The band's seventh single probably doesn't feature as the #1 on 99.99999% of lists compiled by fans (I'm tempted to say it is 100% but there's always someone out there twisted enough to start an argument).
mp3 : The Smiths - Shakespeare's Sister
A radical departure from the guitar-driven efforts unleashed over the previous months, the use of a boogie-woogie piano as lead instrument mystified fans. My own recollection of the era was that most folk didn't like it, as much for the lack of chorus or catchy line as anything else, and the preference was for the dreamy and more typical Stretch Out And Wait on the b-side of the 12".
So what the hell is it about?
It is brilliantly summed up by Simon Goddard - "a Bronte-force torrent of satanic ragtime, it finds Morrissey possessed with thoughts of suicide, struggling against maternal constraints and mocking his ludicrous early attempts to become an acoustic protest singer".
The title is inspired by A Room Of One's Own, an essay penned by Virginia Woolf essay in 1928 in which she argues that such was the chauvinism in Elizabethan society that it was impossible for a woman with the same talent and genius as the Stratford bard to be a success. For one, she would have been denied the schooling and education, and there's also the small matter of her not even being allowed to enter the theatre.
Morrissey explained later his own take on it - the song is the voice of the downtrodden and about shrugging off the shackles of depression.....to get out there and do what one really wants to do.
The failure of the single to be a hit - it stalled at #26 - caused a great deal of antagonism between the band and their record label which was accused of failing to support its release in any meaningful way.
Perhaps a greater problem lies in the band's self -production and mixing of the song. Seemingly, it should have opened with a guitar burst not all that dissimilar to Girl Afraid instead of the distant cousin half-note of How Soon Is Now? and then the wholly unexpected piano. From the outset the tune seems to be racing uncomfortably ahead of itself almost as if it has been recorded at the wrong speed. I sometimes expect Morrissey's voice to come in sounding as if he had sucked on some helium.....
A live version that can be found on the flip side of the next again single, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, demonstrates what I mean by that.....the singer just doesn't sound comfortable delivering this number.
mp3 : The Smiths - Shakespeare's Sister (live, Oxford 1985)
Overall I'm not all that sure about Shakespeare's Sister. I'm willing to acknowledge that, at the time, it suffered in comparison not just to the brilliance of the previous six singles but also the majority of the songs on the first two LPs that we all loved. But the band would release many better songs in the years ahead in which the paiano rather than the guitar had the main role.....
In summary ?? Shakespeare's Sister is more of an oddity rather than a classic.