Strangeways, Here We Come was The Smiths’ fourth and final album. Released in September 1987, three months after the band had officially split up, it brought to an end a whirlwind five years that had already included five top ten albums and a top ten single courtesy of the timeless This Charming Man. Though Strangeways’ lead single, Girlfriend In A Coma, was banned by BBC Radio 1, the album still made it to number two in the charts. A fitting send off for a band who came to define a generation.
Those are the top-line facts. But what else do you know about Strangeways, its circumstances and its legacy? (Not including that Strangeways was the name of HMP Manchester, of course. That’s a given.) Whizz through our gallery to find out…
Strangeways is the only Smiths album to feature Morrissey playing an instrument. (Or, at least, the only album where he gets a credit.) Death of a Disco Dancer features the frontman playing piano.
Douglas Coupland is a massive Smiths fan, naming his book Girlfriend In A Coma after the Strangeways single.
The album’s title is a reference to the John Schlesinger film Billy Liar, based on Keith Waterhouse’s classic novel. Specifically, it’s a corruption of the line, “Borstal, here we come.”
The roadsign on the rear cover of Strangeways was stolen not long after the album’s release and has never resurfaced. It was formerly situated just off Deansgate in Manchester.
The UK LP release of Strangeways comes in two different colours. The most common version shows the band name and title on the front in grey. However, a rarer and more collective edition has them appearing in green. A copy of this latter one (if you can find it) will set you back at least £150.
None other than James Dean was cropped out of the album’s cover image. The portrait is of Richard Davalos, Dean’s co-star in East Of Eden. Pictures of Davalos also appear on the US versions of the Best… I and Best… II compilations.
The song Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before was originally supposed to be released as a single. However, it was scrapped in the wake of the 1987 Hungerford massacre because it contained the lyric “plan a mass murder”.
Morrissey and Johnny Marr have both cited Strangeways as their favourite Smiths album. The pair have gone even further and agreed (in separate interviews at separate times) that Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, the band’s final single, is their favourite Smiths song. Though they’re not exactly consistent on this.
The song Paint A Vulgar Picture – about cynical record company execs delightfully cashing in on a dead pop star – recycles a comment by the band's Rough Trade label boss Geoff Travis (pictured). Travis quipped, “You just haven’t earned it yet, baby”, a phrase that Moz also appropriated for a single of the same name.
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Strangeways was recorded at The Wool Hall in Beckington, south of Bristol. Morrissey also used it for his debut solo album Viva Hate. The studio was owned by Bath superstars Tears For Fears, who used it to record their 1984 smash Songs From The Big Chair, and later Van Morrison. It is now a private residence.
The man slumped over the stool in the record’s sleeve art is – almost certainly – drummer Mike Joyce.
A popular rumour about Strangeways – which was released after the band broke up – is that a gunman, distraught by the demise of his favourite band, held up a Denver radio station and insisted they play nothing but Smiths songs. An investigation by a Denver-based website proved the story to be apocryphal, however.
The 7” and 12” UK pressings of I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish are etched with “MURDER AT THE WOOL HALL” (X) STARRING SHERIDAN WHITESIDE” on the A side. The message is considered an allusion to the band’s break-up and Morrissey’s (aka Sheridan Whiteside’s) impending solo debut, Viva Hate, also recorded at Wool Hall studio.
The 12” and cassette single releases of Girlfriend In A Coma contains the final recorded Smiths song, I Keep Mine Hidden. Morrissey’s insistence that Girlfriend be released as a single was allegedly a catalyst in Johnny Marr’s departure from the band. The song was banned by BBC Radio 1.
For the album’s cover, Morrissey originally wanted to use a picture of Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorcese’s debut film Who’s That Knocking At My Door. However, Keitel refused.
In the album’s sleeve notes, Johnny Marr’s synthesised string and saxophone work is credited to “Orchestrazia Ardwick”, Ardwick being the area of Manchester that Johnny is from.
Strangeways’ opening song, A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours, features no guitars – a pointed attempt by Johnny Marr to break away from the “jangling” sound that had come to define them.
After Johnny Marr quit, the band briefly tried to carry on. Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry was drafted in to record a b-side for Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before. The sessions were aborted but a different version of the song, Bengali In Platforms, would appear on Morrissey’s debut solo album, Viva Hate.
(Image: Rex Features)
Unlikely as it seems, Girlfriend In A Coma was originally set to a reggae rhythm. An early demo of the song can be heard on the bootleg vinyl The Smiths: Unreleased Demos and Instrumentals. Er, Moz, remember when you told Melody Maker in 1984 that “all reggae is vile”? MOZ? He’s not listening…
Another reason Johnny Marr gave for quitting The Smiths during the final throes of the Strangeways sessions was Morrissey’s determination to re-record Cilla Black’s Work Is A Four-Letter Word as a b-side. “I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs,” he told one interviewer in 1992.
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before was the basis for the Mark Ronson and Daniel Merriweather single Stop Me. Ronson’s version was covered by Groove Armada in the Radio 1 Live Lounge, featuring ex-Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender. From The Smiths to Jamiroquai in three easy steps - who'd have ever thought?
(Image: Rex Features)
The Strangeways recording sessions frequently descended into late night drinking, aided by a well-stocked wine cellar at The Wool Hall studios. Morrissey would not often partake in the boozing, instead preferring to go to bed.
After the album’s completion, the band were assembled in London to shoot a video that would boost their US profile in support of Strangeways. Morrissey refused to attend the shoot. Marr quit soon after.
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is David Bowie’s favourite Smiths song. Speaking to Q in 1992, the Thin White Duke said: “I still rate Morrissey as one of the best lyricists in Britain.”
Bernard Manning spoofed the band’s split on TV show The Last Resort in 1987. In the sketch, Manning sings Smiths songs on a fake ad for his upcoming album The Smiths Are Dead.