POWER OF POP MUSIC HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW

HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW

HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW – THE SMITHS (1984)

When Paul Weller broke up The Jam in 1982, there was a huge vacuum in my life that his follow-up project The Style Council could not quite fill. I needed a band that could mean the same thing to me as The Jam did. In early 1984, the ever-dependable John Peel was championing a new band called The Smiths (viz. Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke & Mike Joyce) who had just released their third single (“What Difference Does It Make”) and eponymous debut album in January and February of that year respectively.

I was instantly besotted by the songs that contained unique lyricism and brilliantly orchestrated guitar music e.g. “This Charming Man”, “Reel Around the Fountain”, “Still Ill”, “Suffer Little Children” etc. In May, the band issued a non-album single that cemented their position as my favourite contemporary rock band – “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”.  Although the breezy jazz-folk-rock music was rather perfunctory, what made the song extraordinary was Morrissey’s black humour, which provided the perfect emotional contrast.

“I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour but heaven knows I’m miserable now” – the opening line sets the tone but it’s the following “I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now” with its comedic irony and the bitter reality of “In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die” that establishes Morrissey’s poetic genius even as the singer closes the phrase with a soaring falsetto.

Everything that the narrator sees puts him in a foul mood – a loving couple “two lovers entwined passed me by” and an overwhelming seductress “what she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed”. Morrissey’s repetition of the key phrase without the traditional usage of verse-chorus-verse constructs turns the song into an experimental piece, despite itself.

Critics often complain of the weak melodies in Morrissey-Marr compositions without realizing that The Smiths were never about pop melodies but that special combination of Morrissey’s words put to Marr’s outstanding instrumentals. “Heaven Knows When I’m Miserable Now” may just be the shining jewel in the crown. A magic pop moment…

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