The Smiths were never content with simply releasing singles to promote their albums. A truly prolific partnership between Morrissey and Johnny Marr led to a long string of standalone singles, and even their album-based work was backed by unique B-sides. The group had already made one attempt to compile this otherwise unavailable work, with the LP Hatful of Hollow in 1984, but since then yet more releases had come and gone; and with it came a second compilation, entitled The World Won't Listen.
A typical Morrissey title, it refers to the group's relative lack of chart success. The group had been less than fond of their chart placings before - their debut single, Hand in Glove, turns up on a surprising number of subsequent releases, almost in revenge - and while they had managed two top-ten singles, clearly they felt they could - should - do better. Album-wise the group had fared much better - Meat Is Murder topped the charts. This album continued that success, reaching number two and being certified gold.
Rough Trade, the group's label, never released the album in the USA. Instead, a double album of tracks from this and Hatful of Hollow was issued, entitled Louder Than Bombs. Later on, this was issued in the UK by Rough Trade, but The World Won't Listen still contains one or two tracks unavailable on other albums, making it a worthwhile purchase for collectors but probably unnecessary for most. (If you really want both mixes of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, here's your chance.)
Interestingly, only on the LP is the full cover art used. On the CD and cassette editions, the picture is cropped to the boy in the centre (the exceptions to this being early Australian CDs, and the 2006 Japanese CD with replica vinyl sleeve).
- Panic - Owing much to T. Rex, one of the band's more famous singles starts the album. Written shortly after the Chernobyl disaster, the song is an attack on popular radio disc jockeys with Morrissey's typically humorous slant. Sadly this song was misconstrued by some as 'evidence' that Moz was racist; I would recommend you pay this no heed, and enjoy one of the finer Morrissey/Marr singles. Released as a single in 1986, reaching 11. "Burn down the disco / Hang the blessed DJ / Because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life"
- Ask - The second single featured is also the second to feature the brief fifth Smith, Craig Gannon. Also featuring backing vocals by the late, great Kirsty MacColl, this is an elegant slice of upbeat pop - possibly the cheeriest song about nuclear holocast and relationships you could expect to find. The single was released in 1986, reaching 14. "Shyness is nice, but / Shyness can stop you / From doing all the things in life that you'd like to"
- London - A much heavier rock track than the previous two, and not a song I'm particularly fond of - though still rather a good one. Here the story is told of a boy leaving home, his family and girlfriend behind as he departs for new climbs, the message being that they all know he shan't return - was it really the best move to make? Appeared originally on the B-side to the 12" edition of Shoplifters of the World Unite. reaching number 12. "You left your girlfriend on the platform / With this really ragged notion that you'd return"
- Bigmouth Strikes Again - The Smiths strike back. Released to promote their seminal album The Queen Is Dead, it remains a powerful and aggressive track that stands up not only as a fantastic album track, but as an excellent single of its own right. The song is notable for the appearance of "Ann Coats" - in reality an alias for Morrissey, his backing vocals sped up via tape recorder. Released as a single in '86, hitting 26."Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head"
- Shakespeare's Sister - The band had high hopes for this single, but sadly its chart placing failed to live up to them. It's still a smashing track, pianos and guitars crashing against one another in a brilliant slice of rockabilly, featuring a Morrissey openly declaring his affection for somebody. Released as a single in 1985, it reached 26. "I've gone to meet the one I love / At last, at last, at last"
- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - Perhaps the highlight of the album The Queen Is Dead, this tale of one man's struggle to describe his feelings ("but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn't ask") continues to charm and works well on this collection. While not released as a single by the band, it remains one of their best-known and loved tracks. This is the first track on this collection not to have been released in the UK as a single or B-side. "And if a double-decker bus crashes into us / To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die"
- Shoplifters Of The World Unite - Featuring that rarest of beasts, the Johnny Marr solo, Shoplifters remains as strong as song today as it was when put out as single. Most commonly interpreted as an attack on Clause 28, it features both fantastic lyrics and the usual musical prowess. Released as a single in 1987, reaching 12. "Tried living in the real world / Instead of a shell / But before I began... / I was bored before I even began."
- The Boy With The Thorn In His Side - The first single from The Queen Is Dead to be released as a single - but not identical to its album counterpart. The single mix on this compilation features slightly different string sections, and the two versions are easily distinguishable from the link between the introduction and first verse. Other than the original single, this is an easy way to get this version of the song on CD. "The boy with the thorn in his side / Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire"
- Money Changes Everything (CD and cassette only) - One of the few Smiths instrumentals. This song was later given to Bryan Ferry by Johnny Marr; it originally appeared as the B-side to Bigmouth Strikes Again.
- Asleep - Featuring only Morrissey and Marr, this gentle B-side originally faded in from Rubber Ring, but while both appear on this compilation the medley has been broken. A truly beautiful piece of piano accompanies Morrissey's quiet yet insistent vocals, the only other sounds being the wind that introduces the song and the music box that ends it. "Don't try to wake me in the morning / 'cause I will be gone"
- Unloveable - Side two of the compilation begins with another gentle, lyrically simple song, using one of Morrissey's many trademarks - repetition - to good effect. His soft urging grows stronger as the song progresses, saying that while he knows he's not loved, he's still willing to give his all - though he admits, "I don't have much in my life." Appeared originally on the B-side to the 12" of Bigmouth Strikes Again. "I wear black on the outside / 'cause black is how I feel on the inside"
- Half A Person - A gorgeous track that shows just how much work the group put into their B-sides. This song tells the tale of our protagonist's six-year obsession, cruelly dashed when he takes a journey down to London, finally reflecting that in all those years he hasn't changed; "Sixteen, clumsy and shy / That's the story of my life...". Available as the B-side to Shoplifters of the World Unite. "She said 'In the days when you were hopelessly poor / I just liked you more'"
- Stretch Out And Wait - Two different takes of this song exist: the original, available on the 12" version of Shakespeare's Sister, and the different version published here. They differ in the first couple of stanzas; after that, the two tracks are essentially the same. Both versions tell the same story: yearning to be free of the urban jungle, but wondering whether what lurks in the future will be worth the effort. "Two icy-cold hands conducting the way / That's the eskimo blood in my veins"
- That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore - A poor choice of a single. The song is beautiful and is one of the best from Meat Is Murder, but simply wasn't chart material, showed by its chart placing - the group's second-worst. The song is beautiful, however, and the edited single version here is still a fine track, its shorter length suiting the compilation better. Released as a single in 1985, it slumped at 49. "But that joke isn't funny anymore / It's too close to home and it's too near the bone"
- Oscillate Wildly - Another instrumental, the title provided by Morrissey - spot the rather obvious pun. A wonderful piano part underlies the entire track, elegant and playful. Contrary to popular belief, the group always intended it to be instrumental - indeed, it was Moz's idea. Released first on the 12" single of How Soon Is Now?, except in the USA.
- You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby - A song that came so close to appearing as a single - it was originally planned to be released in '87, but was replaced by Shoplifters of the World Unite. It could easily have held its own as a single, and is a strong record attacking the record business, its title reputed to have been 'borrowed' from Rough Trade's head, Geoff Travis. The title would later appear in another Smiths track, Paint A Vulgar Picture. Two mixes of this song exist: the other can be found on Louder Than Bombs. "You just haven't earned it yet, baby / You must stay on your own for slightly longer"
- Rubber Ring - How many groups can release a song about how their music will be outgrown? Morrissey asks the listener not to forget their music, but to look back upon it fondly where it helped them. Accompanied by some steller music, the track stands out as another B-side that could easily trump many other group's A-sides. Released on the 12" version of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. "But don't forget the songs that made you smile / And the songs that saved your life"
- Golden Lights - A cover of a song by Twinkle. Not a particularly good Smiths song, and not the best way to end the album, but certainly listenable and not terrible, either. Appeared on the 12" single of Ask. "Golden lights displaying your name / Golden lights, what a terrible shame"
As a compilation, a great deal of this album is inessential; only a handful of tracks can only be found here, the rest appearing on singles, albums or other compilations. It's still a great record to listen to, with a couple of exceptions (I've never been fond of London but many are). Collectors will probably want this for tracks like Money Changes Everything, but then again will probably have the original single, too.
All lyrics by Morrissey, music by Johnny Marr. Song information taken from my CD and vinyl copies, Passions Just Like Mine, and "Songs That Saved Your Life" by Simon Goddard.