Jon Savage on song: The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead is an anthem for our times

Sheridan Whiteside

Sweet and Tender Hooligan
Great article from Jon Savage (he off south bank show) in todays Guardian about the Queen Is Dead.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/dec/15/smiths-queen-is-dead?INTCMP=SRCH

Jon Savage on song: The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead is an anthem for our timesThe student protests of recent weeks have brought to mind the Smiths' 1986 state-of-the-nation address, which still rings proud in its portrayal of what it feels like to be an outsider


Eighteen seconds in, a high-pitched drone begins. For the next six or so minutes, it does not stop. Segueing between the sampled intro – a snatch of Cicely Courtneidge singing Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty – and the entry of the group themselves, this subtly modulating guitar feedback is both a formal device, to bridge the song's various changes, and a statement of intent: this is serious, this is getting to the heart of the matter – so listen up!

Like the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen, the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead was designed as a state-of-the-nation address. The parallels are many: explicit criticism of the monarchy as a pillar of the existing class system; the toughest hard rock as the most effective method of making your point; lyrics that are a blast of eloquent rage from the standpoint of an outsider – in each case a young man of Irish extraction. Both reached No 2 in the charts.

The Queen Is Dead is the Smiths' mature masterpiece. The playing is faultless: the rhythm section is both supple and relentless, while Johnny Marr's wah-wah guitar is constantly in motion, in total sympathy with the song's mood changes: rhythmic and viciously propulsive one minute, ambient the next. Morrissey's lyrics are pointed, witty and tricksy, with their implied rhymes: "castration" instead of "strings" to take just one example.

Best of all, they give a thorough portrait of how it feels to be an outsider, rooted in a precise physical and psychological place – "hemmed in like a boar between arches". When you hear the line "but the rain that flattens my hair" you can think of no other place than Manchester, and in many ways The Queen Is Dead represents the highpoint of Morrissey's lyric writing – when he was still informed by his city and its past.

This sense of rootedness is important. You intuitively sense that the musicians have experienced, indeed have deeply felt, what they are communicating. They know of what they speak. This sense transmits itself to the listener, who in turn finds a reflection of their own experience, and so the bond is forged. And that sense of connection remains: two and a half decades after I first heard it, The Queen Is Dead still rings proud and strong.

When The Queen Is Dead was released in June 1986, Britain was nearing the end of a second term of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. The miners were vanquished, the "new right" triumphant. Acid house was still underground, while the Live Aid effect had smeared middle-brow values all over rock music. There was surprisingly little dissidence expressed in popular culture, as the onset of CD software inaugurated a wave of retro marketing.

It was no accident that the Smiths engaged the period's other great outsider, Derek Jarman, to shoot a video to accompany the song. In many ways, this accompanying film – with its deserted docklands, androgynous figures, fast super 8 cutting and overlays – prefigures many of the themes and the techniques of his 1987 masterpiece, The Last of England – a howl of rage at third-term Thatcherism.

I've been thinking about The Queen Is Dead a lot after the student riots last Thursday (9 December). When something fundamental happens, it often falls to music to make some kind of emotional sense of an event that has strongly affected you. (When the HMS Sheffield was sunk in May 1982, I played the Sex Pistols' Holidays in the Sun over and over and over again, until my anger dissolved into tears).

The day's events are rich in resonance, quite apart from the actual power and the strength of feeling of the protest itself (and the police over-reaction). The increase in fees will mean that thousands of adolescents will now not go to university, which means that they will have to go to work: well, what work? The most recent unemployment figures show that the 18-24 age group is proportionately the worst hit by the recession.

It seems as though the coalition government has thrown the nation's youth into the dustbin (contrast with the National Assembly for Wales, which has capped fees at £3,290). In fact, youth has a huge symbolic and actual value: not only does it embody the future, it also symbolises the wish of a society to look forward, to prosper and grow.

You look at the picture of the young protestor, rising above the serried ranks of the police, resplendent in her This Is England haircut and Hatful of Hollow T-shirt. Then you read how Marr and Morrissey are undignified and "pompous" because they have tweeted their displeasure at David Cameron saying he likes the Smiths. They wrote the songs, they have every right. Such criticism merely reveals the conservatism of those who make it.

Then there's the picture of Charles and Camilla reeling in fright as a few citizens give them a bit of stick. ("The Queen is dead, boys, and it's so lonely on a limb"). This occurs in Regent Street, the London thoroughfare laid out by John Nash in the early 19th century, partly to prevent a repeat of the 1780 Gordon Riots – that major outbreak of urban disorder referenced by Malcolm McLaren in the Sex Pistols' film, The Great Rock'n Roll Swindle.

So you begin to get some hint of how this all binds together. Contrary to the babblings of the commentariat, pop music can have enormous emotional and social power. It can reflect and engage deep psychic and national archetypes. To deny that is to wilfully ignore a wealth of possibility and, indeed, a form of communication shared by thousands, if not millions – a form of communication that enables the voice of youth to be heard. Listen up!
 
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Cornflakes

"A bit iffy" ★★☆☆☆ - AV Club
John Savage said:
Eighteen seconds in, a high-pitched drone begins. For the next six or so minutes, it does not stop.

It actually lasts less than 20 seconds. You'd think he'd have listened to it before writing about it...
 

CrystalGeezer

My secret's my enzyme.
:clap:
 

Bluebirds

Well-Known Member
I find it interesting that Jon Savage (lest we forget the author of the seminal England's Dreaming) believes that the title track of The Smith's finest album seemingly resonates more today than it did 24 years ago? Or is that just my wishful thinking?

Interestingly Morrissey is quoted as saying that the Queen in the song is actually him at the time the Queen Is Dead was (eventually) released - although I think he had his tongue firmly in his cheek (so to speak)
 

Old Mathew

Well-Known Member
It actually lasts less than 20 seconds. You'd think he'd have listened to it before writing about it...

No, it goes through the whole song... it's feedback that Marr is famously manipulating through his wah wah peddles.

You can hear it again very distinctly during the drum break about a minute from the end of the song... but it's there all the time, just not always audible with the other instrumentation.
 
G

goinghome

Guest
No, it goes through the whole song... it's feedback that Marr is famously manipulating through his wah wah peddles.

You can hear it again very distinctly during the drum break about a minute from the end of the song... but it's there all the time, just not always audible with the other instrumentation.

A couple of days ago the Guardian ran another article that touches on the point about music's importance and its misuse:

"Good old Morrissey should keep his quiff stiff and not worry too much about whether David Cameron likes the Smiths or not. Though Big Mouth Strikes Again, for he has ranted at length about why he did not not write Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead for the likes of fragrant Dave. You don't say?

He was supporting his erstwhile bandmate Johnny Marr, who had simply tweeted, "David Cameron, stop saying you like the Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it." I have every sympathy, but once your music is out there in the world, rather like your kids, you have no control over its strange new friends. Even Morrissey admitted in his rant that music is "a universal language" and "belongs to all". Indeed it does, and this week prime minister's questions turned into a pub quiz, with Labour MP Kerry McCarthy and Cameron trading Smiths song titles in an exchange about tuitions fees. Students liked the Smiths! Geddit?

Cameron also professes to liking the Jam's Eton Rifles – or Eating Trifles as we used to sing in my house. That time Paul Weller objected: "Which part of it doesn't he get?" At least Cameron may have heard these songs, unlike Gordon Brown and his Arctic Monkeys fiasco.

If you didn't think things could get any worse than that, let me tell you they can. I go to the party political conferences every year, and every year the music gets more inappropriate. Political conferences are full of people who get drunk and dance on carpets in hotels. I am not saying all of them are devoid of discrimination when it comes to music, but let's put it this way: I am not voting for a party that cannot get a decent playlist together. I'm with Rosa Luxemburg. If I can't dance I don't want to part of your revolution.

Call me superficial, call me a snob, call me a bloke – but music matters, and I don't trust people who don't think it's important. No one expects the Tories to be sussed, even though this year they had a stab at inoffensive preppy modernity with Vampire Weekend and the Killers. Sorry, but I can't hear the Killers without hearing Bill Bailey's brilliant riff on their meaningless "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" lyric, which he has as "I've got ham but I'm not a hamster"'... http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/11/suzanne-moore-morrissey-david-cameron
 

Cornflakes

"A bit iffy" ★★☆☆☆ - AV Club
No, it goes through the whole song... it's feedback that Marr is famously manipulating through his wah wah peddles.

You can hear it again very distinctly during the drum break about a minute from the end of the song... but it's there all the time, just not always audible with the other instrumentation.

Actually I've listened very very carefully and it comes and goes. You first hear it at about 00:16:42 and then it stops at about 00:41:50, just a moment before the first verse begins. It totally stops though, it's not being subsumed by other noises or anything and there are no other changes in the waveform that could account for it. Then it comes back at 00:48:90 (end of the word "arches"). Then it drops out again from 01:14:60 to 01:17:29 (on the word "checked"). Then...well, it carries on doing similar things. I have to admit that it's there a lot more than it isn't so maybe Savage isn't being such a dimwit after all. He just hasn't wasted twenty minutes of his life checking.

Listen to the bit on "some old queen or other", for example. Then on the word "precious" (first time) it briefly changes pitch. Towards the end of the song it drops out quite a bit and also goes tuneful in places (a clear example can be heard at about 5:29), which is a nice touch because the regular guitar gets more chaotic in the end section.

Okay, so even if I'm right I've only managed it by demonstrating that I'm a geek. Which is a fair point, I suppose.
 

Old Mathew

Well-Known Member
He just hasn't wasted twenty minutes of his life checking.

LOL. It definitely changes in pitch so I just assumed when I couldn't hear it it was in the same key/register as the main guitar... ie, lost in the feedback. I guess only Marr would know for sure....
 

Old Mathew

Well-Known Member
What is he talking about here? What implied rhyme?
I think he's implying that the listener expects Morrissey to rhyme "things" from the previous line with "strings" when he invokes the mother's apron... and instead subverts that expectation with the false rhyme of "castration" to "apron."

IE, a less clever writer would write something like:

We... can talk about precious things/
But you're tied to your mother's apron's strings...

Or something like that.

Crimminy, another three minutes of my life wasted...
 

Emotional Guide Dog

Chairman Of The Bored
He makes a good point about The Queen Is Dead resonating as much today as it did on release.

It also resonated just as much in 1997/1998 when the 'heroes' of the time schmoozed with Government in the most sickening manner, a nation tripped over itself in mourning a royal shithead & most importantly of all...

LABOUR INTRODUCED TUITION FEES.

PS: When he says the miners were vanquished by June 1986, he's accelerating a process to make it fit his point. The miners struggle continued at least up until 1994 (and still continues) & I doubt many, if any, of the miners gave a shit about some shirt lifting student band (copyright: my Uncle) The miners strike & The Smiths go hand in hand but not if you were there at the sharp end like my community was. It's like the 60's, if you can remember it, you probably weren't there (and definitely not if you're some snooty Cambridge educated journalist -reader meet author)
 
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murder and desire

Junior Member
Great article from Jon Savage (he off south bank show) in todays Guardian about the Queen Is Dead.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/dec/15/smiths-queen-is-dead?INTCMP=SRCH

Jon Savage on song: The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead is an anthem for our timesThe student protests of recent weeks have brought to mind the Smiths' 1986 state-of-the-nation address, which still rings proud in its portrayal of what it feels like to be an outsider


Eighteen seconds in, a high-pitched drone begins. For the next six or so minutes, it does not stop. Segueing between the sampled intro – a snatch of Cicely Courtneidge singing Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty – and the entry of the group themselves, this subtly modulating guitar feedback is both a formal device, to bridge the song's various changes, and a statement of intent: this is serious, this is getting to the heart of the matter – so listen up!

Like the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen, the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead was designed as a state-of-the-nation address. The parallels are many: explicit criticism of the monarchy as a pillar of the existing class system; the toughest hard rock as the most effective method of making your point; lyrics that are a blast of eloquent rage from the standpoint of an outsider – in each case a young man of Irish extraction. Both reached No 2 in the charts.

The Queen Is Dead is the Smiths' mature masterpiece. The playing is faultless: the rhythm section is both supple and relentless, while Johnny Marr's wah-wah guitar is constantly in motion, in total sympathy with the song's mood changes: rhythmic and viciously propulsive one minute, ambient the next. Morrissey's lyrics are pointed, witty and tricksy, with their implied rhymes: "castration" instead of "strings" to take just one example.

Best of all, they give a thorough portrait of how it feels to be an outsider, rooted in a precise physical and psychological place – "hemmed in like a boar between arches". When you hear the line "but the rain that flattens my hair" you can think of no other place than Manchester, and in many ways The Queen Is Dead represents the highpoint of Morrissey's lyric writing – when he was still informed by his city and its past.

This sense of rootedness is important. You intuitively sense that the musicians have experienced, indeed have deeply felt, what they are communicating. They know of what they speak. This sense transmits itself to the listener, who in turn finds a reflection of their own experience, and so the bond is forged. And that sense of connection remains: two and a half decades after I first heard it, The Queen Is Dead still rings proud and strong.

When The Queen Is Dead was released in June 1986, Britain was nearing the end of a second term of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. The miners were vanquished, the "new right" triumphant. Acid house was still underground, while the Live Aid effect had smeared middle-brow values all over rock music. There was surprisingly little dissidence expressed in popular culture, as the onset of CD software inaugurated a wave of retro marketing.

It was no accident that the Smiths engaged the period's other great outsider, Derek Jarman, to shoot a video to accompany the song. In many ways, this accompanying film – with its deserted docklands, androgynous figures, fast super 8 cutting and overlays – prefigures many of the themes and the techniques of his 1987 masterpiece, The Last of England – a howl of rage at third-term Thatcherism.

I've been thinking about The Queen Is Dead a lot after the student riots last Thursday (9 December). When something fundamental happens, it often falls to music to make some kind of emotional sense of an event that has strongly affected you. (When the HMS Sheffield was sunk in May 1982, I played the Sex Pistols' Holidays in the Sun over and over and over again, until my anger dissolved into tears).

The day's events are rich in resonance, quite apart from the actual power and the strength of feeling of the protest itself (and the police over-reaction). The increase in fees will mean that thousands of adolescents will now not go to university, which means that they will have to go to work: well, what work? The most recent unemployment figures show that the 18-24 age group is proportionately the worst hit by the recession.

It seems as though the coalition government has thrown the nation's youth into the dustbin (contrast with the National Assembly for Wales, which has capped fees at £3,290). In fact, youth has a huge symbolic and actual value: not only does it embody the future, it also symbolises the wish of a society to look forward, to prosper and grow.

You look at the picture of the young protestor, rising above the serried ranks of the police, resplendent in her This Is England haircut and Hatful of Hollow T-shirt. Then you read how Marr and Morrissey are undignified and "pompous" because they have tweeted their displeasure at David Cameron saying he likes the Smiths. They wrote the songs, they have every right. Such criticism merely reveals the conservatism of those who make it.

Then there's the picture of Charles and Camilla reeling in fright as a few citizens give them a bit of stick. ("The Queen is dead, boys, and it's so lonely on a limb"). This occurs in Regent Street, the London thoroughfare laid out by John Nash in the early 19th century, partly to prevent a repeat of the 1780 Gordon Riots – that major outbreak of urban disorder referenced by Malcolm McLaren in the Sex Pistols' film, The Great Rock'n Roll Swindle.

So you begin to get some hint of how this all binds together. Contrary to the babblings of the commentariat, pop music can have enormous emotional and social power. It can reflect and engage deep psychic and national archetypes. To deny that is to wilfully ignore a wealth of possibility and, indeed, a form of communication shared by thousands, if not millions – a form of communication that enables the voice of youth to be heard. Listen up!

I do like Mr Savage, he indeed knows his pop culture, this is a nice peace.
I think the peace could have been written at any time, in a sence- England hasn't changed that much.
The only real difference is that the "youth" have found their political feet again.
The trouble is of course marching has, even, less effect than it used to.
A million marched for "no war" and the war continued, the students caused a stir in London (as they should) and nobody listened the bill went through.
 

oliver

Active Member
I think he's implying that the listener expects Morrissey to rhyme "things" from the previous line with "strings" when he invokes the mother's apron... and instead subverts that expectation with the false rhyme of "castration" to "apron."

IE, a less clever writer would write something like:

thanks... TBH, I don't many times I've heard that song and I've never been waiting for "apron strings" :)
 
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