest man” came out this week because sadly, any mention of The Smiths right now wouldn’t be complete without noting the sad death of bassist Andy Rourke three days ago. Rourke passed away from cancer at age 59. He had been an integral part of The Smiths sound, Bass Player magazine, for instance ranked his bass-work on the band’s very first single, “This Charming Man” as the 56th greatest bass performance ever. Rourke had worked with Morrissey early on in the post-Smiths era, but that fell apart when like Mike Joyce, Andy sued over what he felt was a shorting in his royalties by “Moz”.  They settled out of court, but not on good terms. Ironically, he and Marr kept in touch and played together for the first time post-Smiths at a cancer benefit concert in Manchester in 2006. He’d moved to New York City and married; his last performance was once again behind Johnny Marr in that city last year. His death came as a shock to most of the music community…which is where the uncharacteristically kind Morrissey showed up. He said of his ex-bandmate, “I just hope whereever Andy has gone to, he’s OK…He will never die as long as his music is heard. He didn’t know his own power and nothing he played had been played by someone else. He was also very, very funny and very happy,” adding “I guess at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that.” Words to live by from an older and seemingly wiser Stephen Patrick Morrissey.