The Top 25 Smiths Songs of All Time, 25 Years After the Band's Split
5. "Cemetry Gates" (The Queen Is Dead, 1986)
Pretty much anything that anyone does in their day-to-day life is a means of distraction from scarier truths. All of the various ways that people seek out safety -- in numbers, in denial, in narcissism -- are useless because there's no safe refuge from the cemetery gates. Marr is a master of goosebump-inducing atmosphere; his guitar builds here push and pull in perfect measure. But this is Morrissey's show. "Keats and Yeats are on your side" is the perfect kiss-off, as if to say: you can keep your naïve romanticism.
4. "Back to the Old House" (Hatful of Hollow, 1984)
What happens when your childhood haunts become a blackened ruin? Morrissey would rather not find out. This John Peel-produced acoustic version of "Back to the Old House" appears on ace compilation Hatful of Hollow (a hypnotic reworking appeared on Louder Than Bombs three years later) to posit that the good times are fragile and transient, while the bad times drag at a marathon pace.
3. "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (Louder Than Bombs, 1987)
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" is a picture of total, wind-beaten defeat. Moz has given up on all of his self-soothing pursuits -- drinking, reading Wilde, even writing verse to his dentally challenged pen pal in Luxemburg -- and resigned himself to a bedsit life. But the song's genius lies in its devil-may-care rendering of this very dark material. Rourke's bassline and Marr's chicken-scratch arpeggios make crippling malfunction sound pretty jolly.
2. "Still Ill" (The Smiths, 1984)
Only Morrissey could parse out every syllable ("Ask me why and I'll die/Oh, ask me why and I'll diiiiiiiie") until a word takes on life-affirming importance. That guitar line is a fucking beaut: a whooping, jaunting, eddying, anticipatory thing that captures the excitement of a kid who's finally found some small, cheap thrill to take perverse delight in.