Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Why Cant I Be You?: Morrissey

Steven Patrick Overcoat Bulbous Salutation Chips For Tea Morrissey. What is there to say that hasn't been already over the past thirty plus years?

"Morrissey is three pounds of some bees in a big coat off to the new shop"

There, that's quite different. But really, there's no point me coming along here with my trousers and imagination to offer an opinion about Morrissey, a man who has released some very good records and some very average ones. Its also hard to think of any particularly original jokes about him, with those same thirty plus years featuring some brilliant homages, put-downs and complete character assassinations. Thinking up Moz gags put all of Collins, Maconie and Quantick's children through college. Whether they wanted it or not.

So, in the first of what will hopefully become a regular feature on this blog, here's some of my favourite parodies and pastiches of The Smiths and Morrissey himself throughout the years.

The first national spoof of any kind I can trace would be from Radio 4's long running series "Radio Active", perhaps the best radio comedy of the 80s and the launchpad for the careers of all its cast including Angus Deayton, the much missed Geoffrey Perkins and musical director Phil Pope who was by the mid-eighties in high demand thanks to his TV work on the great "Spitting Image" and the also on "Who Dares Wins" (of which more in a second.) With the premise of the show being a faux commercial radio station, almost every episode of Radio Active would feature a musical parody written by Pope or Steve Brown (equally prolific as a musical parodist and later to become better known as Alan Partridge's bandleader Glenn Ponder) and The Smiths got theirs in series five ("Episode 7: Music Festival") first broadcast on the 16th August 1985, six months after the album mentioned in Mike Flex (Perkins)'s surprisingly harsh introduction reached the top of the charts:

"Morrissey of The Smiths whose hit LP is called "Meat Is Murder"...has just announced the group wont play no more live concerts in front of their fans as they can no longer condone cruelty to vegetables."

What follows is "A Way With Words", possibly the shortest Radio Active spoof ever at around 25 seconds with Phil Pope extending every word as long as possible. And thats it.

Its not just Moz who cops for it that episode when Pope tears apart Malcolm McLaren's pop career as "Malcolm McConman" talks over a backing track, much like the real one's "Madam Butterfly (Un bel di vedremo)" from the previous year, about his lack of actual musicianship and general ripping off of anyone he can.

Pope would take another crack at The Smiths on TV in the largely dreadful "Who Dares Wins" in 1986 with the catchy "Life Isn't Fair", a proper song but bar the "woe is me" lyrics about shoes not really sounding very much like The Smiths. I mean they have synthesizers for god's sake!

1987, the final year of The Smiths' relatively short existence, finds two very different takes on the band with fellow Mancunian comedians. Along with other student night favourites "Love Will Tear Us Apart", "How I Wrote Elastic Man" and "Take The Skinheads Bowling", "Bigmouth Strikes Again" becomes "Little Frank Strikes Again" briefly in the joyful "Indie Medley" by Frank Sidebottom recorded for a flexi disc from issue 4 of the little remembered "Blah Blah Blah" magazine.

Sidebottom would return to the Smiths for the 1993 single "Panic" which shares a name and several words with Morrissey and Marr's poison pen letter to Steve Wright and his ilk but is otherwise a brilliant tall tale of the filming for the title sequence for his "Fantastic Shed Show" being disrupted by a "freak blustery windy thingy" which angered the producer ("because it spoiled the continuity") leading to the crew going for an early lunch in a pub with no music but cassettes of "presenters illegally taped off Radio 1" including Anne the DJ who is of course still clinging on there at 1am on a Wednesday night.  Bonus points for the names of the versions featured which include "Ace Mix", "Fantastic Mix", "Top Mix", "Bobbins Mix" and "Thingy Mix".

Coming from a decidedly different generation is this sketch from "The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross" which has filled more than a few comment boxes since YouTube reared its head a decade ago as Bernard Manning pays tribute to the recently split The Smiths...

Now I'm no fan of the late Manning's brand of humour which was calculated to cause as much offense without especially representing the comic's own opinions but you have to applaud him giving this sketch the enthusiasm it deserves and going along with the joke.

Moving along to the 21st April 1989 and the third edition of Radio 1's hip and edgy new comedy series "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" which at that point had more of a mix of contributors including Jo Brand, Mark Thomas and comedy musical duo Skint Video (Steve Gribbin and Brian Mulligan) do more "Morrissey is depressing" jokes, equating him to a "wet weekend in Grimsby" with a voice like "Clement Freud on Mogadon".

Ironically this is probably more studenty and obvious than the subject parodies being slightly naughty in that way that isn't really but sounds rude if you're with your Nan. And as this fascinating footage from Glastonbury 1984 shows, it wasn't their first attempt at parodying the bequiffed one...

By the nineties, the cult of Morrissey was slowly starting to build in America, eventually, particularly in South America, becoming the safety blanket for his unsigned and unwanted years. The fourth series of I'm-told-its-great-but-I've-never-really-sort-it-sorry comic commentary over bad films series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" invited the singer (Actually head writer and later host Michael J. Nelson) to perform his new single "Hairdresser In A Coma" in 1992. Spoilers: he is quite depressed.

You know Bill Nye, the bloke with the bow-tie who crops up in memes about science you don't quite understand? Well, he became beloved in America thanks to his long running US kids series "Bill Nye The Science Guy" which humourously explained various scientific topics with sketches, experiences and parodies of mostly recent chart songs. Thus momentum was described in November 1994 by "Momentisey" and "The Faster You Push Me", which I'm fairly sure is just using the backing of "The More You Ignore Me", Moz's biggest US hit from the February of that same year.

The same song would feature in Armando Iannucci's Radio 1 series in January 1994 as Rebecca Front plays the alarmingly real victim of Moz's increasingly unhinged adoration, also featuring Richard Herring as her boyfriend, Peter Baynham as a policeman and Armando as a judge rightly putting him away for the rest of his dirty Morrissey life. Click here to go straight to that clip.

Moving swiftly past Dana Gould's "Clown Fucker", many comedy fans of a certain age will fondly remember Harry Hill's 1999 turn performing "This Charming Man" on a "Stars In Their Eyes" Celebrity Special when he was still a relatively cult comic on Channel 4, a decade and a half before he would briefly become the host of a 2015 revival of the series. He didn't win (he was beaten by newsreader Kirsty Young as Peggy Lee.) And yes, Morrissey allegedly HATED it.

Not quite parodies but affectionately nodding that direction in subject and sound are Mitch Benn's "Never Went Through A Smiths Phase" and MJ Hibbett & The Validators' "The Lesson Of The Smiths", both initially quite dismissive of the group but going in opposite directions by the conclusion. Benn can be quite hard work when doing brief topical stuff on the radio but there are some great lines in this particular track that nail the "fan" experience solidly ("A peculiar voice sang with Mancunian twang / About how he was miserable then / I sat through the song as he droned on and on / Like some pale intellectual outlaw / And when he was done I thought "That wasn't much fun / That feller wants to get out more")

Likewise MJ Hibbett has an even more painfully real experience as a fan as he sings "You see, I didn't have that great a time in my later years at school / I didn't really like anyone / least of all the kids who were cool / I had to hate their music / and therefore / The Smiths became the epitome of all that I abhorred". As the song continues he realises that it doesn't actually matter who likes what and we should all just enjoy the things we want, even Take That if we must. Although that was when Gary Barlow still paid his tax of course...

I'm reaching the end of this particular mix of Morrissey adoration and acrimony but before I do I couldn't not mention undoubtedly the strangest of the lot. "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends" was a sweet and colourful cartoon from 2004 to 2009 about exactly as the title suggests, the place where all sorts of mad imaginary creatures reside including a Morse code machine with a black quiff and an ever so familiar twang...

Finally, one which sadly no longer has the video online it but is as joyful as everything else on the series when Horrible Histories sang all about Charles Dickens, a rather pale, intellectual and unhappy chap. Now, who does that remind us of?

Got someone in mind you'd like me to cover in a future "Why Can't I Be You"? Or spot any Moz-mocking that I've missed. Let me know on Twitter @ThatBenBaker or in the comments box below.

No idea who this idiot is, mind....

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