Song of the Day #964: ‘I Know It’s Over’ – The Smiths

Jumping ahead to 1986, here’s a selection that’s sure to irk some of my regular readers.

The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead is on my shortlist of favorite albums by any measure. It doesn’t have a weak song on it, it epitomizes its genre, it engages me both emotionally and cerebrally and it puts me in a specific time and place (freshmen year at the University of Florida). If I had to bring ten albums to the proverbial desert island, it’s a safe best this would be one of them.

I wonder what kids today would make of the desert island scenario. They have thousands of songs on devices no bigger than a stick of gum… the idea that they might be restricted to ten of anything is probably absurd.

The Queen is Dead is frequently amusing (as on ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again,’ ‘Cemetery Gates’ and ‘Vicar in a Tutu,’ among others) and much of its music is more joyous and buoyant than any English mope-rockers have a right to be. But the songs that burrowed into the hearts and minds of adolescents the world over were the melancholy ones.

And no song is more melancholy than ‘I Know It’s Over,’ the epic third track that starts with the memorable line “Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head” and ends with that same line repeated again and again as a pitiful cry for help.

This is the haunted wail of unrequited love and it contains some of Morrissey’s best writing. Some of these lines are just heartbreaking, especially when imagined in the context of adolescence (I’ll always hear The Queen is Dead as an album for teenagers).

“I know it’s over, and it never really began, but in my heart it was so real.”
“It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
“Love is Natural and Real, but not for such as you and I, my love.”

I know The Smiths have their detractors, and I get that. It’s certainly an acquired taste, and perhaps a little too rich for everyday consumption. But songs like this one capture what I love about music better than just about anything else.

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
And as I climb into an empty bed
Oh well. Enough said.

I know it’s over – still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
See, the sea wants to take me
The knife wants to slit me
Do you think you can help me?

Sad veiled bride, please be happy
Handsome groom, give her room
Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
(Though she needs you
More than she loves you)

And I know it’s over – still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go
Over and over and over and over

I know it’s over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real

And you even spoke to me, and said:
“If you’re so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight?
And if you’re so clever
Then why are you on your own tonight?
If you’re so very entertaining
Then why are you on your own tonight?
If you’re so very good-looking
Why do you sleep alone tonight?

I know …
‘Cause tonight is just like any other night
That’s why you’re on your own tonight
With your triumphs and your charms
While they’re in each other’s arms…”

It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
Over, over, over, over

It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind
Over, over

Love is Natural and Real
But not for you, my love
Not tonight, my love

Love is Natural and Real
But not for such as you and I, my love

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my …

9 thoughts on “Song of the Day #964: ‘I Know It’s Over’ – The Smiths

  1. Dana says:

    Yes, I am one of the detractors when in comes to Morrissey. I just find that, with every song I hear from him, it leaves me cold and colder –it just feels like passionless, soulless music, perhaps not lyrically (although I would argue there is distance there as well), but in its presentation and delivery.

    As I listened to this track, knowing how much you appreciate this band and, believe it or not, generally respecting your taste in music, I really tried to have an open mind to see if it was something I like or would ever want to hear more than once. Through the first half, I was thinking, “well, this is pleasant enough..nothing that is hooking me in, but nothing too repugnant.” But by the end, with that repetitive chorus delivered with that annoying Morrissey voice, I was ready to shoot someone. I mean, you get on Sting’s case for his occasional repetition, and yet you hold up the repeating chorus in this song as a good thing? Man, I just don’t get it.

    Knowing the general mood you were in during your freshman year at UF, I can kinda see how you might have related to or identified with this melancholy, somber sound, But given who you are today, the place you are in, the family and kids you have, the lighter and happier life you lead, is this really the kind of music you still put on such a pedestal that you would take it with you as one of 10 albums on an island?

    As I said, I just don’t get it.

  2. Clay says:

    Yes, it absolutely remains music that I put on a pedestal. I’m sure some of that is due to the impact it had on me when I was younger… the same way that early R.E.M. works for me, or any of the bands that made up my listening back then.

    It strikes me as absolutely absurd to see The Smiths described as “soulless’ and “passionless.” To me they’re the opposite. But that’s obviously your genuine reaction and no less valid than mine.

    I’m fascinated by how the same series of notes and chords can inspire such different reactions.

  3. Dana says:

    I suppose the best way I can describe what I mean by musically passionless and soulless is that if you were to take the Pet Shop Boys “East End Girls” on one side of the spectrum and Prince’s “Kiss” on the other side, the Smiths would fall far closer to the former.

    By and large, I like music that gets under your skin. Jazz, Blues, R&B, rock. All I have heard from Morrissey is very vanilla mid-tempo euro sanitized music. I can actually even tolerate some of that type of music if I enjoy listening to the singer’s voice, but Morrissey’s voice and singing style, phrasing, etc. just really grates on me.

  4. Clay says:

    So you mean soul more in the sense of R&B soul than inner emotional life soul?

  5. Dana says:

    No, I mean soul in the sense of warmth and passion musically, not lyrically.

  6. Clay says:

    I have no argument that The Smiths music isn’t “warm,” in terms of how it sounds, though I wouldn’t classify Prince’s ‘Kiss’ as warm either.

  7. Dana says:

    No, but it is musically hot and passionate.

  8. Amy says:

    Well, I’m coming late to this chat, but I’ll weigh in just the same.

    I don’t really get Dana’s point about “Kiss” and “East End Girls,” but I do understand why he describes this song as lacking soul and passion (though certainly not an annoying repetition that could send someone into a homicidal rage; if that passes for passion, then I guess it does earn some points there); I think it’s Morrissey’s voice as much as anything.

    Far more interesting to me, though, is your point about how the same collection of notes and words can invoke such different reactions in the listener – especially in two listeners who tend to share a similar taste in music.

    For what it’s worth, I absolutely hate this song, though I feel just a tad guilty saying so when you have such affection and admiration for it. While I don’t remember this album from your freshman year at college, it’s no wonder that if you were listening to it, you would end up feeling down. Of course, that’s not my memory of you from that time either, so perhaps I was just in my own Indigo Girls/R.E.M. inspired fog.

    Regardless, I like that we sometimes differ in our tastes, though I wish I did more easily “get” why this music appeals to you. I don’t, but I respect the fact that you do.

  9. Clay says:

    I just browsed the YouTube comments on this track, where the amount of praise lavished on it makes me look like you in comparison. I noticed that many of those commenters were looking back on how big an impact this song had on them in their adolescence.

    They adore it to this day, as I do, but they started adoring it then.

    I bet there is a study to be done (or that already has been done) about the affect of music on a teenage brain. Could it be that whatever we choose to feed our brains when we’re 16 will permanently take root there?

    There are probably plenty of bands around today that are similar to The Smiths in one way or another that I wouldn’t give the time of day. But I fiercely defend the real estate they carved out in my head and heart more than two decades ago.

    That said, on an objective level it’s hard to dismiss the impact Johnny Marr and Morrissey had on the alternative music scene, and Marr’s guitar sound in particular is Hall of Fame worthy.

    The band has always been a critical favorite, not just a favorite of those of us who swayed to their morbid, darkly funny songs with headphones on in our dorm rooms. But critics’ favorites come and go… the bands that grab you grab you forever.

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