Dan Paton pointed out to me recently what a waste of time the tracklisting for the new Morrissey best-of release is: it’s made up of his recent singles, a couple of new tracks to tempt fans into double-dipping on songs they already own, and a scant handful of older numbers. No effort has been made to provide any sort of balanced overview of Moz’s solo career, which now spans twenty years and has, at its peaks, produced songs every bit as good as his work with The Smiths (and lots and lots of tracks not as good as The Smiths, it must be admitted).
I wasn’t surprised at this: Morrissey compilations have always tended to be a bit over-heavy on recent stuff without giving full coverage to less well-known tracks or an overview of his work, depending whether we’re talking about one of his many best-ofs or one of his many “As and Bs” efforts: World of Morrissey is probably the worst offender, but the live album Bethoven Was Deaf is incredibly heavy on the then-recent Your Arsenal album tracks, and even Smiths compilations like The World Won’t Listen were a bit guilty of flogging old singles to death.
I commented to Dan that I would probably derive more enjoyment from putting together my own “Best of” compilation than listening to the official one. So this afternoon I decided to do exactly that, following the standard rules for making compilations (an artform somewhat dying out now that nobody uses tapes, but still applicable to CDs): tracks are limited to what will fit on a single CD; opening and closing tracks must not be opening and closing tracks in their original album contexts; every “proper” studio album must be represented by at least one track; and no two tracks from the same album may be adjacent to one another on the compilation. Within these constraints, the compilation should function as a collection that works and flows in its own right.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. Irish Blood, English Heart
2. The Boy Racer
3. Piccadilly Palare
4. Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning
5. Interesting Drug
6. You Have Killed Me
8. Sing Your Life
9. Late Night, Maudlin Street
10. First of the Gang to Die
11. Jack the Ripper
12. Satan Rejected My Soul
13. Everyday Is Like Sunday
15. Alsatian Cousin
16. You’re The One For Me, Fatty
17. Break Up The Family
18. November Spawned A Monster
19. The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
20. The National Front Disco
As you’ll see, I didn’t try to be wilfully obscure, but have tried to mix in a few of the highest quality album tracks among the best singles. As you’ll also be able to infer, I’m very fond of Viva Hate (well, the first three quarters of it, barring the lyric to Bengali in Platforms), the subsequent early-90s singles and You Are The Quarry. I would ideally have liked to include the final track from Southpaw Grammar, which starts off as one of the better mid-90s standard Moz efforts and then degenerates into an eery post-rock instrumental, to tremendous effect; unfortunately it’s ten minutes long, so it wouldn’t fit without having to leave off some even more essential selections. Like Kill Uncle, Maladjusted and Ringleader of the Tormentors, therefore, Southpaw Grammar is represented by only one track. I’m just about willing to give Moz the benefit of the doubt on The National Front Disco as a character piece rather than a racist rant, and I certainly think it works as a closing track.
But I don’t hold the crapness of the official tracklisting against Moz: he has always been (a) prone to regarding his most recent work as his best and ignoring other stuff, and (b) a contrary sod. And I’m still looking forward to seeing him at the Roundhouse at the end of the month, though I hope he doesn’t stick to such narrow parts of his back catalogue for his sets.