A song which epitomizes the genius of the song-writing duo Morrissey/Marr, THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT has achieved cult status among fans, since its release on The Queen Is Dead LP in June 1986. Several artists covered it and both Morrissey and Marr performed it in their respective solo career.
According to Goddard (2007) Morrissey and Marr met for a writing session on one late summer’s evening in 1985, which brought to the basis for “Frankly Mr. Shankly” and “I Know It’s Over” (both featured on The Queen Is Dead) and to the genesis of THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT.
The song was recorded between September and November 1985 at the RAK studio in London and the Jacob Studios in Farnham, under the supervision of John Street, the band’s producer, by the band’s standard line-up of Morrissey on vocals, Marr on guitar, Joyce on drums and Rourke on bass. Marr later added the flute melody and the artificial strings, both played by an Emulator and credited on the album to the fictional ‘Hated Salford Ensemble’.
The song represents one of the masterpieces of the song-writing collaboration between Morrissey and Marr. Musically, it epitomizes the maturity of the guitar player’s compositional skills by offering a simple basis of guitar strumming and powerful bridge leading to the memorable chorus. This gave the chance to Morrissey to develop a lyrical car ride towards bliss and possibly death.
Several references to Morrissey’s cinematic idols and stories are recognizable, such as a vague affinity to James Dean-starring Rebel’s Without a Cause escape by car and a quote from British kitchen-sink classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, where the female protagonist utters “why don’t you take me where it’s lively and there’s plenty of people?” In addition, there are lyrical references and similarities in theme to 1960 girl group songs such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” by The Shirelles and “Give Us Your Blessings” by The Shangri-Las.
Musically the bridge, which opens the song, has often been associated to The Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again”, although Marr, in an interview on Select magazine, quotes Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” in The Rolling Stones cover version on their Out of Our Heads LP (1965) as the true inspiration.
THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT is a simple mid-tempo of approximately 70 bpm, led by a strumming guitar, bass and drums and embellished by a flute and some strings arrangements performed by an Emulator synth. The song is in the key of E, although first recorded in a higher key, and opens with the (instrumental) interlude (F♯m, A, B) which later in the song leads to the chorus.
The song is delivered in a very straightforward way, the drums keep a standard 4/4 beat, only interrupted by the interlude break, asserting to the song the qualities of a cinematic car ride.
The verse is dominated by the C♯m, giving it a sombre tone, while the chorus opens up to an uplifting feeling, through major chords (E, C♯m, A, A, B, E, A, F♯m) in evident contrast to the lyrics, which turn sombre and are dominated by the fantasy of a car crash against a ‘double-decker bus’ or a ‘ten ton truck’.
The song closes with a long coda of the verse, where the title is finally uttered and repeated ad limitum, with the accompaniment of the flute and strings theme.
The lyrics are also delivered in a straightforward way, rolling out as wheels on asphalt. They tell of a lyrical I being driven around town on a car by someone the lyrical I is romantically attracted to and of the difficulties of confessing their own love. The refrain opens up the possibility of a car crash and the bliss attached to that, because of the perfect eternal union that the event would cause.
The song brings several motifs already present in the songs of the band to their most poetic expression. For instance, the lyrical I being in the passenger seat (already in “This Charming Man”, “That Joke Is Not Funny Anymore” and “You’ve Got Everything Now”), in the idea of death as a solution (“How Soon Is Now?”), in the impossibility of confessing love due to shyness (“Ask”) and in not having a place to call home (“Back to the Old House”). The bleak urban setting of many other Smiths’ songs is evoked by a ‘darkened underpass’.
The song was performed in nearly every set of the Smiths until their break-up in 1987. Despite its anthem-like status, with huge sing-alongs and stage-invasions, the band usually played it half-set and not as encore. The song was first performed on TV on Channel 4’s Eurotube in the summer of 1986.
Morrissey, who embraced a successful solo career after the band’s demise, played the song live in various tours, including in his home-coming Manchester gig on 22 May 2004, captured on the Who Put the M in Manchester? DVD. He released a 7″ with a live version of the song in 2005. Also Johnny Marr, lately performing as a solo artist, played and sung it in his last tours and festival appearances. The song appears on the soundtrack to the film (500) Days of Summer and plays a major role in the plot.
It has been widely covered, among others by bands such as Duncan Dhu, Dum Dum Girls, The Lucksmiths, Loquat, Anberlin, The Divine Comedy, The Courteneers, Moke, The Baboon Show and by artists such as Noel Gallagher, Thomas Truax, Neil Finn, Miley Cyrus and Becca Stevens.
Venezuelan singer Mikel Erentxun released a Spanish version of the song on his LP Naufragios (1992), with the title “Esta Luz Nunca Se Apagará”. Schneider TM and KPT.michi.gan released an electronic version of the song with the title “The Light 3000” on their EP Binokular in 2000.
Music/Composition: Johnny Marr
Guitar: Johnny Marr
Bass guitar: Andy Rourke
Drums: Mike Joyce
Producers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey
- The Smiths. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, The Queen Is Dead, 1986, Rough Trade, ROUGH 96, UK (LP/Album/Gat).
- The Smiths. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, 1992, WEA, WEA YZ0003, 4509-91151- 7, Europe (Single/Vinyl).
- Mikel Erentxun. “Esta Luz Nunca Se Apagará”. On: Naufragios, 1992, Gasa, E 4G0497, Spain (Vinyl/Album).
- Schneider TM vs. KPT.Michi-Gan. “The Light 3000”. On: Binokular, 2000, City Slang, 20164-1, Germany (Vinyl/Mini-Album/12”).
- Goddard, Simon: The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life. London: Reynolds & Hearn 2007.
- Artist homepage: http://www.officialsmiths.co.uk/ [15.05.2017].
About the Author
All contributions by Giacomo Bottà
Giacomo Bottà: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/thereisalightthatnevergoesout, 06/2017.Print