Half a Person (1987) – The Smiths

Half a Person is another Smithian treasure tucked away on a B-Side. Their songs can be an acquired taste and I find that especially true of this track. The more I hear it, the more I like it. The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr is famous in his own right (listen to what he does on William It Was Really Nothing at the top of this blog which contains some of the best guitar licks I have heard in any one song), but I love also what he does miniscule on this one. His guitar sound with The Smiths is really rustic and expansive. After Morrissey sings the line ‘I went to London and died‘ Marr jangles with a rudimentary metallic sound like this and after other lines too.
They are just a tight-sounding pub group and Morrissey’s melancholic-black humour trickery is always fun to listen to.

Call me morbid, call me pale
I’ve spent six years on your trail
Six long years on your trail
Call me morbid, call me pale
I’ve spent six years on your trail
Six full years of my life on your trail

And if you have five seconds to spare
Then I’ll tell you the story of my life

Sixteen, clumsy and shy
I went to London and I
I booked myself in at the Y.W.C.A
I said “I like it here, can I stay?
I like it here, can I stay?
Do you have a vacancy for a back-scrubber?”

The lyrics above seem mostly taken from a fan-letter to Morrissey. Speaking to The Face in 1990, Morrissey said that the song was autobiographical. About the woman who writes the letter, he said, “Yes, that is all absolutely true. She does exist.” However, years later, when introducing the songs during a concert in New York, he said, “This is about someone who’s not really a full person.” Then added sarcastically, “Who could that be? I’ve no idea.

This song to me signifies that no matter how famous and rich Morrissey is; it’s not actually going to change his life. He’ll always be 16, clumsy and shy. He even repeats, ‘It’s the story of my life‘ – like his fan who reached out. The song, written in 1986 by Johnny Marr and Morrissey – allegedly on the stairs of Mayfair Studios, London – is one of the lesser known songs by the group. It has remained a fan favourite, although rarely played live by Morrissey.

In case you were wondering, like I was when he referred to the Y.W.C.A and to work there as a ‘backscrubber’: The Y.W.C.A is the Young Women’s Christian Association; a welfare movement with branches in many countries that began in Britain in 1855.
Half a Person was released in 1987 on their compilation album The World Won’t Listen and reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, staying there for 15 weeks. The album was conceived as a collection of the band’s singles and their B-sides from 1985 to 1987.

1. Fashion Music Style – Random Obscurities: The Smiths – Half a Person

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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12 comments on “Half a Person (1987) – The Smiths
  1. Badfinger (Max) says:

    I liked Marr a lot…love the sound he gets out of his guitar. I liked the a lot…they should have got played more than they did over here.
    Good song Matt.

    • This song is so typical Smiths, not exceeding expectations, but something about it rubs the right way. Funny, I didn’t like their sound or style in my youth.
      I think Marr excels on their ‘William It Was Really Nothing’ which now heads my page. That’s about the best guitar I have heard in any 2 minute song. Thanks Max.

      • Badfinger (Max) says:

        I love Marr’s jangly guitar. The alternate band I liked best was the Replacements but I liked the Smiths also….both were played a lot on College radio.

      • Only because of your articles have I added a few songs to my collection of The Replacements. I need to hear more from them. The Smiths plus Morrissey’s solo career is a musical odyssey.

      • Badfinger (Max) says:

        I do wish The Smiths would have stayed together longer… they did a lot in their short time.

      • I gather Morrissey was a bit of an oddity and hard to please, but I may be wrong in that loose assessment. The Smiths are to me the equivalent working English band to what the Go-Betweens are Australian. Both seemed to encapsulate the mood, melancholy and sound of their nations at the time of writing.

      • Badfinger (Max) says:

        Yea he was/is hard to get alont with from what I’ve read. They called the Replacements the American Smiths… both bands caused some trouble lol.

      • Haha, you have to love bands who are a bit rebellious because of their egos or what-have-you.

      • Badfinger (Max) says:

        They were both self destructive as far as their careers…yea they were rock and roll no doubt

      • I like when they put artistic integrity in front of all else. That’s a great band.

  2. Nice song, and one I don’t believe I’ve heard before. I never followed the Smiths very closely (more out of my own ignorance than anything else), but like pretty much all of their songs I’ve heard.

    • They seem to me to be an acquired taste, like a good red wine or what have you. Post Smiths – Morrissey has excellent stuff as well. I think the Smiths are a legendary band for that time and what they represented. Like you I haven’t really heard anything I disliked from them.

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