Morrissey A-Z: "Billy Budd"

SuedeMoz

Well-Known Member
I believe this is our first V&I track. A nice little rocker of a track IMO, and it also holds up live. I remember at the time of release there was much speculation that Johnny Marr was the subject matter mainly due to the "now it's 12 years on" line (1982-1994). Very curious what others think on this aspect?
 
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MrShoes

"Ooo, there's goobers on his bod." - Ted Cruz
Subscriber
I believe this is our first V&I track. A nice little rocker of a track IMO, and it also holds up live. I remember at the time of release there was much speculation that Johnny Marr was the subject matter mainly due to the "now it's 12 years on" line (1982-1994). Very curious what others think on this aspect?

Oh yeah - that line "now it's 12 years on". It will repeated ad-infinitum in this thread... Whether not Marr was the intended subject is immaterial. Its Morrissey and he knows exactly what he's doing when he chooses his lyrics. I mean we are still talking about it now, after all.

As for this tune - it defines the album quite well.

MrShoes
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
I think it's actually one of the weakest songs on the album. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good 'un, it's just a bit overshadowed by everything else around it. I also don't think the dreamy, cotton wool production of 'Vauxhall' quite works on this song. It should rock out and kick arse a lot more, in the way that 'Southpaw' did, but it feels a bit too polite for my tastes here.
 

Flibberty

Well-Known Member
I don't think this is one of the absolute key tracks on Vauxhall and I (Boz's big 3 take that crown), but an important change of pace in amongst the mostly slower songs.

I agree that the 12 years line is a typical Morrissey tease and the lyrics in general are mature and thought provoking.

Musically it is fairly similar to some of what would come on the next album, but it doesn't outstay its welcome (unlike almost all of Southpaw Grammar) and is a solid tune.

In the poll on the other board it ranked 60 from 264 solo songs.
 

BookishBoy

Well-Known Member
I don't think this is one of the absolute key tracks on Vauxhall and I (Boz's big 3 take that crown), but an important change of pace in amongst the mostly slower songs.

I agree that the 12 years line is a typical Morrissey tease and the lyrics in general are mature and thought provoking.

Musically it is fairly similar to some of what would come on the next album, but it doesn't outstay its welcome (unlike almost all of Southpaw Grammar) and is a solid tune.

In the poll on the other board it ranked 60 from 264 solo songs.

Yes, agree about the pacing and this song's role in the album. For me it's stronger than "album filler" but not quite a great song, but the role it plays in the album's momentum and flow is just perfect.
 

Watson

Well-Known Member
Yes, agree about the pacing and this song's role in the album. For me it's stronger than "album filler" but not quite a great song, but the role it plays in the album's momentum and flow is just perfect.
Absolutely - heard in its own, with no context, it is a little slight, but it is elevated into something quite special when heard as part of the whole album.
 

Nerak

Reverse Ferret
I wondered why he called it Billy Budd. Haven't read the book but the film was traumatic, Terrence Stamp gets hanged for accidentally killing a man who had been taunting him because he's a bit simple.

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GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

The Courage to Get on People's Tits
I believe this is our first V&I track. A nice little rocker of a track IMO, and it also holds up live. I remember at the time of release there was much speculation that Johnny Marr was the subject matter mainly due to the "now it's 12 years on" line (1982-1994). Very curious what others think on this aspect?
There are many more aspects one could mention besides the "12 years" (which he later adjusted to fit the year 1982 in live performances).

It starts with the title. Billy Budd is of course the Melville character. Melville also published a collection of poetry called "John Marr And Other Sailors".

Morrissey also has a habit of making up nicknames for other people that only slightly look or sound like their real names and "Billy" isn't too far from Johnny, and "Budd" and Marr are both 4 letters and have double consonants at the end (a bit of a stretch, I know).

In Autobiography when he catches Johnny red-handed with Bryan Ferry in the studio, he also uses a Melville reference: "[...] the Smiths battleship springs its first mutinous leak, with John Porter as sly Captain Bligh, and Johnny as the always-innocent young cabin-boy, hoping old Moby Dick will use his tune."

Then there's the lyrics.

Besides the vague "Things have been bad", which could relate to the post-split period, which reportedly was only the beginning of a long phase of depression, what sticks out the most for me is this part
"I took my job application
Into town
Did you hear? They turned me down
Yes, and it's all because of us
"
Of course he already had considerable success as a solo artist when the song was written, but his work would still constantly be compared to The Smiths, often to his disadvantage, which must have left him with a feeling of rejection.

Then there's the part
"I would happily lose
Both of my legs
I would lose both of my legs
If it meant you could be free
"
I think what he refers to here is freedom in an artistic sense. He might have felt like Johnny was wasting his talent in the late 80s/early 90s (a feeling which many fans share) and wants him to break free.

The dramatic expression "happily break both of my legs" leads me to my next point, which deals with the lyrical similarities of Billy Budd with Hand In Glove, another song many (including Marr himself) believe was inspired by their partnership. The line about breaking one's legs in order to free him is mirrored in the equally dramatic
"If they dare touch a hair on your head
I'll fight to the last breath
"

Then we have

"The Good People laugh" vs "Everyone's laughing! Since I took up with you"

"Because it's us!" vs "Yes, and it's all because of us"

And, not literal, but similar in sentiment:

"Yes, and it's all because of us
And what was in our eyes
"
vs
"And everything depends upon
How near you stand to me
And if the people stare
Then, the people stare
"

The "what was in our eyes" was borrowed from the grand "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept", which he was absolutely obsessed with in 1984/85 and which he referenced in many a lyric, most notably What She Said and Shakespeare's Sister.

Johnny and Morrissey also reconnected again at the beginning of the 90s, Morrissey seemed quite excited about it in interviews.

Q: When did you last speak to him?
We speak constantly, which is a great joy to me because after the great gulf of the horrendous breakdown, it was truly uplifting for us to become friends again and to realise that he was still as funny and creative and uplifting to be around. He's enormously underrated as a musician and, dare I say it, as a personality. He has an extraordinary mind and knowledge of music but I think he's quite happy to not be at the forefront of anything these days. And the way I feel about The Smiths and the way Johnny feels are in accordance.
[...]
Q: Quite the opposite. But you get the feeling you're saying that you appreciate the worth of The Smiths but let's forget about them now.
I wasn't saying that in the least! I'm terribly offended. I'd like to sit here for five hours and talk about The Smiths. (Pause) Northern joke. No punchline.
Q: So, you and Johnny are friends again. Could you ever become partners again?
We may invest in an allotment together at some point but as far as six nights at the London Palladium goes, I do not think. And why should we? Can you name one reunion that ever worked... apart from Pentangle?

(Q, 1993)

It seemed like he had finally made his peace with the end of The Smiths, while in 1990 he still said he'd get back together if he had the chance. So maybe Billy Budd was his way of ringing down the curtain.

All of this combined and with the Billy Budd riff being a rip-off of Marr's The Queen Is Dead riff, I'd say this interpretation is not too far out...
 
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GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

The Courage to Get on People's Tits
Question is, if Johnny Marr is Billy Budd, who is Morrissey? Captain Vere or John Claggart?
Claggart, if we're being mean. He's actually neither of the two. I think the actual plot of Billy Budd didn't have that much influence on the lyric, even if one could argue that Billy and Johnny do have some character traits in common.
 
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GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

The Courage to Get on People's Tits
I agree with those who said it's more of an album track (I wouldn't call it filler) but it's a great live song, it has great energy and apparently was even considered as a potential single early on.


See set-opening performance on Introducing Morrissey for visual proof of the sexiness of this song.

 

Flibberty

Well-Known Member
I think it might be a bit of a stretch to relate many of the lyrics to Johnny.

The theory that they are about coming out and consequently being ridiculed and unable to get a job seems plausible.
 
T

Trans

Guest
I often skip this song. I find a lot of vi to be uneven. Half is great and half is solid filler imo. This song doesn’t have the best hook
 

Famous when dead

Vulgarian
Moderator
Liked this from first listen.
Yes, it probably owes a bit to Marr & Ustinov's film of the same name (1962). It was Terence Stamp's first film and would probably have been of importance to Morrissey though as a fan (and he won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year/Oscar & BAFTA nominations for said).

Anthony Newley is the intresting reference here though - he's cropped up a lot of times and this was a nice nod to the man.

So we have Dodger left in the dark.
We have the glorious defeat of Cockleshell Heroes.
We have him quoted/thanked on Maladjusted.
Intermission music...
He presents the Ivor Novello award to Morrissey.
They were friends...etc..

It was a nice touch to hear that brief sample.
I never get bored of Vauxhall era material and this isn't a track I'd skip particularly myself :)
Regards,
FWD.
 

Ketamine Sun

<><><><><><><><><><>
Except for the 12 years line, there’s not much to really tie it to being a song about Marr, though maybe that line is clear enough for Morrissey to say it is about Marr.

The lines about not getting a job in town could be because of the relationship that the main character in the song is with in the present moment.

I don’t see how Marr could be freed by Morrissey sacrificing his legs.

It’s all a bit cryptic, and maybe the sample at the end makes it clear that it will never be made clear. I mean ‘Don’t leave us in the dark’ who is being left in the dark? us? Or maybe it’s something that’s being left in the dark, to be hidden? A ‘love that dare not speak its name’?


I love this song, a strange Boz rocker! Love the wah on the lead Alain ? and other sounds in the song, Lillywhite was really on the ball with this record.

 
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GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

The Courage to Get on People's Tits
The homosexual themes of Billy Budd was once debated on the Sopranos.
Yeah, I mean the character's literally introduced as the "Handsome Sailor" stereotype. It's not very subtle.
 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

The Courage to Get on People's Tits
I don’t see how Marr could be freed by Morrissey sacrificing his legs.
He can't or couldn't.

He would lose both of his legs, if it meant he could be free.
 
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