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The Smiths 'The Queen is Dead' - An Iconic Album Both Sonically and Visually

The image of The Smiths outside Salford Lads' Club that graces the inner sleeve of their classic album The Queen is Dead. Photo by © Stephen Wright - (This image is available to buy below)

When it comes to iconic modern albums, they don’t come more celebrated than The Smiths The Queen is Dead. Iconic both in its music and the gatefold album cover. Last year saw 30 years since its release on 16 June 1986, where it soon became an instant classic. The type of album that fans would listen to on repeat until, well, they still are listening to it.

It was an album that was witty, dramatic, and the perfect—and perhaps pinnacle—of Morrissey’s captivating lyrical pondering married with Johnny Marr’s symphonic guitar. It was an album that tore up genres, where new wave, punk, and guitar rock sat together. And it has had a huge influence on musicians, music, and popular culture since.

But what music influenced The Queen is Dead itself? The NME charted the album’s creation in an article last year and guitarist Marr noted, about the blistering opening song which took aim at the monarchy. “It’s The Smiths does The Stooges does The Velvet Underground.”

Strangeways Road sign from the back of the ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ album shot by © Stephen Wright in 1987 - (This image is available to buy below)

While Morrissey said about his poetic musings on the opening track, “I didn’t want to attack the monarchy in a sort of beer monster way. But I found, as time goes by, this happiness we had slowly slips away and is replaced by something that is wholly grey and wholly saddening. The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is.”

Another influence on the tone of The Queen is Dead, Marr explains, was 1960s kitchen sink realism dramas, films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which the guitarist says the band would buy and watch on VHS every night. This vibe particularly influenced the song “‘Frankly, Mr Shankly”—Marr says that Morrissey also hit up Linda McCartney to play piano on the track, sending her a postcard. Sadly, she declined.

That working class feel was also present on the album’s artwork too, because one of the most famous images from it is The Smiths band members all standing in front of the Salford Lads Club in Greater Manchester—it appears on the inside sleeve of the gatefold LP. The photo was taken by photographer Stephen Wright and the iconic shot has not only meant that the Salford Lads Club has become a pilgrimage site for the band’s fans. But Morrissey is also a huge fan of it, with the Guardian noting that Morrissey sent Wright a thank you postcard. Although he did have a very Morrissey and “fatal” regret about the day, which was that “he hadn’t worn his mud-coloured cardigan.”

Morrissey performing upside down on a monitor duing his Kill Unce Tour at the Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, New York in July 1991. Shot by © Kevin Cummins - (This image is available to buy below)

Morrissey wields a protestor’s placard bearing the title of The Smiths anarchic ‘Queen is Dead’ tour and album. Shot by © Gary Lornie at the GMex Centre during the Festival of the 10th Summer in July 1986 - (This image is available to buy below)

Wright has said of the image, “It’s funny that one posed shot on an incredibly dark day in Salford has continued to pleasantly haunt me.” As a band portrait it’s as epochal as they come.

Speaking about the day Wright’s mused, “The Queen is Dead shoot itself was in late November in Salford on a damp dark day; it should really have been cancelled as the light was so poor for photography. We spent a bit of time at a couple of locations but the Salford Lads' Club was the key one. You can even see Johnny shivering in some of the images. Somehow the casual poses and the grim weather give the photos a certain natural and gritty character and I love the way Morrissey stands there, arms folded and smirking slightly like the Mona Lisa. I find it all a bit funny that the film was processed in a darkroom set up in my bedroom with my chemicals stored in old pop bottles yet now there’s a print in the National Portrait Gallery collection, The Manchester Art Gallery and the Salford Art Gallery.”

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer the iconic Salford Lads Club image as a limited edition signed photographic print which you can buy here. There are more The Smiths images by Wright and other photographers available here.

The Smiths in 1983 shot by © Clare Muller - Recalling the day Muller says, "They had just signed to Rough Trade Records and my flat mate Pat Belling was doing their publicity. We did some of the shots in the store room at Rough Trade and a few outside in the park in West London - they paid me £50." - (This image is available to buy below)