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Black, white and blue: the racial antagonism of The Smiths’ record sleeves

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2007

School of English, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK E-mail:


As Matthew Bannister has recently suggested in these pages (see Popular Music, 25/1), The Smiths stand at the head of a 1980s Indie canon based on its rejection of a commodification associated with contemporary black US musics. This article argues that this racial understanding has also bled into the band’s critical reception, encouraging many to assume that Morrissey and Marr drew on exclusively white influences. Specifically, I argue that the white camp icons from the 1950s and 1960s who famously adorn the band’s record sleeves together form a kind of smokescreen, or ‘beard’, which stokes interest in Morrissey’s sexual predilections and orients it away from his and Marr’s Black Atlantic sources. The pre-immigrant Britain summoned up by these icons, I argue, helps prevent fans and critics alike from grasping that Morrissey’s lyrical attempts to find humour and succour by remembering pain is profoundly inspired by the African-American form of the Blues.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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