The Smiths A-Z: "Unhappy Birthday"

Famous when dead


Lyric sheet & booklet with included 'x's:


Although assumed to be written & recorded during the Strangeway's sessions (March/April, 1987), some of this song's proto-lyrics were already known via The Royal Court, Liverpool concert (February 8, 1986).
Where Meat Is Murder ended with Morrissey singing (roughly):

"This is it, the dew in your eyes for the one that you left behind. In the car... with the trace of my hand. I'm the one that you left behind. It was not your mother, or father that you left behind. It's my heart... it's my heart... it's mine, the one that you left behind. It's my heart... I'm the one you left behind... it's mine... my heart... that you left behind... mine....that you left behind... tonight..."

Marr via Danny Kelly (NME, 1991) regarding Strangeways being a poor album:

"Morrissey and I both think it’s possibly our best album … Last time I met Morrissey he said ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ was his favourite Smiths song. He might be right. Over the last few years I’ve heard ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ in shops and people’s cars, and I’m always surprised by how good it sounds. ‘Unhappy Birthday’ I really like.”"

Marr/Joyce via Rogan (The Severed Alliance, 1992), explaining why the song was a 'studio track':

"‘Unhappy Birthday’, Morrissey’s spiteful letter of retribution, couched in pleasant sing-along form, was among a handful of tracks on the album that won Marr’s unanimous approval. “There’s an air of foreboding that’s definitely there in that track,” he told me. “‘Unhappy Birthday’ is fantastic. Only Morrissey could do that to my music and only I could give him that music to sing.” Images of death again dominate, including the threat to kill a dog, reminiscent of the reference to the slain horse in ‘Is It Really So Strange?’ It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Morrissey is playing lyrical games based on his own image as pop’s premier animal rights lover. The song concludes with the narrator shooting himself in a fit of romantic bitterness. “‘Unhappy Birthday’ is a wild record, but it’s very much a studio track,” concludes Mike Joyce. “We’d all got together as a little family and became so close that we could toy with the idea of writing tracks in a certain way. The breakdowns you wouldn’t do in a live situation. In ‘Unhappy Birthday’ there are small interludes where Morrissey sings over guitar chords and I’m just filling them out on the kit … You don’t do them live. Those breaks were created for a studio environment. They weren’t created at a soundcheck. This was definitely studio time.”"

Len Brown (Meetings With Morrissey, 2009) suggests a possible Wildean influence:

"Unhappy Birthday’ on Strangeways, Here We Come, probably informed by the experience of a visitor to Wilde’s house on October 16, 1891 who was greeted by the author wearing black. Oscar explained: “Today happens to be my birthday and I am mourning … the flight of one year of my youth into nothingness.”"

Never performed live by The Smiths or Morrissey - maybe due to Marr's observation above (and the split more obviously).
Probably the most quoted song for Morrissey birthday wishes.
Thoughts - feel free to have some...
Great song; always was a little on the wispy side for me. This song is a great example of why I dislike the assessment that Strangeways was their greatest album...I just don't hear it. This song and Death At One's Elbow and I Won't Share You, though all really good songs in their own right, are just too slight for a band that had already countless times done similar ideas in a much stronger fashion. And as a whole they bring down the average punching weight of the album, which does, I admit, have some of the best songs the band ever did.
It's a funny song, cause Moz flipped somethin' common like happy birthday
and made it a way to give someone a kiss off.
Seems like one of them songs that was just waitin' to be made and it took
someone like Moz to make it.
It's a funny song, cause Moz flipped somethin' common like happy birthday
and made it a way to give someone a kiss off.
Seems like one of them songs that was just waitin' to be made and it took
someone like Moz to make it.
A kiss off sounds like a really nice competition
One of the group's lesser efforts and, in an ideal world, it would have been consigned to b-side status. Certainly not some of Morrissey's better lyrics. They are very mildly amusing, but also fairly throwaway.

In the poll on this board the song ranked 64th from 73.
In the poll on the Hoffman board the song ranked 60th from 73.
A fun, jaunty little tune that’s always a treat to hear. It’s no “Last Night” or “I Won’t Share You”, though
Not my favourite Smiths song but that's because the bar is set so high. Still a great song and fits well on the album.
I think it's a great song. I get what people mean when they call the song "slight" but I like an album that has a mixture of heavy hitters with lighter songs. And as light as the song is musically and melodically, there is a bit of dark mixed in with some of the lyrics, and I think it works quite well.
I love this album, and this song.
To me it's a really very cleverly constructed track; it has a jaunty, jolly acoustic tune, yet in stark contrast has the very dark, almost sinister, lyrics. I love the contradictory nature of it all. Moz's lyrics, & vocals are, as usual, superb. Great track.
the smiths a-z
Top Bottom