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Music

The song The Smiths wrote about serial killers

@TomTaylorFO

Part of the beauty of The Smiths was that Morrissey’s morbidity formed a startling juxtaposition with the silken guitar tones of Johnny Marr. The tremolo trembling sound gave an airiness to the tracks then Morrissey swung dark lyrics like a bludgeon right through the sonic melee. Whether it was car crashes, ailing girlfriends or serial killers, if it was dark then Morrissey was willing to go there. 

This tendency was brilliantly illuminated with the classic Sparks track ‘Lighten Up Morrissey’ which featured iconic lamenting lines like, “She won’t have sex with me no she won’t have sex ‘Less it’s done with a pseudonym / She won’t do sport with me no she won’t do sport / Says it’s way way too masculine look at him.” But Morrissey’s tendency to always look on the dark side of light was hardly a trait that needed illuminating further. 

One of the most troubling subjects the Smiths frontman flung himself into headlong was the troubling Moors murders in the song ‘Suffer Little Children’. The closing track on The Smiths’ 1984 debut earmarked the intent of the band to go against the gaudy gloss of the mainstream amid the synth-driven era, and it did in the gory glory. 

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The Moors murders were perpetrated by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between 1963 and 1965 when they embarked upon abducting and murdering five children in the Manchester area of England where The Smiths hail from. The abductions caused panic in the region and it was a harrowing time for Morrissey growing up given that he lived in a similar area to one of the victims and was a very similar age.  

Beginning with the warm and charming handshake of Marr’s inimitable ethereal guitar, the atmosphere quickly takes a morbid turn befitting of the gut-wrenching title of the track itself. Therein, Morrissey mentions some of the victims in the lyrics: John Kilbride (“oh John you’ll never be a man”), Lesley Ann Downey (“Lesley Ann with your pretty white beads”), and Edward Evans (“Edward, see those alluring lights”).

This direct inclusion of the victims caused controversy as some argued that it was disrespectful, but Morrissey always maintained that he meant the song as a tribute. In fact, he even became friends with Ann West, the mother of Lesley Ann Downey and she accepted that the surly singer was not trying to exploit the victims in any way. Nevertheless, many have still continued to argue whether pop culture’s fascination with the case creates an unhealthy legacy. 

As for the song itself, if the art stands apart from the grisly detail, then nostalgic tones twisted with juxtaposition and key-meddling dissonance create a very singular swansong for a debut that announced one of the most original acts of the era in a uniquely stirring style. 

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