Music Features

The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life

A book by Simon Goddard with foreword by Mike Joyce

Are you the sort of person who can spend hours musing on the meaning and complexities of the Smiths? If so, where were you when I was 16?

Uncut scribe Simon Goddard obviously fits into the above group. So much so that he's written this book, which does for the Smiths what "Revolution In The Head" did for the Beatles. For those unfamiliar with that reference, basically "Songs That Saved Your Life" is a detailed account of every (at least known) song the Smiths ever got round to recording. From early demo I Want A Boy For My Birthday to the Grant Showbiz produced and unreleased I Keep Mine Hidden the total comes in at 81. Not including some further songs demoed following Johnny Marr's departure.

Goddard is obviously passionate about his subject. The level of detail is obsessive to say the least, noting even the first/final occasions a song was played live as well as television/live radio performances. Interviews conducted with Smiths rhythm section Andy Rourke / Mike Joyce and producers John Porter / Stephen Street primarily stick to the music rather then the bitter feuding of recent years, which is always a major plus in any retrospective on the Smiths.

Though hardcore fans (of which there are many) may already know several of the references connected with Morrissey's lyrics (namely the 60's play A Taste Of Honey) the occasional surprise does still crop up, namely the revelation that the bizarre noises on Paint A Vulgar Picture are those of the frontman vomiting.

Also, more apt is the analysis of the genius of Morrissey, namely how his lyrics often perfectly symbolised the times in which they were written. Think about You've Got Everything Now and its "I've never had a job" theme in the Thatcher years. Goddard also correctly spots how Death Of A Disco Dancer predicted the rise and fall of the acid house scene a good year before the "Second Summer Of Love". The line "Love, peace and harmony? Very nice, very nice, but maybe in the next world..." summed up the false down of the shallow house scene better then any of its own commentators.

Minor criticisms revolve around the fact that is not a book for casual fans, most of whom will probably find the level of depth gone into a tad excessive. Also, non-musos may have problems with lines like "It's (Girlfriend In A Coma) middle eight...was identical to Ask (E minor, D and C). However, the effect of Marr's feather acoustic canticle against the tunes weightier rhythm worked beautifully".

On a personal note, Goddard seems a bit harsh on the debut album - preferring instead the previously recorded songs produced by onetime Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate. And am I the only person in the world who actually thinks Vicar In A Tutu is a great song?

However, in summary, a more complete book about the work of the Smiths you could want. Any Smiths fan worth their salt should find this an essential piece of reference material. The final word? Maybe. Unless that is, we finally hear the line from the two men to whom this book is basically a portrait of genius...