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The Smiths’ first recording: I Want A Boy For My Birthday


October 4 marked the 30th anniversary of the first ever Smiths gig, at the Ritz in Manchester, opening for Blue Rondo a La Turk. Dale Hibbert was on bass; Andy Rourke replaced him shortly thereafter. You can, of course, read all about it, in A Light That Never Goes Out.

There is no available footage or audio of this show as far as I am aware. The YouTube video that went up this week (above) claiming to be from that gig is not, in fact, a live recording. It’s something perhaps more interesting: the first archived recording by anything purporting to be The Smiths, a one-minute excerpt from Johnny Marr and Morrissey’s demo of The Cookies’ ‘I Want A Boy For My Birthday,’ recorded to Marr’s TEAC some point in the summer of 1982. This, too, is covered in my bio, as follows:

Ostensibly, this was no more risqué than Ringo Starr singing the Shirelles’ ‘Boys’ with a straight face on the Beatles’ first album, a record that had also included their version of the Cookies’ biggest hit, ‘Chains’. (In their own choice of cover, therefore, deliberately or otherwise, Morrissey and Marr were paying double homage to the early Beatles.) And certainly, it was intended in part as a nod to the New York Dolls, who had incorporated the Shangri-Las into their own live set. The recording itself was none so upbeat as those reference points, however. Though Morrissey faithfully replicated the lead melody as he sang such traditionally romantic couplets as ‘I want a boy to comfort me, and treat me tenderly,’ his voice was no match for the Cookies’ Earl-Jean McCrea. And though Marr laid out his template for the Smiths across his two guitar tracks – one softly playing the chords, the other offering a carefully picked arpeggio, and both of them drenched in reverb – neither was he on the level of Gerry Goffin, the original song’s producer, nor Goffin’s wife, Carole King, its arranger. At best, the Morrissey-Marr version of ‘I Want a Boy for My Birthday’ was a purposefully camp presentation of a classic piece of (very) early ’60s sexual stereotyping, which is why it would have made some sense to Hibbert when he was informed that the Smiths ‘were going to be a gay band.’

A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths is out now in the UK; it will be published in the States on December 4.

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