The Smiths A-Z: "Death at One's Elbow"


Well-Known Member

Next up in our Smiths A-Z project is this song from the Strangeways Here We Come album of 1987.

The song was never played live by the Smiths but was played by Morrissey at his Wolverhampton show in December 1988 and then resurrected for the Swords tour in 2009.

What do we think?


Well-Known Member
It's not terrible, but it's also by no means a good song. Johnny has been fairly dismissive of it in the past and with good reason. It sounds fairly uninspired both musically and lyrically.

If they had recorded any other complete songs during those sessions, this would have made a reasonable b-side.

Just to show other viewpoints and not because they should be considered in any way definitive...

In the poll on this board this song ranked 69th from 73 of the group's songs.
In the poll on the Hoffman board this song ranked 69th from 73 of the group's songs.


Probably best not to take things too seriously.
It rocks along at a fair lick and has an earworm hook...but it is one of the weakest songs the band created and not one I would ever turn to if I wanted a Moz/Marr fix. It was a welcome addition to the Swords tour...but he could have chosen any one of 70 other songs from the back catalogue which would have been more rapturously received by the Massive.


I love that part about @1:15 where he uses that other voice. It's short and sweet. Sets up "I Won't Share You" nicely. I know lots of people don't like it and I don't think I've ever listened to it by itself until right now, but I'd never skip it. It's perfect for the pace of the album and I like the sound and think the overwrought images are nice melodramatic fun.

Deleted member 30524

I find this song an odd/peculiar one even still today. The first 6 songs on Strangeways are probably the finest 6 Smiths songs on any studio album or compilation that run consecutively.

Then it goes tits up.

This song being one of the last four
That stops the album from being one of the greatest recordings ever made.

I much prefer the music to the words and think this song might have made a better instrumental.


Well-Known Member
I have such a clear memory of playing this album for the first time on the day it came out and when this song came on, it just sounded a bit crap. And it still does, all these years later! Fun, in a weird way, just not very good (by Smiths standards).

Sometimes I listen to Strangeways and put a random solo track in place of this one, my favourite being "The Loop" which (to my ears) works brilliantly between "Vulgar Picture" and "I Won't Share You" - even though it's the kind of song The Smiths could never have created.

Ben Budd

Well-Known Member
It's ultimately just not very good, either musically or lyrically. A rare dud.

This Charming Bowie

Welcome to this knockabout world
It’s quite fun I suppose, but definitely the first brick wall towards the near-unconquerable run of songs that we have encountered thus far. The odd drum machine sounds (that initially I forgot about) mixed with the scalic runs on the guitar and harmonica, and the bluesy piano, it’s a strange combination for a Smiths song if anything. The novelty value does wear off despite its relatively concise runtime, with Moz’s vocal melody saving a haphazard dive into less stable rockabilly: obviously Moz is a big fan of the Cramps, but sadly (and not to assume that it was intending to achieve this) doesn’t possess much of the intriguing flourishes that their brand of psychobilly provides in spades. Still, it’s not awful: just sticks out like a particularly sore thumb in their catalogue, and, more precisely, in the middle of a waning second side.

Dirk Blaggard

Well-Known Member
If truth were a world we lived in...
I would have to stand attached to the wire guard, on the heater, in one of the schools prefab building,
And while the class room laughed, admit it took me quite a few listens to get past the first two songs on Strangeways.
I loved the first two so much, It took a few hours to venture onto the rest of the lp .

I don't mind Death At Ones Elbow, I liked it was an Orton steal and I actually quite like the fact, it's the fly in the soup.
Its quite a smiths trait, to be flawed.

I personally.would have elbowed it to death and stuck in I keep mine hidden instead.

Famous when dead

"My leap into multi-instrumentalism equals Johnny’s sky-dive into song, as he tackles his first ever vocalism. His tremulous quaver on Death at one’s elbow is a honeyed flow, although he insists that he cannot sing."

(Not so insistent these days...).


Well-Known Member
The run of 10/10 songs had to end I suppose. Not awful. just not that good. Seems like Johnny didn't give Moz much to work with, and so there's not much here. Maybe better placed as a B-side than an album track? I'll admit it falls victim to extremely high and maybe unfair expectations... as in it appears on The Smiths' last album therefore every track should be a masterpiece... not at all realistic. 6/10
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Senior Member
Sounds like a song rejected during the Meat is Murder era, but produced in 1987. A filler, obviously, but I can't help enjoying it in some odd way.


Bluff, Ardour & Assoc.
If it's a pace or two off what preceded it, at least it doesn't overstay its welcome. I quite like the bass playing - which seem to be a nod to the slapback sound of the Fifties rockers on an electric bass - as well as the deep tremolo bar guitar flourishes and the frenetic piano runs. As a Fifties pastiches, it's spot-on. As a Smiths song, it's thoroughly average to slightly subpar, certainly slapped off in comparison to the rest of Strangeways. It feels like a bit of a companion piece to Shakespeare's Sister and Nowhere Fast but definitely falls far short of their heights.


I love the racket of the harmonica line. It's obviously fluff compared to the rest of the album, but sometimes you need to just let your hair down and bust out the jams. At 2 minutes long, it's perfectly timed not to outstay its welcome, so it's hard to be that angry with it. Whilst it's not quite as good, I think this is the equivalent of 'Vicar in a Tutu' on the previous album - a bit of lighthearted frivolity to give the album some breathing room. Not every track needs to be a lifesaving classic, so it has its place, albeit a minor one.

Ketamine Sun


"As the corpse is downstairs in the main living room it means going out or watching television with death at one’s elbow."

("The Orton Diaries", December, 1966).

It’s an exhilarating number with its galloping pace. The drum machine and sound effects were obviously them wanting to steer the album some place new (and/or just have fun), like Marr trying to distance The Smiths from the ‘jingle jangle guitar’ and use more keyboard and string arrangements on Strangeways. The lyrics fit the song well, macabre and hilarious at the same time....

Stay home
Be bored
(It's crap, I know)

Oh Glenn
Don't come to the house tonight
Because there's somebody here
Who'll take a hatchet to your ear
The frustration it renders me
Hateful, oh...

Also makes one think of one of Van Gogh’s mad episodes.

Oh, don't come to the house tonight
Oh, don't come to the house tonight
Because you'll slip on the
Trail of all my sad remains
That's why, that's why
Goodbye my love, goodbye my love’

Marr commented on the song in 1987: "It was almost like we have a right to be slight right now, to be slightly less intense. So I was fine with it. I liked the beat. I liked Morrissey's singing and I liked my own weird backing vocal."

“[Johnny's] tremulous quaver on Death at one's elbow is a honeyed flow, although he insists that he cannot sing."

- Morrissey, "Autobiography"

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Foot in a bucket

Next up in our Smiths A-Z project is this song from the Strangeways Here We Come album of 1987.

The song was never played live by the Smiths but was played by Morrissey at his Wolverhampton show in December 1988 and then resurrected for the Swords tour in 2009.

What do we think?

Stay home, be bored
It’s crap

The Wild Turkey

Wild T!
Glenn wouldn't listen.
Moz tried to tell'em don't go to the house.
Glenn went ahead and went anyway.
Now Glenn's elbow is dead and the guy
can't bend his arm no more.
the smiths a-z
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