Monday, 30 January 2017

The Top Ten Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid... #1

...But Like Or Love Now.

As previously discussed, I didn't get into buying pop records until I was 15. Before then, my musical education was filtered through (much) older siblings and parents who were firm Radio 2 listeners. Growing up, I did encounter some of the more contemporary, chart-bound songs of the day that my friends were into... and I would often rebel against them. Actively dislike them, no, HATE them, just because everyone else was raving about them (or because CERTAIN people were).

Anyway, I thought I'd start a new (occasional) series featuring and trying to explain why I hated these songs back in the day. And why, in many cases, I came to love them.

There was only one song I could kick off with...

1. The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

(Oh yeah, I thought I'd count upwards, 1 - 10, for these posts. It made more sense.)

The Smiths' most famous song was released in 1984, when I was 12 years old, still in the first year of high school. I hadn't started retuning the dial to Radio 1 yet, and I certainly wasn't watching Top of the Pops regularly... still, I very much doubt many of my fellow First Years were aware of The Smiths at this point either. Let's fast forward a year or so to be on the safe side...

OK, now I've just started the Third Year. I'm definitely listening to Radio 1 now, because I remember being very fond of Janice Long's Selectadisc on a Friday tea time. I liked this show a lot because girls (and sometimes boys) would phone up and request songs for people they fancied and I was very much into the idea of fancying and being fancied (though there was far too much of the former and bugger all of the latter going on). I know it's 1985 when I was listening to this show because I remember hearing There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) getting requested a lot and I loved Annie Lennox's vocal gymnastics at the start of that song. I also remember that quite frequently someone would call up and request a song by THE MOST MISERABLE BAND ever, The Smiths. And often they would request the one song that proved this, without a shadow of a doubt: Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now.

Now I was one of those annoying kids who liked to make people laugh. I didn't muck about in class, but I did do a half-decent line in celebrity / teacher impressions outside the classroom. I must have been half-decent as the drama teacher got me to introduce a school performance. I was the link man for this evening, coming on stage in between each little play and filling while they rearranged the sets behind me. I remember I did a Rod Serling Twilight Zone spoof as one of my intros, but I can't for the life of me remember what any of the others were. I'm sure they were excruciating for anyone over the age of 15 (and quite a few people under that age too) but I digress...

One of my favourite impressions soon became this MISERABLE BASTARD "POP" SINGER who kept getting played on Selectadisc.

"Moan moan moan, I hate my life, I'm so miserable, I wish I was dead, moan, moan, moan..."

My impression went something like that, and involved the sticking out of my bottom lip for added emphasis. I had friends - a couple of very good ones by this time (though there's a part of me that always feels I struggled to make friends in school: hence why I was so desperate to make people laugh) - who loved The Smiths, and kept trying to turn me on to them. It didn't work. I resisted their efforts well into the Sixth Form, and persisted with my Moz-mockery. (One of those friends went to a 6th Form Fancy Dress disco wearing National Health glasses and gladioli in his back pocket. I went as the Jack Nicholson Joker. All that face paint played havoc with my acne. No way I was going to pull that night.)

I mentioned on Facebook a couple of weeks back how I didn't get into The Smiths until I was 19 (there's a story behind that, John Peel is involved, another post for another day) and an old school acquaintance and longtime Smiths fan replied I "just wasn't ready for them" until then. There's a truth in that, but it's not the whole story. One of the reasons my friends kept trying to change my stubborn opinion is that in many ways The Smiths were made for me as a teenager. I had a dark sense of humour, a cynical outlook on the world, and was prone to bouts of morose depression. I was also incredibly lonely in that epically sad teenage way that stops you from enjoying the friends you do have and making the most of that most difficult time.
In my life
Why do I smile
At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?
Morrissey was there for me throughout my 20s, when I really needed him. Ironically, I became one of those people who argued vociferously whenever anyone dared to call The Smiths "miserablists" and defended Morrissey through some of his dumbest attempts at verbal self destruction. (Nobody opens his mouth and inserts his foot like Moz.) But even after I'd learned the lyrics to every obscure Smiths b-side off by heart, there was still a part of me that refused to fully embrace Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. It would take a long time to lift that self-imposed stigma.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible...*

(*Yeah, I know that's a different song. It just seemed a very appropriate line to finish on.)


  1. Love this. I came a bit late to The Smiths, from Panic. I enjoyed working backwards to fill in the gaps though. This is the song that everyone always trots out to "prove" how mizzerable Mozza is. Well, this and I Know It's Over, I guess. Personally, I've always taken comfort in the fact that however bad I might be feeling Steven Patrick has already felt the same if not worse :)

    1. Absolutely. His fanbase thrives on schadenfreude.

  2. I see now why you said that back in 1984 you were more likely to be a Wham! fan than a Smiths fan. What a waste Rol, you could have got through all that teenage angst with a spot of Morrissey by your side. I actually got their debut album for my birthday in 1984 from the boyfriend of the time - we had been out of Uni for a couple of years by then but took a while to adapt to the real world and still enjoyed dressing like and listening to these bands but not mentioned it over at my place yet as I have a feeling no-one would believe me! Good you got there in the end.

    1. Sometimes, when you're young, you just don't know what's good for you.

  3. A great theme for a series. Looking back I've been such a cynical bugger at times, impulsively slagging things off, only to have to eat my words soon after. I'm still a bit like that unfortunately, but try hard to bite my tongue and wait these days. Looking forward to seeing what further treasures await in this series.

    1. Yes, I still do it now too... Though I try not to.

      I have 4 or 5 definites for the series... hoping I can come up with the rest.

  4. I was open to most music as a teenager. The music critic in me was a late bloomer. I'm glad you changed your mind on The Smiths, they have a sense of humor which I know you value. I didn't get into them until my 20s either, better late than never! Shame I missed those impressions of yours.

  5. Like you, I mocked my older sibling’s interest in The Smiths, only realising later it was a secret curiosity.

    However, as a Smiths gateway songs, I had a novel moment of realisation with this track. I was in my dad’s car heading home, and he must have had the BBC World Service on the car radio. There was a programme aimed at our foreign friends learning English, and some genius had had the idea of using this song to teach it.

    They would play a line of the songs, then the presenter would summarise: “Morrissey says... he was happy in the haze of a drunken hour...”

    I realised I recognised the song and was secretly a bit interested in it, found the lesson hilarious and was awoken to the wit of the song. Morrissey got the order right when he sang "When you're laughing, and dancing, then finally living..."

    The track which blew me away was the much underappreciated Accept Yourself. I had that unique feeling of sadness, frustration, defiance and utter joy.

    As I made myself through the back catalogue I remember feeling sad that there were a limited number of tracks left to hear for the first time.

    1. What a great story.

      You really ought to write a music blog, Adrian.

  6. Hands up here for being a late arrival to The Smiths too; absolutely nobody admitted to linking them when I was at secondary school, and it wasn't til I got to 6th form at a different school that a life-long friend insisted I listen to "There Is a Light...", a moment which changed my taste in music forever.

    I too have spent many an hour since defending Morrissey's Smiths-era lyrics against those who trot out the miserablist case for the prosecution; I've always found that when defending your musical taste it helps to be able to quote John Peel, so here's something from him, lifted from the 1987 South Bank Show documentary:

    "On more than one occasion I've actually laughed out loud at Smiths lyrics, and I don't often do that. I don't often laugh out loud at anything much. I think that they're very funny lyrics and I cannot understand why people assume that what they do is essentially miserable. I suppose that because there's lots of references to kind of death and pain and so forth in the lyrics, but again it's done in the same sort of way as books like "The Loved One", where it's sort of ironic...I don't find them to be miserable at all. I get rather cross when people tell me they are."

    1. Yeah. As usual, he hits the nail on the head.


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