100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #4 The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Released : 1986

When The Smiths decamped to Jacobs Studio at Ridgeway House in Farnham, Surrey to complete The Queen Is Dead in late 1985 it briefly set up one of the most unlikely possible collaborations in history. The opportunity came as the band took up residence in one wing of the complex only to discover that gormless rockers Status Quo were in the other, although there appears to be no record of an offer to compare notes from either side.

Just as the quartet were at their commercial apex however the pressures which would eventually cause an exasperated Johnny Marr to leave were building. The musical half of a songwriting partnership who in just three years had recast guitar pop music in it’s own image, Marr knew the creative stakes were high, admitting later “On your third album you have to be innovative. It stops being about wanting to sound like your heroes”. This realisation was compounded by a contractual dispute with their label Rough Trade – and the threat of a possible injunction – alongside the need to accomodate Morrissey’s increasingly eccentric behaviour.

Even so, The Queen Is Dead proved to be an album of republican sinew and dark romance, laced with impish humour and – beginning with the title – meanings left widely open to interpretation. With There Is A Light That Never Goes Out however both Morrissey and Marr knew instinctively they had something which would transcend their relationship, the latter claiming he felt on first playback it was the best song he’d ever heard. Millions have since agreed. Possibly this was due to the melancholia of the instruments – gently strummed guitar, faux-strings, a plaintive flute – and how they contrast with the yearned for lyrical suicide pact. Or maybe at a higher level it was the abstract theme that even doomed love is unconquerable which so capitivated regular listeners, all of whom by then were used to hearing of more primal emotions.

Whatever the reasons, it’s long been held with deep affection by Smiths fans as their finest moment, even as to paraphrase another one of those, it came with the soil already beginning to fall over their heads as an enterprise. Rumours have long circulated that the subject of the song is Marr himself, but the true identity of the star crushed lovers remains a mystery.

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