The Smiths were hot property in 1984. Following the release of their debut album, there was a sense of intrigue that followed the group around fiercely as well as a growing international fanbase who were falling in love with Morrissey and Johnny Marr’s incredible partnership for the ages.
Their performance on German TV institution Rockpalast with ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ would prove that The Smiths had that special something which made them completely their own entity. The Mancunians were incomparable to any other act at the time as they ushered in a new style of alternative music that was so unique to them following their debut album.
Rockpalast, which is still on the air today, began all the way back in 1974 and has welcomed performances that include names like George Harrison, The Jam, Interpol, The Cure, John Cale, The XX, Grateful Dead, Talking Heads and Patti Smith but The Smiths’ performance back in 1984 which has become something of folklore.
Morrissey’s vocal performance is nothing short of sublime and, unlike most appearances performing on TV shows back then, The Smiths actually played live rather than lip-syncing which is something that they make very abundantly clear in their performance.
The fact that the German programme allowed bands to be themselves and deliver unadulterated performances leads itself into Rockpalast’s charm, a factor in its success in becoming the iconic institution it is today which is still going strong 46 years on since it’s initial launch.
‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ is Morrissey at his storytelling best. The track, which sees the singer narrate the tale of a teenage boy being pressured into having sex with his pretty girlfriend, details how the girl then leaves him for somebody else as Morrissey weeps that he has “lost his faith in womanhood”.
Remarkably, Johnny Marr wrote the music for the song on the very same night as ‘Still Ill’ and ‘This Charming Man’ which is perhaps the most productive evening in the history of alternative music. Marr revealed to Guitar Player magazine in 1990 that he knew they had an upcoming John Peel session and needed to pull out all the stops which is exactly what he did.
Morrissey noted this about the track in his memoirs: “I nominate ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ as the third single, but a bastion of bearded Rough Trade battleaxes drop on me like a ton of beansprouts and argue against a song with a title that would have make Mary Wollstonecraft throw in the tea-towel.”
The Smiths’ self-titled 1984 debut album is still timeless all these years on and was the perfect way of announcing their arrival, it is a true testament to the greatness of the record that ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ was snubbed as a single and is now revered as a classic Smiths anthem.
Enjoy this glorious footage of The Smiths performing ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ on Rockpalast in 1984, below.