Stephen Patrick Morrissey was 13 when he fell in love for the first time – with The New York Dolls. He saw the band on television in the early 70s and immediately flipped for those five glitter-rock hoodlums from the bowels of Manhattan (he eventually published a booklet about them in 1981).
In 1982 he formed The Smiths with a local Manchester guitarist named Johnny Marr, and the band burst unexpectedly onto the British music scene in the summer of 1983 like a breath of fresh air amid the pre-programmed tick-tock of The Human League and punk‘s rage-by-numbers.
The dominant half of the greatest rock marriage in modern history, Morrissey had found in Marr someone – perhaps the only person – whose gift for melody and harmony could match his own brilliantly arresting song lyrics.
The Smiths became one of the most important and critically-acclaimed UK groups of the 1980s and, following their demise in 1987, Morrissey embarked on a solo career characterised by an intense, combative relationship with fans and media alike.
His first solo single, Suedehead (1988), was irresistibly commercial and reached the UK Top 5. Viva Hate (1988) hit the top shortly afterwards. A further single – the John Betjeman-influenced Every Day Is Like Sunday – also went Top 10.
He continued to release strong singles such as The Last of the Famous International Playboys, Interesting Drug and Ouija Board, Ouija Board but financial wrangles and management changes – which had characterised The Smiths’ career – continued to plague the solo Morrissey.
His next album, Bona Drag, was delayed and eventually cancelled, although the title served for a formidable 1990 Hits & B-sides compilation while Morrissey concentrated on the singles market with tracks like the macabre November Spawned a Monster and controversial Piccadilly Palare.
In March 1991, Morrissey issued his long-awaited Kill Uncle album – produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley – and embarked on a world tour backed by a rockabilly group whose raw energy and enthusiasm brought a new dimension to his recent understated studio work.
His 1992 album Your Arsenal contained a track that went by the unforgivably (in the eyes of the press) ambiguous title The National Front Disco – and then Morrissey appeared on stage provocatively waving a Union Jack while performing the same song at a Madness concert, in front of a backdrop featuring two skinhead girls. The audience threw bottles at him until he left.
“Is Morrissey racist?” asked the NME. Morrissey was not saying, and the hoopla overshadowed an excellent album, produced by David Bowie‘s former sideman Mick Ronson. It was his finest and most confident work for years.
In mid-1993, Morrissey released his fifth album, Vauxhall and I which, at the time, he believed would be either his final or penultimate work. It was a critical and commercial success and topped the UK album chart.
When his contract with EMI expired, Morrissey signed to RCA and released his next album, Southpaw Grammar. He returned on Island Records in 1997, releasing the single Alma Matters followed by his next album Maladjusted in August. The album peaked at #8 in the UK album charts. Its further two singles, Roy’s Keen and Satan Rejected My Soul, both peaked outside the Top 30.
Leaving the UK, Morrissey purchased a house in Los Angeles and over the next few years, he rarely returned to Britain until 2002 when he returned with a world tour, culminating in two sold-out nights at the Royal Albert Hall.
In 2003, Morrissey signed to Sanctuary Records and released the superb album, You Are the Quarry (May 2004) which peaked at #2 on the UK album chart and #11 on the US Billboard album chart. The first single, Irish Blood, English Heart, reached #3 in the UK, the highest-ranked single of his career.
Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006) was recorded in Rome and debuted at #1 in the UK and #27 in the US. Signing with Decca, Morrissey released his ninth studio album, Years of Refusal, in February 2009 and reached #3 in the UK and #11 in the US.
In January 2014, Morrissey signed a two-record deal with Capitol Music. His tenth studio album, World Peace Is None of Your Business, was released in July. In November 2017, Low in High School was released through BMG and Morrissey’s own Etienne record label.