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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


At the end of the month, Morrissey releases a new single.

Well it's not a new single really but a live recording from a concert in Inglewood, California.

Not a recent concert, you understand, but one from 1991.

And it's actually a cover version.

So not that new at all really.

So why do I want to bring this to your attention... it's a cover version of "Cosmic Dancer" from T-Rex's "Electrric Warrior" album, which is a song tailor-made for the unique vocal melancholia of Morrissey. Much as I love Bolan's original, a line such as "I danced myself into the tomb" could so easily have come from Mozza's own pen and has a different spirit about it as a result..

It is an excellent choice for him with a simple acoustic backing from long-term collaborator (and former Polecat) Boz Boorer.

Morrissey had never really ever been particularly complimentary about other artists' work and I remember a famous issue of Record Mirror where he was put in charge of the singles reviews and proceeded to eviscerate everything - famously reviewing the UK Eurovision band, Belle And The Devotions follow-up single called "All The Way Up" with the concise three word retort - "don't tempt me". I also remember that he wrote back saying that he had been unfair and actually quite liked the Style Council single - perhaps wanting to show some unity/not pick a fight with (you decide) with a fellow "fringe" chart artist, namely, Paul Weller.

Around 1991, Morrissey did toy with a couple of cover versions; "Cosmic Dancer" in a live reading would appear as the B-side to "Pregnant For The Last Time". The other notable one was a powerful cover of ironically, or maybe by way apology, Weller's "That's Entertainment" with Chas Smash from Madness on backing - this was a single only in Japan - for whom he would return the favour by supporting them rather controversially at Madstock the following year. Such a venomous song fitted Morrissey's delivery surprisingly accurately .

By and large until 2018's "Back On The Chain Gang" - a show of vegetarian solidarity with Chrissie Hynde no doubt - covers have never really featured overly much in this unique vocalist's repertoire.

Morrissey had always pleaded the importance of these early glam rock stars as the initial inspiration for his writing and ultimately stage persona. T-Rex had been the first concert he had ever attended and he had won a copy of "Ziggy Stardust" from Sounds magazine. So imagine, his unfettered excitement (and I doubt he has ever been a man prone to too much of that) when he was joined on stage by none other than David Bowie to sing this glam classic. Bowie had, coincidentally, been the guest star on his old compadre, Bolan's final ever TV appearance.

This collaboration took place just the once at this concert which was part of Morrissey's "Kill Uncle" tour which was something of a transition (or as I know consider it the album I never play now) whilst Bowie was picking through the dying embers of his Tin Machine experiment. One record had been interesting but a second, followed by a live album (the first since the time of "The Laughing Gnome" s original release not to chart) had left even the most ardent Bowie fans scratching their heads.

So let's be honest, neither were at the top of their game.

But though two generations apart, the first appearances of Ziggy Stardust and then The Smiths were game-changers for so many music fans - indeed Morrissey had referenced the famous"Starman" TV appearance's effect on himself, as a viewer. Their innovative and invasive musical styles together with their studied attention to image - be it the red hair and lightning flash or hearing aid and gladioli combinations - created a package that would engender an unflinching devotion amongst their respective fans when first they gazed on them - a loyalty that was rarely ever broken throughout any subsequent incarnation.

I would hazard there is and always has been a sizeable amount of overlap between the two sets of adorers.

In many ways, this was America's first chance to show their appreciation for a real-life Smith, whose popularity there had been an initial slow-burn and acutely English. However, by 1991, the alternative college scene had really embraced the band and their subsequently solo singer so that his reception there was fairly ecstatic, with this being his first live solo tour anywhere.

He would celebrate his new-found connection withr our transatlantic cousins in the course of his following (and infinitely more enjoyable) album, "Your Arsenal" in the buzzsaw track "Glamorous Glue" with its "we look to Los Angeles... London is dead" refrain. Having been met with diminishing returns in his homeland, Morrissey was becoming very clear where his own unique brand of pity party should be held at that particular moment in his career.

For his part, Bowie had found himself drawn towards Morrissey finding something of a Kindred "outsider" spirit in him and complementary sense of eccentric Englishness. In the backlash to the break-up of the Smiths, he had also offered the now solo Mozza career advice to "jump back in and attack".

However, this mutual appreciation society was soon to turn quite tetchy in fairly short order.

Morrissey's next album the decidedly more energetic "Your Arsenal" - which was also coincidentally produced rather deliciously by former Martian Spider, Mick Ronson - contained a song called "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" which Bowie felt borrowed a little too closely in its closing section, from his own "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide". He subsequently covered it on his own next album "Black Tie White Noise", playing up the similarities in order to let it be known what he actually thought.

I suspect that the reception of the cover was not unlike that of Bono to the Pet Shop Boys with their version of "Where The Streets Have No Name" from around the same time. Decidedly chilly.

Whether this was the Thin White Duke at his most waggish, nobody knows.

However, their relationship existed long enough for Morrissey to be invited to open on the "Outside" European tour four years later. However, whilst his support slot was not being well received, the headlining Bowie suggested a segue from his set to the main one by duetting together on each other's songs - ostensibly to warm up the crowd.

This suggestion did not go down well and Morrissey quit after nine dates, claiming illness although he turned up in Japan on his own tour less than two weeks later. Nine Inch Nails would adopt this idea later with Bowie.

Whatever the reason, the mood between the two became quite frosty with Morrissey labelling his former friend a "creative vampire" - as Elton John once had also. Not even an attempt to broker a reunion by Tony Visconti - a producer they both shared - could fashion a breakthrough and the snubs continued.

Perhaps the most telling was during a 2016 concert during "Oboe Concerto" when Morrissey eulogised a memorial to all the great artists whom we had lost that year. He seemed to very pointedly ignore his former friend from the roll call, to the dismay of the audience.

For a man who has inspired such long-term devotion and interest for so many years from me, Morrissey really can go a very long way to make you not like him. Age really is not mellowing him at all.

Nevertheless, the clues are actually there in this new release because it is better considered in the guise of an historical artefact than a sublime performance. Morrissey forgets some of his words - eliciting a testy glare from his guest star - and Bowie seems to not be entirely familiar with the lyrics.

In truth, the live version that was released back in 1991 without Bowie is much better and really highlights Morrissey's authentic and respectful interpretation. Indeed, he always felt his vocal in Inglewood sounded flat. I personally believe that his more wistful vocal is fine and infinitely better than the the rather unassured and overly straight delivery of Bowie.

The fact of the matter is that their voices simply don't blend together all that well and, however magical it is in concept, the performance is especially ragged - not least because of the constant interruptions from adoring fans.

Nevertheless, like Elton John's live recording with John Lennon at Madison Square, it is important to know it actually happened and it's there etched in the grooves of a new 45, thirty years later. I know my copy is ordered already.

Just be thankful I wasn't actually there because I am convinced that I would have been uncontainable and quite overwrought at the sight of two of the previous half century's most important social influencers on stage together - I know you know that I don't mean some talentless no-mark recommending a brand of face-cream or trainers.

Worse still, I would be boring you to death with tales of this extraordinary collaboration to this day.

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Jan 11, 2021

Bravo. A perfect tribute to both Queen and Princess Bitch. And the intertwining of their behaviour and output makes a glorious narrative. Such a shame that Morrissey couldn't manage the latter day dignity of Bowie. He's basically just a twat now.


Jan 10, 2021

Saw Morrissey live a couple of times while chaperoning besotted daughter to Wembley, etc. Then one day not long after, I found myself sitting opposite him in an almost empty train from Euston to Manchester. I left him alone until he started getting his stuff together to disembark at Stockport, before asking for an autograph on her behalf. To his credit, he did it; on the debit side he was a surly as shit about it. Which didn't surprise me one jot.

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