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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 203
Thurs. Aug 2, 2012

“Suedehead”
Morrissey

1988

“♫ You had to sneak
into my room/ just to
read my diary/ it was
just to see/ just to
see/ all the things you
knew/ I’d written about
you […] it was a good
lay, good lay
♫”

I woke up this morning with Morrissey hair. And not just any kind of spiky Moz hair that any dreamy young Morrissey fanatic dreams of having, it was that iconic Viva Hate style Moz, sported circa 1988. I was just out of high school when Viva Hate was released and I recall so wanting his style, but eventually I gave up on his hair and concentrated on the songs. And Morrissey’s music is what I still cherish most. Twenty-four years later in 2012, Morrissey re-released Viva Hate, digitally remastered, bringing back all the glorious melancholy that I adored back in 1988.

Morrissey fans remember 1988 being the year that Moz released his first break-through solo single. After The Smiths split, “Suedehead” quickly made his disciples temporarily forget about his famous collaborator Johnny Marr. Did you know it was Smiths engineer Stephen Street who stepped up with demos that was the basis for Morrissey’s first solo album? Street discussed this when he said, “ [“Suedehead”] was the first song recorded for [Viva Hate]. I knew it sounded really good, but it wasn’t till we got into the studio and cut a proper tune with [drummer] Andrew Paresi and [guitarist] Vini Reilly, and Morrissey sang “Suedehead,” that I thought, “Wow this is great. It’s going to work really well.”

Fellow Manchurian and Durutti Column guitarist Reilly is often credited for the moving riffs throughout “Suedehead.” Vini wasn’t the one who came up with those chords when he explained, ““Suedehead” was more musically Stephen Street than any of the other things. Yet that was the only thing people started crediting me with. In fact the guitar break on “Suedehead” is Stephen Street’s tune. I play, but its Stephen Street’s tune: the lead guitar, the chorus, the structure, the whole thing is Stephen Street. It was a good choice and began very dramatically, very up and quite hard.”

Street may have created the canvas but Morrissey filled in Stephen’s dramatic soundscapes with his clever wit. Speaking of being coy, when asked if “Suedehead” was about anyone in particular, Morrissey’s cheeky response was, “Yes it is, but I’d rather not give any addresses and phone numbers at this stage.” Morrissey expanded on this in Simon Goddard’s Mozipedia when he said, “I make so many records that in a particular way that becomes like a personal diary.”

The mere mention of Moz’s personal diary reminds me of my favorite Morrissey lyric from Viva Hate. Apparently, the last words that Morrissey sings were not ‘good lay‘ after all. Morrissey explained this when he said, “No, “’it was a bootleg.’ I mean, good heavens, in my vocabulary? Please?” So the lyric may have been ‘bootleg’ but it really sounds like ‘good lay.’ In the same interview , Shaun Phillips of Sounds disputed this with Morrissey by saying that ‘good lay’ sounded racy. Moz eventually relented and admitted, “It was good lay, I just thought it might amuse someone in Hartlepool.” Was it ‘bootleg’ or ‘good lay?’ Who cares? “Suedehead” was, as drummer Paresi called it, “an unimpeachable excellent pop single.

This excellent pop single may have had some nefarious roots as Morrissey was inspired by the title from British cult author Richard Allen’s Skinhead sequel Suedehead; Moz claims that he was just enamored with the word as he said in 1988, “I think I became interested in introducing a new language to pop using certain words that I feel would be totally revolutionary. I’m still quite proud that words like ‘shoplifter,’ ‘coma,’ ‘bigmouth,’ and even ‘suedehead’ are available in pop music.” In Mozipedia, Morrissey recalled loving the word when he was in The Smiths as he explained, “That was my mantra for a while. “Get me a motorbike. Gotta get me a suedehead. Gotta get a Suedehead.””

Now that my quasi Moz hair has calmed down since this morning, I gotta hear me some Suedehead right now. Do we really care if Morrissey’s first solo single was a clever kiss off to a former paramour or just another brilliant page from Moz’s imaginative diary? What we do know is that this Top 5 UK single was a turning point in Morrissey’s career. Morrissey went from being lead singer of The Smiths to a successful solo artist after only one single, that song was “Suedehead.”

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