Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again   Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again THE SMITHS - RANK LIVE 1988
Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again THE SMITHS - RANK LIVE 1988
SPRING 1988:
I Know It's Over....
The Smiths were gaining some recognition in Metro Detroit in the spring of 1988. Some of their songs were seeping their way into clubs and creating a popular cult fan base. To these early adapters the songs were heralded as I predestined classics but to the rest of the world they were unrecognizable. Any band who shared the same media space as them, (television and radio alike) paled in comparison. The only way to hear more of the band was by playing the few records available, (think imports, singles and B sides). The other way to hear them would be to hang out in the clubs for the occasional nod to this new pop sensation.

The radio scene was warming up to the “New Music” sound. MTV was using that term extensively while it churned out their programming rotation. ONLY A FEW SONGS were being played in their normal rotation, “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Stop Me If You Heard This One Before” from, Strangeways Here We Come. MTV was particularly friendly with The Cult and Love and Rockets.
Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 THE SMITHS - RANK LIVE 1988
Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Panic and The Queen is Dead - The SMITHS LIVE IN ENGLAND 1986 The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
THE SMITHS - RANK LIVE 1988 The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records
Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again Live Recording 1986 - The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again The SMITHS - Rank 1988 - Rough Trade Records

MTV was particularly friendly with The Cult and Love and Rockets. The public was becoming aware of wider musical acts due to the heavy touring of European bands in 1987. Keep in mind that INXS toured A2 in October 1987 and Echo and the Bunnymen toured through in January 1988.

January - May 1988: The Musical Rush Continues Full Steam Ahead

I was aware that the band had split up by the time, “Rank” hit the record shops. I didn’t know how to respond to the news because the future for The Smiths looked bleak. When Rank came out guitarist Johnny Marr was already recording with the Pretenders and not looking back. I was still unsure about what had happened. It was a frazzled time in music history but at the same time I knew it was a very pivotal point. When The Smiths called it quits I believed them and took the situation for face value. I acknowledged that I would never see the band perform. This is a funny attitude to take because nowadays bands reform at the drop of a hat and they do it for big money. I sensed integrity with this band and a sense of commitment in respects to what they had created as a group. So when they announced a split I took the news seriously.

The spring of 1988 was one of complete chaos. We had a rush of European and Indy label bands pour through Ann Arbor, (in particular) Michigan and Metro Detroit. This hasn’t happened since. The number of acts that came through included such bands as The Exploited, Husker Du, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, The Buzzcocks, and more. These bands did not have a big following like they do today so they were booked into small clubs like the Nectarine Ballroom on Liberty Street. You could make your way to the front of the state and actually touch the band members and even shake their hands. I remember Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers slapping my hand so hard during a “High 5” that he almost took my hand off.

The college semester ended that year with quarter beer nights at the Nectarine Ballroom. These would occur every Thursday and we would come in early when the doors opened at 5PM, (maybe earlier?) and start pounding them down. There was a big projection tv overlooking the dance floor. The DJ would show videos from around the world on it. But there was never really any videos for The Smiths. When a Smiths track would come on we would have strobe lights and dry ice machines would kick on. This was very impressive for, “How Soon is Now?” I distinctly remember hearing, “PANIC” during one of these quarter beer nights at the Nectarine. The students were out of control and dancing madly and it was exciting  to experience the rise of the Alternative Sound. At that point I really didn’t care if radio would ever pick up on this music or not. The clubs were supporting it and I looked forward to every Thursday and Monday night at the clubs. I could always get more of it on Friday nights at the U Club on U of M campus.

With the college winter semester coming to a close the kids scattered back to their homes across the country to work menial jobs. The music scene died down after that dizzying heyday. More UK influence was coming into the American mainstream in the form of television shows from the BBC. The Young Ones, an outrageous British comedy show, was becoming a main staple on MTV. You could definitely feel some of the influence of this musical and cultural change in record shops. Back then School Kids Records was on Liberty Street right across from the Nectarine Ballroom and I spent much of my time there.

The summer of 1988 was really quiet. The days were long, hot and dreary. There wasn’t even a booming art scene in Ann Arbor yet that was going take off the following year. I took a summer job and thought about what we had just experienced. This was on my mind a lot and now that the kids were gone the clubs had quieted down quite a bit. I would listen to local campus radio WCBN to keep clued in to whatever hip things were happening in the music world.

The Nectarine Ballroom had lost its intelligent and affluent Euro music savvy audience for the next four months. The kids that replaced them came from nearby Chelsea, Dexter, and Manchester and were always two steps behind when it came to popular culture. Occasionally we would get some kids from EMU that would come into Ann Arbor during those bleak hot summer nights but for the most part the energy was gone. The EMU kids, (this is where I attended) only came trolling down to Ann Arbor, (which is where I lived) was because their bars and pubs were virtual ghost towns in the summer of 1988. Most of them just wanted to have somewhere to go. They didn’t give a damn about The Smiths, The Cult, The Alarm or PIL. I remember most of these kids at that time were into Journey and Genesis. Phil Collins had toured through Michigan with Genesis around that time.

I found these people boring.

Rank – was a swan song to a brief but brilliant era. What is interesting about that album is that it also was the catalyst for what was to happen next. The Alternative Music movement was about to explode. For the time being we could count on WCBN on the University of Michigan campus to spin The Smiths on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, Morrissey had embarked on a solo career and his album,(which was rumored only in clubs at the time) actually came out around the same time much to my surprise. The album, “Vive Hate” carried a bunch of new tunes that were for the most part unrecognizable from The Smiths efforts. Guitarist, Stephen Street delivered some memorable hooks on, “Suedehead” and “Hairdresser On Fire” which were mere echoes of the works of Johnny Marr.

THE SMITHS - Panic in the Streets of London | The Smiths Influence on Metro Detroit Rock Radio

"The album was like being invited to a secret event. I was really intrigued with the audience participation on the album. The band was only together for five years and the audience knew the lyrics to all of the songs and I found that very peculiar..... I was impressed with how much influence they had over the people."

Cantu - WCBN Interview 1989

"What Made RANK SO GREAT?"

The album contained 14 tracks and as usual my complaint with the album was that it was actually too short, (this was consistent with all of my opinions with all Smiths albums). Rank, however was very long in comparison to their other albums and the live recordings were very clean. Up until this point I was used to getting bootleg copies of concerts from Wazoo Records, on State street in Ann Arbor or getting a second hand copy of a live recording of the band from friends. This was the first time that I ever had access to real live recordings of my favorite band. The live tracks were really astounding. Many of them were featured on the American B side released, “Louder Than Bombs” and I got a kick out of hearing them performed live.



There is a rough sound of instruments getting tuned and an anxious crowd on the opening track, “The Queen is Dead”. Morrissey embraces the audience with a hearty, “HALLLOOOOO !!!!” and the crowd goes absolutely bonkers. This very moment confirms to me that there are a multitude of other fans out there and that I am not the only one. The last few years were filled with such isolation and uncertainty if anyone was actually listening. This was a band that was rarely discussed out in the open at that time but that was about to change.

It is important to mention that this album was NOT a recent recording of a Smiths concert but was actually a concert recorded at Kilburn, London in the year 1986. BBC Radio 1 had transmitted 21 live tracks from this concert previously. The album captures the majority of this event. Now there is a very good chance I had heard additional tracks from this tour through bootleg tapes because I remember some of the lyrical changes that Morrissey threw into his live performances.

Still Ill

The performance of this track is very interesting. It is not a particular favorite of mine but I will listen to this one every time I hear it live. Morrissey asks, “Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body… I DON’T KNOW !!!!!”.  Moz is very anguished as he throws his heart and soul into this performance to the point where one could feel it being almost comical. But are we laughing because it is funny or impressed with how much emotion he is giving the song. This entire song has picked up dimensions of meaning with this tortured performance.

I am grateful for the absence of the harmonica on this version. The live version is a stripped down rendition of this track and it gets to the point right away. The harmonica intro and outro on the studio track makes light of the subject matter of the song and in many ways makes it less edgy. I like that fact that this song is so incredibly desperate. I am also intrigued with how far down the road we are going to be taken on this desolate trip. When Moz realizes that he really is mentally unstable after all and bellows out the cries, “Am I Still Ill? Oh… NO!!!” we cannot easily turn away.

The really interesting part of this track to me has always been the conversation snippet about – “Work”. It takes me to a place of great introspection and despair. Still there is a lot of truth to it and maybe just maybe there is a bright light at the end of all of this…..

“And if you must, go to work - tomorrow
Well, if I were you I really wouldn't bother
For there are brighter sides to life
And I should know, because I've seen them
Oh but not often ...”

What She Said

The wind up to song is insane. There is nothing like it in any song catalog. Johnny Marr makes the guitar scream and whine and the drums kick this up into an emotional overdrive. It is overwhelming and tragic like death itself. In fact, the girl in the song wants to die. I know because she says so in the lyrics.

The first five lines of this song tell the complete story….

What she said :
"How come someone hasn't noticed
That I'm dead
And decided to bury me ?
God knows, I'm ready !"


This Album Was Our Only Commercial Glimpse At The Success Of The Smith's 5 Year Run...


Is It Really So Strange?

“Is it really so strange..? You say yes but you will change your mind….” The lyrics spill out in front of you in a very stark and conversation like manner. Rather you realize it or not you are engaged in some sort of deep communication with the singer. This is not a love song. This is a song of deep desperation  in nature.
The person Morrissey is addressing is someone who really doesn’t want anything to do with him. There will be no happy ending here only more miscommunication and more misunderstanding the longer this relationship exists. It is a bad train wreck and more suffering to come. This track comes to us at a time before all of this political correctness gibberish in the 90’s. This is a stalkers diary opened and exposed to us in grueling detail.

Here is someone who chased someone to the point of embarrassment. This person lost his luggage on the train, stayed in strange places and may have ended up killing someone just to survive this wretched journey, “I got confused I killed a nun – I CANT HELP THE WAY I FEEL !... cause I love you … and is it really SO STRANGE?”. This song has a happy beat to it and you cannot help but like it but yet this song is sick, twisted and AWKWARD. Prior to the release of this were had some very sketchy songs that danced around isolation, loneliness as well as obsession in American music but it was handled very indirectly. I think of guys like Gordon Lightfoot with, “If You Could Read My Mind” which evokes little more than pity and goofiness of a love struck fool. Folksy Jim Croche could bellow out tunes of introspection and deep yearning but these guys are not in The Smiths category to say the least.  In Morrissey’s case he is actually behaving very much like a psychotic madman who has completely lost his mind.

YES I ADMIT IT – this is a favorite track of mine. I have played it in front of people and they always ask, “My God, what did he say?”. This track is disturbing that way on many levels. Throughout his love quest he kills a horse or a nun, (you know he is really not too sure when or where this occurred) because he is not admitting fault. This might be one of The Smiths weirdest themes out of all of the ones I have illustrated. Yet, even after the song ends you want to hear it again because it is catchy. This is how the album, “Louder Than Bombs” starts out and you would hardly think of it as a dance song. With an opening like that one has to wonder what the rest of, “Bombs” is going to sound like? What a way to kick off an album… yeesh.

The track ends with Morrissey wondering where he would go from here. He admits freely that, “I COULD NEVER go back home again…”

THE SMITHS - PANIC IN THE STREET OF LONDON - and the influence of The Smiths over Metro Detroit Alternative Radio

"The fans took the band so seriously early on… The inside sleeve had a picture of fans ripping apart one of – I can only guess – Morrissey’s shirts as if it were Beatlemania. I have a hard time accepting that this was the case. As an American I wondered if they really had that sort of presence in the U.K. culture or if it was mere propaganda. We’ll leave that up for debate….."

Cantu 1989 - WCBN Interview

An Uncertain Future For All Concerned...

God bless WCBN and the kids who worked there in 1986 -1989 because without them I would have definitely lost my mind. I moved around the country as a kid and had no real sense of belonging to any one place. Music was quite often the only real friend I had in my life that was consistent. I never embraced the rising RAP culture that was abundant in my travels because I didn’t care about it.

Hard rock was a definitely influence on my early years such as Def Leppard, (very influential in 1982-83) Quiet Riot, Iron Maiden, The Who, AC/DC and just about any loud and disruptive sound I could get my greedy mitts on. The Smiths were a sharp contrast to the bands I followed at that time because they were raw and unsettling. Thematically there was nothing like them and that intrigued me. I knew of other bands like Joy Division that really dark and seriously more depressing than the Smiths. I knew that was a danger zone that I did not want to partake in.

Actually its funny because Joy Division was from Manchester as well. I preferred to stay in the more pop sounds like The Smiths and The Psychedelic Furs.
That was about as far as I was willing to travel emotionally and musically. The Smiths could get thrashy too and that is important to remember. They were not the jangly feel good crusaders of pop like everyone thinks.

"They could pull out all stops and drive relentless and seemingly irresponsible beats. To be more blunt they could literally take railroad spikes and drive them into your heart. This caught the attention of both of my parents to the point where they overheard the songs coming out of my room and would cause them to ask, “What on Earth are you LISTENING TO?”

These bands were influential to me artistically too and not just in the 2D realm, (yes I was once a painter) but in thematically in a filmic sense. The Smiths to me were very multidimensional. This appealed to me for many reasons because I felt that this could translate well into film construction, and carry a translucent quality. Some of this was attempted on a few of their videos most notably, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”  and “Girlfriend in a Coma”. The idea of light or in most cases – the absence of it – really appealed to me whenever The Smiths were concerned.

The other thing about the Smiths that was interesting to me was how this feeling has endured over the years. To be short I seem to remember the Smiths videos to be even greater, and better than what they really were. In most cases these videos were sort of thrown together without much direction. But because a of the emotion that the songs create I tend to build up the visuals as something greater.

I was quite disappointed with the final studio version of, “The Queen is Dead”. I thought the spinning crown was just trite and boring. Sure the editing was frenetic and fun from a distance but it hardly tapped into the morose seriousness of the tracks subject matter. I remember telling a friend that I wanted to see references to horrid UK child killers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. To me, that is the essence of despair in this album. Now with those types of horrendous visuals you are confronting the bleakness of this albums subject matter. Yes there are some tracks on this album that should be handled lightly but I am not opposed to showing abject poverty on many levels including financial, cultural, and morally. I wanted to project the ugliness and not hide it.


His Latest Flame / Rusholme Ruffians

The opening riffs for, Rusholme Ruffians sounds very much like the track but are delivered in a different pitch? The timing is the same but it is clearly a different tune and rightly so. This is an Elvis song, “His Latest Flame” we go into two stanzas of it and then the Johnny Marr does an interesting twist with the melody. It snakes into the bumbling romp of The Smiths, “Russholme Ruffians” and we are transported from the safety of the 1950’s into the unclear and dangerous situation of the present era where anything could happen. That transition is so artistically important to me. It transports us out of safety and instantly into harm’s way, death and despair – INSTANTLY.

It is here where we are brushed up to speed with things. “A boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed… a school girl is denied, she asked – how quickly would I die? If I jumped from the top of the parachutes?”. This track encompasses the – ‘Last Night of the Fair’ and Moz walks home alone but he is still faithful that he will find love one day, “I might walk home alone – but my faith in love is still devout”.  The repetition of the lyrics and Johnny Marrs arrangements are very engaging. You want to listen to them over and over again.

The weirdest part of this song is when Morrissey repeats, “Scratch your name in your arm with a fountain pen…. This means ---- YOU REALLY LOVE ME”. Is this an instruction or a desirable wish? The other thought that comes racing through my head is quite frankly, “Is he serious? Good lord he can’t be serious!” because this is something a high school person would do. This is also something an obsessive person would do. Yet, on another hand this is something a mentally unstable person would do!

You know – seriously – I study other cultures and have been exposed to a lot of things. I found Italian and Hindu songs to have deep and profound themes that make one uncomfortable.
Once you understand the meaning of the song you might feel a bit disturbed. The harsh subject matter of these songs are encased in a foreign language which makes them more palatable. You forgive the vulgarity of the subject matter and even the cruelty of the meaning when it is delivered to you in a beautiful foreign language. In contrast Morrissey is singing this in perfect English and it is highly disturbing.


The response to this album was NULL. Getting it was next to impossible. When Sire records released it there was only a few copies in any record store. There wasn’t a big CD revolution back then, no radio and no Itunes. Plus you had the long drawn out summer with little club support. All the students had gone home for the summer and the Ann Arbor streets were emptied. There was no Metro Detroit Alternative radio at the time.

In the fall of  1988 there was a whole new crop of sounds to consider. The returning students were immediately bombarded with at least 7 different tracks released by the band, Information Society. This band was rammed into college playlists with a song called, Pure Energy – (“I want to know – what you’re feeling) which didn’t even touch the emotional launching pad of The Smiths. Radio was softening and trying to push new acts and at least in September and October of 1988 the kids were talking about the new alternative music scene. Other bands that were coming into the conversation was Souixsie and the Banshees, The Mighty Lemon Drops, and PIL.

THE SMITHS - PANIC IN THE STREET OF LONDON - and the influence of The Smiths over Metro Detroit Alternative Radio

"I never questioned the year this was recorded. It is like opening up a time capsule. But now I think it is a relevant question to ask. These guys were together for only 5 years and have had tremendous influence over its listening base. They also ushered in waves of cultural change and challenged critics, the media, and I think that is worth mentioning."

Cantu - Hot Metro Finds Interview, 2010


I hear this all the time from artists in Detroit. I hear this all the time from musicians in Detroit and I find it all so ridiculous. Now, I have mentioned on this site that I have never seen The Smiths perform. I openly admit it. As Metro Detroit goes through its artistic renaissance I want to point out a couple of things here.

Getting an arts education in 1986 WAS A VERY UNPOPULAR THING TO DO MAN !! But yet I did it, in fact I double majored in Telecommunication and Film and Graphic Arts – I ended up with a BFA. At that time I had no idea what the web was or what alternative music was but I did it because at the time I truly felt that I had nothing else to offer to this world. Art, and film, and anything visually appealing were the only things I could make sense of. Looking back on it I will admit that I am embarrassed that I did this.

So when I hear about all of these new art wannabes, (most have no degrees in the things I mentioned above) tell me they went to Cranbrook or were in CCS, (Center for Creative Studies) or attended the Smiths in 1986 I laugh.

I was on the street more than anybody. I remember the kids from that era by face and name.  I also remember a time when radio was non supportive to this type of music. It was never a mainstay in Detroit culture. IF THESE PEOPLE WERE IN ATTENDANCE CONSIDER THIS….  The Queen is Dead tour in 1986 would have been very confusing for those who attended.
Note that most of the songs in the set list came from the B sides and singles such as, “Ask”, “Draize Train” and “London”. These were never released on studio albums and yet these were the only albums Americans had access to. This tour was also before, “Louder Than Bombs” so nobody even knew these songs existed unless you were hip enough to go to the one place to get these singles in the first place, School Kids Records on Liberty street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You might – MIGHT get lucky and find some singles in Royal Oak, Michigan during that time but that was a total crap shoot.

The other thing is that Detroit had a horrible stigma back in 1986. It was the worst of the worst. There was talk about it being the “Murder Capital” of the U.S. All of the kids I knew never went down there for anything. There was no Comerica Park or Ford Auditorium. The Fox Theater was run down too it had not gone through its renovations yet. The State Theater which is now called the Filmore sat right next to the Fox and it was in terrible shape too. Occassionally kids went to Joe Louis or Cobo to catch a big national concert act but going down Woodward Avenue in 1986 was a very dangerous thing to do. You had to be really committed and dedicated to try it. My question to the artists is were you a DEDICATED ENOUGH SMITHS FAN IN 1986 TO ATTEMPT SOMETHING LIKE THIS


Home :: The Queen Is Dead :: Strangeways Here We Come :: Louder Than Bombs :: Rank - Live :; The Moors Murders in Art ::
England Is Mine - Morrissey Film :: Linder Sterling :: Morrissey at Royal Oak Music Theater ::

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