The Story Behind The Song: How The Smiths song ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ became their ‘hidden secret’
‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is one of the quintessential tracks by The Smiths, one which perfectly juxtaposed Johnny Marr’s phenomenal jangly guitars with the sombre lyricism of Morrissey.
Bizarrely, despite being the most popular song by The Smiths in terms of streaming platform figures—having racked up over 196 million plays on Spotify alone—it was never released as a single while the Mancunians were together. It wasn’t until 1992, some five years after their split and six years following it appearing on The Queen Is Dead, when the song would finally be released as a single.
Remarkably, the song literally dropped out of thin air for the group. “We did it at the start of the day,” Marr recalled to NME in 2011. “It was an enjoyable 40 minutes. When we all got together, one-two-three-four, it was the first time all four of us had heard what it sounded like. It was magical. Someone told me that if you listen with the volume really, really up you can hear me shout ‘That was amazing’ right at the end.”
“I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard,” the guitarist quipped to Select Magazine in 1993, before revealing that the intro was stolen from The Rolling Stones’ cover of ‘Hitch Hike’ by Marvin Gaye which, in turn, had also been inspired by The Velvet Underground for the intro of ‘There She Goes Again’.
Around the release of the record, The Smiths were locked in a high-profile dispute with their label Rough Trade which resulted in no single being released for a staggering nine months after ‘The Boy With A Thorn In His Side’. For their comeback effort, the obvious choice from the record would be ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ and this is what label boss Geoff Travis also thought but was knocked back by Johnny Marr who insisted on ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’.
Marr would reveal years later the reason why he wanted ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ to remain as an album track. “For a long time I worked on the premise that we should always have a song on each album that people said, ‘That should be a single.’ But in fact really wasn’t,” he said. “‘Reel Around the Fountain’ was that for the first album and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ for The Queen Is Dead.”
He stated to Uncut in 2008, adding: “I thought it was a sign of a really great album that there was a track that everyone wanted as a single, but you had stronger singles instead.”
The fact that song was never being released as a single at the time plays into its charm, taking on a ‘hidden secret’ status among true Smiths fans in 1986 unlike singles like ‘This Charming Man’ or ‘How Soon Is Now?’. Its success is a testament to its genius, with the current generation of Smiths fans making it the most popular song in the digital age proves that the cream will always rise to the top and justifies Marr’s decision to prevent it being a single.
Listen to ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, in all of its brilliance, below.