Steven Patrick Morrissey (born 22 May 1959), known primarily as Morrissey, is an English singer and songwriter. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as the lyricist and vocalist of the alternative rock band The Smiths. After the band's break-up in 1987, Morrissey began a solo career, making the top ten of the UK Singles Chart in the United Kingdom on ten occasions. Widely regarded as an important innovator in indie music, Morrissey has been described by music magazine NME as "one of the most influential artists ever," and The Independent has stated that "most pop stars have to be dead before they reach the iconic status that he has reached in his lifetime." Pitchfork Media has called him "one of the most singular figures in Western popular culture from the last 20 years."
Morrissey's lyrics have been described as "dramatic...bleak, funny vignettes about doomed relationships, lonely nightclubs, the burden of the past and the prison of the home." He is also noted for his unique vocal style. His forthright, often contrarian opinions have led to a number of media controversies, and he has also attracted media attention for his advocacy of vegetarianism and animal rights.
Morrissey was born at Park Hospital (now known as Trafford General Hospital) in Davyhulme, Lancashire, to Irish Catholic immigrants. His father, Peter Morrissey, was a hospital porter and his mother, Elizabeth Dwyer, was a librarian. His parents had emigrated to England just before Morrissey's birth and, along with his only sibling (elder sister Jackie), Morrissey was raised in Harper Street in Hulme, Manchester. In 1965, the family moved to Queens Square in Hulme near Moss Side, then to 384 Kings Road, Stretford, in 1969, when many of the old terraced streets were being demolished.
As a child, Morrissey developed a number of interests and role models that marked him out among his peers, including '60s girl groups, and female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull and Timi Yuro. He was also interested in the "kitchen sink"-style social realism of late 1950s and early 1960s television plays, Coronation Street's Elsie Tanner, actor James Dean, as well as authors Oscar Wilde and Shelagh Delaney. The Moors Murders—which involved a young working-class couple, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who had abducted, raped and killed three children and two teenagers from the Manchester area between July 1963 and October 1965—devastated and scandalised the city when the matter came to trial in April–May 1966, and this collective trauma made a profound and lasting impression on Morrissey growing up.
In adolescence, Morrissey's athletic ability saved him to a large degree from bullying. Nevertheless, he has described this period as a time when he was often lonely and depressed. As a teenager, he began taking prescription drugs to help combat the depression that would later follow him throughout his life. He attended St Mary's Secondary Modern School and Stretford Technical School, where he passed three O levels, including English Literature. He then worked briefly for the Inland Revenue, but ultimately decided to "go on the dole."
Of his youth, Morrissey said, "Pop music was all I ever had, and it was completely entwined with the image of the pop star. I remember feeling that the person singing was actually with me and understood me and my predicament." As of 1974, he regularly wrote letters to music magazines such as Melody Maker and the NME, giving his forthright opinions on various bands. Morrissey would sometimes venture out to see bands at local Manchester venues; the first such occasion being T.Rex at Belle Vue in 1972.He was taken there by his father, fearing for his safety in the notoriously rough district. Morrissey has described the occasion as "messianic and complete chaos."
Early bands and published books, 1977–1981
Throughout the 1970s, a teenage Morrissey acted as president of the UK branch of the New York Dolls fan club. He articulated his love for the group in the documentary New York Doll: "Some bands grab you and they never let you go and, no matter what they do, they can never let you down... the Dolls were that for me." This New York Dolls influence made Morrissey an early convert to punk rock. Morrissey, then still with forename, briefly fronted The Nosebleeds in 1978, who by that time included Billy Duffy on guitar (Duffy went on to form the post-punk band The Cult). They played a number of concerts, including one supporting Magazine, which resulted in a NME review by Paul Morley. Morrissey also founded The Cramps fan club, the Legion of The Cramped, with another enthusiast for their music, Lindsay Hutton, although he progressively scaled down his involvement in the club over time, due to the increasing amount of time he was devoting to his own musical career.
Morrissey wrote several songs with Duffy, such as "Peppermint Heaven," "I Get Nervous" and "(I Think) I'm Ready for the Electric Chair," but none were recorded during the band's short lifespan, which ended the same year. After the Nosebleeds' split, Morrissey followed Duffy to join Slaughter & The Dogs, briefly replacing original singer Wayne Barrett. He recorded four songs with the band and they auditioned for a record deal in London. After the audition fell through, Slaughter & The Dogs became The Studio Sweethearts without Morrissey.
The singer interrupted his music career at around this time, focusing instead on writing on popular culture. He published two works with Babylon Books: The New York Dolls (1981), about his favourite band; and James Dean Is Not Dead (1983), about actor James Dean's brief career. A third book, Exit Smiling, which was actually written first (in 1980) and which dealt with obscure B movie actors, was initially rejected and remained unpublished until 1998.
The Smiths, 1982–1987
In early 1982, Morrissey met the guitarist Johnny Marr and the two of them began a songwriting partnership. After recording several demo tapes with future Fall drummer Simon Wolstencroft, they recruited drummer Mike Joyce in the autumn of 1982. As well, they added bass player Dale Hibbert, who also provided the group with demo recording facilities at the studio where he worked as a factotum. However, after two gigs, Marr's friend Andy Rourke replaced Hibbert on bass, because neither Hibbert's bass playing nor his personality meshed with the rest of the group. Signing to independent record label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove," in May 1983. The record was championed by DJ John Peel, as were all of their later singles, but failed to chart. The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart.Aided by praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, The Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base. In February 1984, the group released their debut album The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart.
In 1984, the band released two non-album singles: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (the band's first UK top-ten hit) and "William, It Was Really Nothing." The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows. Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat Is Murder. Meat Is Murder was the band's only studio album to reach the top of the UK charts. The single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, although the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," was less successful, barely making the top 50.
During 1985, the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording the next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single "Bigmouth Strikes Again." The record reached number two in the UK charts. However, all was not well within the group. A legal dispute with Rough Trade had delayed the album by almost seven months (it had been completed in November 1985), and Marr was beginning to feel the stress of the band's exhausting touring and recording schedule. Meanwhile, Rourke was fired from the band in early 1986 due to his use of heroin.Rourke was temporarily replaced on bass by Craig Gannon, but he was reinstated after only a fortnight. Gannon stayed in the band, switching to rhythm guitar. This five-piece recorded the singles "Panic" and "Ask" (with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals) which reached numbers 11 and 14 respectively on the UK Singles Chart,and toured the UK. After the tour ended in October 1986, Gannon left the band. The group had become frustrated with Rough Trade and sought a record deal with a major label. The band ultimately signed with EMI, which drew criticism from the band's fanbase.
In early 1987, the single "Shoplifters of the World Unite" was released and reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart.It was followed by a second compilation, The World Won't Listen, which reached number two in the charts – and the single "Sheila Take a Bow," the band's second (and last during the band's lifetime) UK top-10 hit. Despite their continued success, personal differences within the band – including the increasingly strained relationship between Morrissey and Marr – saw them on the verge of splitting. In July 1987, Marr left the group, and auditions to find a replacement for him proved fruitless.
By the time the group's fourth album Strangeways, Here We Come was released in September, the band had split up. The breakdown in the relationship has been primarily attributed to Morrissey's annoyance with Marr's work with other artists and to Marr's growing frustration with Morrissey's musical inflexibility. Strangeways peaked at number two in the UK but was only a minor US hit, although it was more successful there than the band's previous albums.
Despite the absence of any record deal, Morrissey undertook a world tour throughout 2002, with dates across the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan.Setlists consisted of material from his Smiths and solo years, and new songs that would later be recorded for his seventh studio album. It was during this time that Channel 4 filmed The Importance of Being Morrissey, a documentary about Morrissey which eventually aired in 2003. In June 2003, it was revealed Sanctuary Records had given Morrissey the one-time reggae label Attack Records to record new material and to sign new artists. You Are the Quarry was released in 2004. The album peaked at number two on the UK album chart and number 11 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. Guitarist Alain Whyte described the work as a mix between Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I, and the album received strong reviews. The first single, "Irish Blood, English Heart," reached number three in its first week of sales in the UK singles chart. This was the highest placing chart position for Morrissey in his entire career at that point. Three other hit singles followed: "First of the Gang to Die," "Let Me Kiss You," and "I Have Forgiven Jesus." With the release of "I Have Forgiven Jesus," Morrissey along with McFly became the only artists to score four top-10 hits in the UK singles chart that year. The album has since sold over a million copies, making the album his most successful one, solo or with The Smiths. To coincide with the release of the album, Morrissey embarked on an accompanying tour spanning several continents from April to November. In August 2004, Morrissey was slated to headline a week-long set of shows on Craig Kilborn's The Late Late Show. Morrissey did not perform every night of the weeklong series due to a throat illness. He did, however, perform the following week. The performance at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Morrissey's 45th birthday was recorded and released on the DVD Who Put the M in Manchester? in 2005.
Morrissey's eighth studio album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, was recorded in Rome and released on 3 April 2006. Upon release, it debuted at number one in the UK album charts and number 27 in the US. The album yielded four hit singles: "You Have Killed Me," "The Youngest Was the Most Loved," "In the Future When All's Well," and "I Just Want to See the Boy Happy." Originally Morrissey was to record the album with producer Jeff Saltzman, however he could not undertake the project. Producer Tony Visconti, of T.Rex and David Bowie fame, took over the production role and Morrissey announced that the album was "the most beautiful—perhaps the most gentle, so far." Billboard magazine described the album as showcasing "a thicker, more rock-driven sound."Morrissey attributes this change in sound to new guitarist Jesse Tobias. The subsequent 2006 international tour included more than two dozen gigs in the UK, including concerts at the London Palladium. Morrissey was scheduled to appear at the 2005 Benicassim festival in Spain but pulled out at the last minute. In January 2007, the BBC confirmed that it was in talks with Morrissey for him to write a song for the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. If an agreement could be made, Morrissey would be writing the song for someone else, rather than performing it himself, a BBC spokesperson claimed. The following month, the BBC ruled this out, and stated Morrissey would not be part of Britain's Eurovision entry.
In early 2007, Morrissey left Sanctuary Records and embarked on a Greatest Hits tour. The tour ran from 1 February 2007 to 29 July 2008 and spanned 106 concerts over 8 different countries. Morrissey cancelled 11 of these dates, including a planned six consecutive shows at The Roundhouse in London, due to "throat problems." The tour consisted of three legs, the first two encompassing the U.S. and Mexico were supported by Kristeen Young from Feb to October while the remainder featured Girl in a Coma. The final leg was a small scale European tour that saw Morrissey headlining the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park, London on 4 July and culminated in Morrissey playing at the Heatwave Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel on 29 July.
After a show in Houston, Texas, on the first leg of the tour Morrissey rented out the Sunrise Sound Studio to record "That's How People Grow Up." The song was recorded with producer Jerry Finn rather than previous producer Tony Visconti for a future single and inclusion on an upcoming album. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Visconti, the producer stated that his new project would be Morrissey's next album, though that this would not be forthcoming for at least a year. However, in an interview with the BBC News website in October 2007, Morrissey said that the album was already written and ready for a possible September 2008 release and confirmed that his deal with Sanctuary Records had come to an end. In December he signed a new deal with Decca Records, which included a Greatest Hits album and a newly-recorded album to follow in autumn 2008. Upon signing with Decca, Morrissey released "That's How People Grow Up" as the first single off of his new Greatest Hits album. Despite lukewarm reviews, especially in the NME, the lack of airplay on British radio (except on XFM), and even the incredulity of fan sites, "That's How People Grow Up" reached the Top 15, reaching number 14 on the British charts.Reviews for the Greatest Hits compilation were very mixed; reviewers noted that the album only includes songs which reached the Top 15 in the charts, putting the emphasis on new songs, making the CD more suitable for new listeners than for old fans. The album charted at number 5 in the British album chart on its week of release.A limited edition of the Greatest Hits album also featured an eight-track live CD which was recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007. A second single from the Greatest Hits, "All You Need Is Me," was released in March. In May 2008, Morrissey parted ways with his manager of five years, Merck Mercuriadis, in favour of a new contract with IE Music, however by September Morrissey left the group and acquired the services of Irving Azoff.
On 30 May 2008, it was announced that Morrissey's ninth studio album, Years of Refusal would have 12 tracks and be produced by Jerry Finn. On 5 August 2008 it was reported that, although originally due in September, Years of Refusal had been postponed until February 2009, as a result of Finn's death and the lack of an American label to distribute the album.
On 15 August 2008, Warner Music Entertainment announced the upcoming release of Morrissey: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a DVD documenting the live performance that took place at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, on 8 June 2007 on the first leg of Morrissey's 2007/2008 Greatest Hits tour. Morrissey greeted news of the DVD's release by imploring fans not to buy it. Originally due to be released 6 October 2008, the DVD has subsequently been delayed until 1 March 2009 by Warner Music according to HMV.
In November 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named Morrissey one of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time." The list was compiled from ballots cast by a panel of 179 "music experts," such as Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys and Bono, who were asked to name their 20 favourite vocalists. Morrissey was ranked 92.
In February 2009, following persistent rumours over preceding months of an imminent Smiths reunion, Morrissey was once again forced to deny that any such reunion would take place. In an interview with BBC Radio 2, he remarked that "people always ask me about reunions, and I can't imagine why... the past seems like a distant place, and I'm pleased about that."In a separate interview, with London radio station Xfm, Morrissey also stated that "chances were slim" that he himself would continue performing past the age of 55.
Years of Refusal was released worldwide on 16 February 2009 by the Universal Music Group. Upon release, it reached third place in the UK Albums Chart and 11 in the US Billboard 200.The record was widely acclaimed by critics, with comparisons made to Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I. A review from Pitchfork Media noted that with Years of Refusal, Morrissey "has rediscovered himself, finding new potency in his familiar arsenal. Morrissey's rejuvenation is most obvious in the renewed strength of his vocals" and called it his "most venomous, score-settling album, and in a perverse way that makes it his most engaging." "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" and "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" were released as the record's singles. The song "Black Cloud" features the guitar playing of Jeff Beck. Throughout 2009 Morrissey toured to promote the album. As part of the extensive Tour of Refusal, Morrissey followed a lengthy US tour with concerts booked in Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia. He had never before performed in Russia.
In April 2009, remastered editions of 1995's Southpaw Grammar and 1997's Maladjusted were released in the UK. These both featured a rearranged track listing with the inclusion of B-sides and outtakes, resulting in albums quite different to the original. They also featured new artwork and liner notes written by Morrissey. The reissues were available in the US from June that year.
October 2009 saw the release of a 2004-2009 B-Sides collection, named Swords. The album peaked at 55 on the UK albums chart, and Morrissey later called the compilation 'a meek disaster.' On the second date of the UK tour to promote Swords, Morrissey collapsed with breathing difficulties upon finishing the opening song of his set, "This Charming Man," at The Oasis Centre, Swindon. He was discharged from the hospital the following day.
Following the completion of the Swords tour it was announced that Morrissey had fulfilled his contractual obligation to Universal records and is at present without a record company. Shortly after this announcement, it was also revealed he had split with Front Line Management.
In July 2010, it was announced that EMI will reissue the 1990 album Bona Drag on its Major Minor imprint, resurrected specifically for the release. The album will feature six additional previously unreleased tracks, and will be released on 4th October. It was later revealed that the 1988 single "Everyday Is Like Sunday" will be reissued to coincide with the release on CD and 7" vinyl formats.
- Viva Hate (1988)
- Kill Uncle (1991)
- Your Arsenal (1992)
- Vauxhall and I (1994)
- Southpaw Grammar (1995)
- Maladjusted (1997)
- You Are the Quarry (2004)
- Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)
- Years of Refusal (2009)