The other day I commented to a friend that I define my entire 30-year relationship with Morrissey and his work as one of “failing to understand the joke”. I marvel at the people (some of whom are friends of mine) who affect a kind of hero-worship of the man and involve in a passionate deconstruction of his every move, whether it be on record, in interview or accidentally breaking wind in public. Myself – I find him all a bit meh, can understand the influential nature of the music of The Smiths and what they achieved in their short career, but at the same time note that their erstwhile frontman has made precisely one record of any worth in the last 20 years and bores the nubbins off me otherwise.
With the much-anticipated publication of his autobiography last week he has naturally been talked of far more than usual, although the most entertaining part of this has been watching the former NME trio of Danny Kelly, Stuart Maconie and Andrew Collins comparing notes as to just how delusional he is about their approach to his work during the golden period that they ran the newspaper.
During the 1980s Morrissey was inevitably huge, none more so than in 1988 when he launched his solo career with some of the biggest and most memorable hits he would ever have. Yet for all that, there was one record he made in that period, one particularly high profile project with which he was involved which to the shock of many died an almost total death.
This is the story of the ‘lost’ Morrissey hit.
Morrissey’s association with sixties legend Sandie Shaw dated back to the recording of the very first Smiths single Hand In Glove. Although never a chart hit for the group themselves, the song and recording remained a moment of which all the members were particularly proud and the track is credited with being the moment everyone involved in the project knew it would grow to be a success. Nonetheless, unsure of their true potential as performers, Morrissey and Marr were open to the possibility of their songs being recorded by other artists, and with Sandie Shaw being a particular favourite of the singer he was keen to make contact and entice her to try his work. Following a lengthy pursuit (during which time she was sent a copy of the Smiths single recording of the song and complained to her husband that she was receiving pictures of naked bottoms from her mystery admirer), Rough Trade owner Geoff Travis eventually persuaded her that the overtures were genuine and she recorded her own version of Hand In Glove for single release in April 1984. To the obvious joy of all involved, the single reached a none too shabby Number 27 on the charts, giving the legendary singer her first chart hit for over 15 years. Possibly less well-remembered than it deserves, the sight of the former Eurovision entrant performing to a new generation on Top Of The Pops with the rest of The Smiths playing barefoot behind her remains an iconic moment of the era.
Hand In Glove was actually just a small part of a series of aborted comebacks staged by Sandie Shaw during the 1980s. Originally persuaded to be part of the British Electric Foundation project which kickstarted Tina Turner’s own chart comeback, plans for a brand new solo album were scuppered when she fell pregnant, a fate which also befell a planned Rough Trade album in the wake of Hand In Glove in 1984 which was set to be a full follow-up to the limited release charity project Choose Life which had appeared a year earlier.
By 1988 however, Sandie Shaw was ready to mount a proper comeback and worked with people she knew and trusted to record the album Hello Angel. Needless to say Morrissey, newly shorn of his Smiths commitments was one of those people. The track Please Help The Cause Against Loneliness was one of many written and demoed for his debut album Viva Hate which had been released earlier that year. Although rejected for his own release at the time, the song (written by Morrissey and his then collaborator and producer Stephen Street) seemed a perfect fit for Sandie Shaw. Recorded in a joyful Motown style with a production which if it had appeared in the 21st century would be branded Ronson-esque, the single was selected for release as Sandie Shaw’s big comeback hit and was seen almost by default as the record which would return her to the upper reaches of the charts.
Yet it never quite worked out that way. Maybe part of the problem was that which afflicted so much of Morrissey’s solo material, the germ of an idea which was somehow never quite properly fleshed out. Please Help The Cause Against Loneliness had a joyful, bouncing chorus but as a pop record never really goes anywhere beyond that, deteriorating by the end of the first verse into a rather despondent tuneless mess. Very Morrissey in fact. Released at the end of September 1988, the single stormed the charts at an unofficial Number 87 before climbing a solitary place the following week. All the hype, all the effort, all the joy with which the single was received had all been for nothing. Record buyers were just not interested.
Morrissey completists will insist they have long had an affection for the song, and indeed the original Morrissey demo did finally see the light of day in 2010 as a bonus track on the special edition reissue of his haphazard singles collection Bona Drag. Nonetheless the single for all its flaws remains a great lost pop moment – a defining point in the careers of both artist and writer had it ever actually been purchased by anyone.