My Gateway to The Smiths – by Killian Laher
The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow
My journey with The Smiths started with watching them perform What Difference Does It Make on the television programme Top of the Pops. Morrissey didn’t look outlandish to me, and his deep voice and the tough, driving guitar riff made it sound like the most masculine thing I’d heard. They were on Top of the Pops reasonably often with idiosyncratic performances, Morrissey mastering the theatrical flourish by ripping open his shirt to reveal the words ‘Marry Me’ during a performance of William, It Was Really Nothing.
About a year later, a friend of mine taped me a copy of their compilation Hatful of Hollow. This was what my world was waiting for, opening with the two aforementioned tracks, it contains some of the Smiths’ most celebrated tracks, This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. The album opens with the line “the rain falls hard on a humdrum town” which seemed very apt at that time. In the eighties it seemed to be always raining. As well as the exquisite music, I couldn’t help noticing Morrissey had a real skill with a turn of phrase. So many lyrics, in every song jumped out at me, from Handsome Devil’s plea to “let me get my hands on your mammary glands” to Still Ill pondering “does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body?” So many quotable lyrics, paired with Johnny Marr’s terrific jangly guitar lines. His guitar work towards the end of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, seemed to paint the pattern of the endless, dreary, rainy days. This song was ridiculed at the time by many for its lyrics and Morrissey’s flat singing. It seemed to irritate people a lot at the time, some reacting quite violently towards him wondering “what’s WRONG with him? He’s so DEPRESSING!”
The album ends with a flourish as Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want is one of their most beautiful songs. As well as gorgeous music, it has a particular fine vocal from Morrissey. It’s incredibly succinct, over in less than 2 minutes. In those days, common practice was to fill up the entire tape by recording music on all of it, so seconds after the album finished, my tape had Sting crooning “free, free, set them free” on his Dream of the Blue Turtles album. Pretty incongruous!
This album came out at a time long before Morrissey turned into the worrying twit that he is these days. Back then he came across as passionate, sensitive and original in his many interviews. I kind of felt his views mirrored my views. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t, the band split in late 1987 leaving behind an incredible body of work.