Track Exchange: "The Headmaster Ritual" by The Smiths

Wow, a song about Manchester schools! This is dear to my heart - when my dad was in high school he spent a year studying at Manchester Grammar School. His experience seemed to have been much better than Morrissey's, though. And he made a very good friend who became my honorary "English dad" when I studied abroad in England decades later. 

I know England has a history of institutionalized brutality in its schools (see Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall", and lots and lots of novels for more on this - I have a personal theory that Lord of the Flies would have turned out very differently if the kids stranded on the island had come from, say, HTHCV). But what really strikes me about this song is that it isn't about getting angry and fighting authority, it's about getting scared and wanting "to go home" (which, incidentally, pairs neatly with the line "Driving in your car, I never never want to go home", from another Smiths song, "There is a Light that Never Goes Out"). I can't think of a lot of rock songs written from the perspective of a scared, homesick kid. 

And, on the subject of the music - first of all, I love the ululating, and I want to point out a distinctive Morrissey vocal habit - starting a straight out of the previous line, as if it just occurred to him as he was singing - for example, "He does the military two-step down the length of my neck/I wanna go home." Finally, this has got me thinking about the outrageously clean, processed sound of eighties rock - the way the drums are recorded, they sound almost digital. I remember hating this in the nineties, a time when it seemed like every song was recorded entirely in the red, but I've come to love it. 

My Track for this Week:

"Waiting for the Man", as performed by David Bowie, live at Nassau. The reasons for choosing a Bowie song at the moment are obvious, but I also wanted to share this because it's such a great example of a cover song teasing out something from a great song that the composer himself probably doesn't realize was there. In this case, this is partly due to a chord substitution that gives it a kind of "Twist and Shout" build-up. When my band plays "Waiting for the Man" I normally advocate for these changes (and normally get shut down) but man, I love this tune. 

My track for next week:

I advise listening without the video first.