The Smiths had already broken up by the time their final studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come was released by Rough Trade, but a few singles were still waiting in the wings to promote it. And indeed, even as late as 1995, record companies were only too happy to re-release a single or two to promote the inevitable greatest hits collections; re-issue! re-package! re-package!
While the virtues of those later singles is questionable, the singles released to promote Strangeways are fine releases indeed, containing some of the last recorded work by the band before their break-up. It would well have been recording them that prompted the split in the first place: Johnny Marr has long been quoted as having been unhappy at recording a Cilla Black cover as a B-side to Girlfriend in a Coma. They provide an insight into the final days of the group; and they're not bad to listen to, either.
Initially, the fifth track from the LP, Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before, was to be the second single, but in the UK the record label intervened. While The Smiths were no strangers to controversy, clearly this time it was felt it wouldn't help sales. Instead, I Started Something I Couldn't Finish was chosen, an equally-good choice and a fine single. Starting with a loud buzz of the guitar, the track soon progresses into one of the group's more rock-and-roll singles, with excellent guitarwork as always from Johnny, matched with Morrissey's usual dual-meaning lyrics. Whilst the drums are somewhat formulaic, they fit the song perfectly; the bass, however, stands out as being of a particularly high standard.
Morrissey's lyrics could be interpreted as relating to The Smiths themselves, or rather, his relationship to Johnny Marr. As Moz talks of giving a "hard-faced three-word gesture", this could easily be seen to be both "I love you" and "I hate you", highlighting the band's tensions; whilst the lines "I started something / I forced you to a zone" could easily be read as referring to his own urging to Johnny to keep writing songs when ideally they could all do with a rest. Then again, the song could simply be referring to any doomed relationship, being merely the frank admission by a partner that they'd been too forceful.
On the LP, the song falls between the excellence of opener A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours and the bleaker Death Of A Disco Dancer. It fills this space nicely, oddly providing a break between the growling insistence of the the opening track, and the grim song to follow. (Not that Death Of A Disco Dancer is a bad song; but it wouldn't work at all if it followed A Rush And A Push....)
The single was released in Autumn 1987, in the UK and Spain alone; the rest of the world saw instead the intended second single, Stop Me If You Think You've Head This One Before. It was released on 7" and 12" vinyl, and on cassette, with all formats featuring the same picture of Avril Angers from "The Family Way". Whilst the picture is the same, only the cassette features the roses from the back of the sleeve on the front, too; the picture is clipped on the vinyl releases, obscuring them. The single reached number 23 in the UK charts.
- The 7 inch single features the B-side "Pretty Girls Make Graves", from the aborted original recordings of their debut album produced by Troy Tate. This is the only recording from the Troy Tate sessions to be officially released, although the rest is available on bootlegs. The A-side etching is "MURDER AT THE WOOL HALL"(X)STARRING SHERIDAN WHITESIDE, the B-side YOU ARE BELIEVING, YOU DO NOT WANT TO SLEEP.
- The 12" single features the B-sides "Pretty Girls Make Graves" (again, the Troy Tate version), and "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", a live recording from the final-ever Smiths gig in London, 1986. The vinyl etchings are the same as the 7".
- The audio cassette single features the B-sides "Pretty Girls Make Graves" (Troy Tate), "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", and "What's The World?", a cover of a song by James recorded live in Glasgow in 1985.
Song lyrics and details taken from my copies of the single; words by Morrissey, music by Johnny Marr. Likewise artwork and etchings taken from my copies. Release and chart information from "Passions Just Like Mine" (http://www.passionsjustlikemine.com/disc/smiths-d36iss.htm)