Song of the Day #1: ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ – The Smiths

Inspired by this blog by the lovely and talented Malagueta, I’ve decided to write about a new song every day. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up… I currently have 7,798 songs in my iTunes library, so theoretically I can do this until I’m 56 using only my current collection. Throw in all the new music I’m sure to pick up over the next 21 years and it’s safe to say I can carry on for the rest of my life.

For now, I’ll concentrate on making it through next week.

To kick it off, I’ve chosen a song the title of which reflects my doubts that I’ll be able to carry out this daunting task. In the future I’ll choose songs pretty much at random.

‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish,’ the second track on The Smiths’ excellent Strangeways, Here We Come album, is among a long line of Morrissey tunes about forbidden love.

For somebody who has never officially come out, Morrissey sure does write a lot about gay people — this song seems to concern a man making a pass at a friend (“I doused our friendly venture with a hard-faced three-word gesture… I started something, I forced you to a zone and you were clearly never meant to go”).

Things don’t go so well and the narrator blames himself (“typical me”) and takes a little shot at a British penal system that punished homosexuality with jail time (“And now eighteen months hard labour seems … fair enough”). This line calls to mind Morrissey’s hero Oscar Wilde, who served two years hard labor for “acts of gross indecency with other male persons.”

Like just about everything The Smiths did, this song perfectly blends Morrissey’s vocals and co-writer Johnny Marr’s stellar guitar work. These guys were really a latter day Lennon/McCartney, so beautifully did their styles mix. Sadly, this album was the band’s last release (and they weren’t even together when it came out). The Queen is Dead remains their masterpiece, but Strangeways, Here We Come was a bold and fitting swan song.

I’d love to be able to post a download for each song I write about, but I doubt that will be possible. In this case, however, I was lucky enough to find the video on YouTube, so you can give it a listen and watch Morrissey ride around Manchester on a bike.

[Note: The aforementioned video was later removed from YouTube, so I have replaced it with another version of the song]

12 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1: ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ – The Smiths

  1. Amy says:

    While your twist on Malagueta’s blog will provide suggestions and commentary for your readers, it won’t serve you. What I love about her blog is she was challenging herself to listen to music that was new to her. So perhaps I (and other readers) should send you songs you must listen to as homework 🙂 You can also go to Starbucks, where you will pick up free iTunes song downloads, to get another source of new music. In the meantime, I will enjoy your daily song blog for as long as it lasts 🙂

    On another note, has Morissey ever officially not come out? In other words, did he marry or make some other Tom Cruisean gesture asserting his heterosexuality. If not, perhaps these songs are his way of expressing his sexuality without posing with Chastity Bono on the cover of Out magazine. Just a thought.

  2. Dana says:

    I applaud the blog effort, either on your personal accumulated collection or on new music. As for your first selection, like much of what I hear from the Smiths or Morrisey, I simply don’t like it. I find his voice far to “euro” for my taste and the production of the songs also to euro-delic. Thankfully, in this song, he didn’t do his usual 5th to the 3rd singing that I love to make fun of (my parady of lyrics he may have never actually sung “I didn’t mean to leave.”) Still, not a song that hits me in any particular way. Looking forward to your next selection though 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    What’s with the Eurobashing? What would Obama say? We’re trying to become a kinder, gentler nation here, buddy?

  4. Clay says:

    Enjoy your freedom fries, Mr. 5th to 3rd (what does that mean, anyway?)!

    I’m generally on the prowl for new music, so I’m sure I’ll eventually feature songs in this series that are new to me. Do you have to buy or drink Starbucks to get those free downloads?

    One reason I like attacking my exising collection is it gives me an excuse to listen to music I haven’t heard in a long time. When you’re up to 8,000 songs a lot of them swing back around to being new again after a couple years.

  5. Amy says:

    No kidding. I can’t tell you the number of songs on my iPod I’m certain I’ve never heard before they pop up on some random playlist. No you don’t have to buy something from Starbucks, though they might eventually find it odd that you’re strolling in, grabbing some free music and leaving without even grabbing an iced tea or a chocolate chip cookie 🙂

    I got Carly Simon’s new one, along with Duffy’s first single and a couple others I never bothered to download 😦

  6. Dana says:

    5th to 3rd are notes, of course. I’ll just have to play or sing my imitation sometime:)

    And I am not euro bashing at all (well maybe a little)…Obviously, Elvis Costello is my favorite artist, and the Beatles are not far behind. Thrown in Joe Jackson as well. I just don’t like the euro rock sound. Didn’t like it when it was Abba, Golden Earing, Falco, etc…(although I did have a guilty soft spot for a-ha’s Take Me on, some of Howard Jones, and, way back when, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, though when I hear that kinda stuff now, I like it less than I did 20 years ago)

  7. Clay says:

    Is it similar to the sliding thing Joni Mitchell does? Because that’s a great imitation too!

    I’m not a fan of any of the Euro stuff you mentioned (well, except for ‘Take On Me’… who isn’t a fan of ‘Take On Me?’ ) but I do love me some Smiths.

    As for Morrissey’s sexual orientation, I believe his official response to those questions is similar to early Michael Stipe… labels don’t matter, it’s who you love, not what gender they are, etc.

  8. Dana says:

    Mitchell does that odd bluesy thing where she moves from one note to the next whole note, sliding through the half note, but, yes, that is a great one to imitate as well:)

  9. Amy says:

    Don’t know what happened to the comment I wrote a while ago, but here it goes again.

    First, I was mocking Dana for writing Take Me On instead of Take On Me and suggesting that all this debating is getting to him.

    Then, I was challenging his mention of Falco and Golden Ear(r?)ing, as we share the same iTunes library, and I don’t know anythig by those groups.

    Finally, I took issue with calling the Beatles or Elvis Costello euro, as they may be part of the “British invasion,” but certainly don’t have much in common with Abba.

    Better late than never 🙂

  10. Amanda says:

    I recently heard this song and I was a bit curious if this about a forbidden love? Was Morrissey really a closet gay who had never officially come out?


  11. Amy says:

    Of course I had to pop over to check-in n our younger selves.
    A few observations I find amusing:
    – perhaps I hadn’t read today’s SOTD carefully, but I hadn’t realized the first song you featured was by The Smiths when I wrote my comment.
    – there’s a micro ABBA debate ❤️❤️
    – your “who isn’t a fan of “Take On Me” belies the passion for that song you will eventually reveal. 😀

    • Amy says:

      Oh, and with lace less amusement, I noted my comment about Obama ushering in a kinder, gentler nation. :(. This post also leaves me wondering when all the streaming platforms took off, as it’s rather quaint that I encourage you to pick up a free digital download at Starbucks. If left in a time capsule (once the Internet explodes), this blog might provide a bounty of material to understand the intricacies and nuances of a certain period in America.

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