The Smiths A-Z: "Still Ill"

Famous when dead

Next up, a classic...

The closest thing to a single release :)


From Songs That Saved Your Life:

"Written in tandem with ‘This Charming Man’ for their fourth BBC session, ‘Still Ill’ would be the most recent addition to the final running order of The Smiths. By the autumn of 1983, Marr’s arrangements were becoming increasingly ambitious; compared to his earlier melodies, some based around only three or four chords, ‘Still Ill’ was his sharpest, boldest configuration yet. From its very first instrumental rehearsal with Joyce and Rourke at Crazy Face in early September, the song seemed destined for prominence within The Smiths’ repertoire. A surviving practice tape bursts with vigour; originally Marr added an effective two-bar bridge (coming out of the ‘old days anymore’ section) lending its chorus even greater impact, later jettisoned since it didn’t coordinate with Morrissey’s words.
Its first incarnation for the BBC was book-ended by a quirky, unrelated harmonica melody which Marr discarded before its eventual recording during the Matrix ‘This Charming Man’ session. Throughout ‘Still Ill’, Marr and Rourke play off against one another magnificently, one rising in scale as the other descends; the bassist pummelling the root notes that allow Marr free reign to unfurl its spine-tingling hook-line. Producer John Porter also ensured its signature ‘scratching’ intro (Marr and Rourke gyrating plectrums over their deadened strings thus forming a percussive unity with Joyce’s backbeat) was milked for maximum impact.
Morrissey’s early lyrical agenda: droll ennui, comical hypochondria, the anti-work ethic, thorny patriotism and the lamentation over lost loves and times past. From here on also, his references would become more subtle as opposed to the wholesale bricolage of the early Delaney patchwork songs, even if, admittedly, her The Lion In Love casts its shadow with its parallel lines, ‘I’d sooner spit in everybody’s eye’, ‘I’ll go out and get a job tomorrow’ and ‘You needn’t bother.’"

From Viv Nicholson's 'Spend Spend Spend' (Chapter 8):

"It was cold that evening, but even so we decided we wouldn't go home. We walked for miles, round the backs, right over the iron bridge and down underneath it on the towpath. We were kissing away and touching and getting really sore lips from biting one another; the next thing, we just got undressed and spread his clothes out on the ground to lie on. It was fabulous - everything was so stardusty, everything was so great. It had snowed only a couple of days before, but with the excitement of our odies, biting and kissing each other, we didn't feel the frost, we held nothing back sexually."

Played 150+ times by The Smiths (thought to be more if undocumented gigs were known) and 116 times by Morrissey.
Personally, a highlight of Smiths gigs and the solo versions witnessed were always well received.
This song helped the younger me make sense of school, work and life in general. It was an antidepressant, a road map and a self-help book (in the best sense of the word). Whenever I hear it now, I get three minutes of peace, hope and calm.

I got a handshake during this song at one of my first Moz gigs. That was huge.
I love this song. I’ve been quietly viewing these A-Z’s for a while now but I can’t resist this one. This is everything the Smiths are about to me. That guitar riff, those words and that voice.

The definitive version is definitely the debut album version. The hatful of hollow version is fun but hasn’t a patch on the original.

Also don’t know why the Smiths A-Z has died a death. Seems to have got lost in all the recent gigs.
One of the group's most iconic songs and deservedly so. Brilliant lyrics from Morrissey and a great tune from Johnny.

In the poll on this board the song ranked 3rd from 73 Smiths songs.

In the poll on the Hoffman board the song ranked 8th.
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