Released today in 1987: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

Rough Trade RT198

Rough Trade RT198

The MORRISSEY Story Part 3

After some weeks of rumour, on 30 July 1987 a press release confirmed that Johnny Marr had left The Smiths. It stated that the remaining members “would like to confirm that other guitarists are being considered to replace him. It must be stressed that the concept of The Smiths will remain the same and the group will continue to promote their forthcoming single and album releases and are eager to plan live dates once a new guitarist has been selected. They would also like to stress that although Johnny’s departure is sad they would wish him happiness and success with his future projects.”

The forthcoming single mentioned was Girlfriend In A Coma, and the album Strangeways Here We Come, released in August and September respectively. Of the other guitarists, information was less forthcoming. “The few people who’ve stepped forward for the job have been very good, very interesting and certainly possible so it’s just a matter of making a slight mathematical calculation,” Morrissey told Smash Hits (26 August – 8 September 1987), but he named no names. In Autobiography (2013) he mentions two. One was former NME journalist Nick Kent. The other, like erstwhile ‘Smith’ Craig Gannon, was a member of Aztec Camera. “Geoff [Travis, of Rough Trade] calls to me ‘I can get Roddy Frame to replace Johnny,’ and before I have time to burst into tears (for I don’t quite know what Roddy Frame’s name is expected to mean), Geoff is up and out and gone,” Morrissey said in his book. “As quick as lightning, Frame proudly issues a ‘Morrissey Asked Me To Join The Smiths, But I Refused’ badge of honour to the press, as if the mere request alone from Geoff had lit up his lunchtime.”

With the assurances from the Rough Trade press office that The Smiths were continuing, there was some feeling at the time that perhaps this latest episode would blow over; Andy Rourke’s absence, after all, had been brief, so why wouldn’t Marr’s be? Both Morrissey and Marr agreed, it seemed, that Strangeways Here We Come was The Smiths best effort to date, it also being “the most joyful and relaxed Smiths studio session, with crates of beer wheeled in at the close of each day and no war in sight,” as Morrissey later recalled. Nevertheless, “At the close of the ‘Strangeways’ sessions there took place a glut of meetings with accountants and lawyers at the Wool Hall Studio, and in the context of such, The Smiths breathed a last exhausted sigh, and folded. It happened as quickly and as unemotionally as this sentence took to describe it. No high-octane squabbles, no screams at midnight, no flying furniture, no one dragged head-first into the snake-pit, no animated yelps from unused outbuildings (these would, of course, come eight years later, eight years too late, at The Smiths High Court trial).”

Meanwhile, EMI in the UK, with whom The Smiths had recently signed, and Sire in the USA (The Smiths’s American record company), wanted to protect their investments. Morrissey said little in the press about the EMI record deal (“Let’s just say it’s a necessary progression. It’s a very touchy issue and I’d rather just get on with it rather than dissect it,” he said to Record Mirror, 14 February 1987), but in the autumn Morrissey was under pressure. “Sire and EMI both threaten me with legal action should I refuse to supply an album in order to mop up The Smiths’ liabilities,” he said in Autobiography, noting that there was “no solo commitment demanded from Johnny by either Sire or EMI, clever, clever boy.” Despite the title of the latest The Smiths single, regardless of who had started The Smiths, it was down to Morrissey to finish it, and deliver a contract-fulfilling final album.

Smash Hits asked Morrissey if he felt at a loose end now Marr was gone. “Well, not really, because this situation I felt was brewing for a long time,” he said. “It wasn’t simply an overnight occurrence. So I was prepared. I suppose I don’t feel at a loss or confused at all. I’m very confident about the future.”

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 2
1981
QUEEN and David BOWIE Under Pressure (EMI EMI5250)
Kim WILDE Cambodia (RAK RAK336)
1984
ABC How To Be A Millionaire (Neutron NT107)
IMAGINATION (Leee John) Thank You My Love (R&B Records RBS219)
1987
Edwyn COLLINS My Beloved Girl (Elevation ACID6)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (Rough Trade RT198)

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