“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths
On The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” a depressed protagonist (Morrissey) is seated in the passenger seat of his lover or yet-to-be lover’s car. And as the pair drive together, Morrissey begs the driver (the addressee) not to take him home since he isn’t welcome at home – a place makes him terribly depressed.
As such, he begs the addressee to take him anywhere exciting – where music can be heard and where people who are “young and alive” exist.
Morrissey is so in love with the present moment that he is sharing with the addressee in their car that he wouldn’t mind breathing his last breath on earth here and now. This is why he goes on to say that even if a “double-decker bus” or a “ten-ton truck” were to crash into them and kill them instantly, he wouldn’t mind. As a matter of fact, to him, dying by the driver’s side would be a “privilege” and “a heavenly way to die“.
Somewhere in the course of the journey, Morrissey tries asking the driver something but is unable to do so because he is afraid and shy of asking. We never know what it was Morrissey was going to ask his love interest since it is never mentioned in the lyrics. But based on the song’s theme, it is highly likely he was either about professing his love for the driver or asking for an intimate congress.
“I Never want to go Home”
It should be noted that “home” is more than a number on a building. It’s a state of mind.
The lines above happen to be among the most outstanding in this song that alludes to the depression and dissatisfaction over a life without a “home.” The protagonist wants to escape this treacherous “home,” whether by love or death.
Crashing into double-decker buses and ten-ton trucks, expiring by their lover’s side is merely a metaphor for not wanting to die alone. An isolated demise is their ultimate fear. The lyrics clearly express they’d prefer love be the resounding voice and hero that whisks them away and out of their torment.
Meaning of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” as used in the Song
The song’s title (“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, which is also its most outstanding line, isn’t heard until the song’s outro. Here, it is repeated at least eight times. But what does that phrase really mean? What “light” is it that never goes out?
In order to truly understand what this light means as used in the song, then one would have to listen to the original/demo version of the song.
Now in this version, we can clearly hear the narrator tell the addressee these exact words: “there’s a light in your eyes… never goes out“.
In the lyrics of the officially released version of this song, these words are not present. It therefore makes it quite challenging to fully understand what the said phrase means. But thanks to the demo version (which can be watched below), we can understand this very profound line.
And what does it mean? It basically means that the narrator sees a bright, everlasting light in the eyes of his addressee. It is this light in their eyes that brightens his dark, miserable and lonely world. Simply stated, the addressee is the source of his joy. And they are able to bring him joy via the light within them that forever shines.
Song’s Possible Inspiration
The song’s story is pretty similar to the theme of the 1955 drama film “Rebel Without a Cause” starring famous American actor James Dean. Just like this film, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” also heavily taps into teenage loneliness and depression.
It is also worth mentioning that the film’s main star, James Dean, died tragically in a very violent car accident in Cholame, California. He was only 24 years old when he died. Dean’s tragic death came few weeks before “Rebel Without a Cause” was released.
Morrissey obsessively idolized Dean all his life. Furthermore, as a teenager, Morrissey was incredibly depressed and lonely. According to him, he never had a social life as a teenager.
It is therefore very obvious that all the elements mentioned above inspired the song’s lyrics and mood.
Creation and Release of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”
The lyrics of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” was written by Morrissey. Johnny Marr wrote the music.
The song is the 9th track on The Smiths’ 1986 iconic studio album The Queen Is Dead.
With a total length of 4 minutes and 2 seconds, the song is the third longest song on the album.
Speaking to Select magazine, Marr said when The Smiths first played the song, he thought it was the best song he had heard all his life.
Strangely enough, despite appearing on the 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, the song wasn’t released as a single until in October 1992. This was five years after The Smiths had disbanded and its members had gone their separate ways.
On the UK Singles Chart, the song made it to the 25th position.
The guitar intro of the song is based on the Marvin Gaye 1962 hit song “Hitch Hike”. According to Marr, he got his inspiration for the song’s guitar intro from The Rolling Stone’s 1965 cover of “Hitch Hike“.
Controversy surrounding Lyrics
The lyrics of the song have often been criticized for its glamorization of suicide. The song’s association with suicide comes from its chorus. This is the part of the song where the narrator sings about happily and gratefully accepting death if it would mean dying in the company of one he loves (the addressee).
In 1990, readers of SPIN magazine voted this song number 1 on their list of the “Greatest Songs of all Time”.
The song was used in the 2009 romantic comedy film “500 Days of Summer” starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In 2014, the English music magazine New Musical Express (NME) ranked the song at number 12 on their list of the “Greatest Songs of all Time”.
“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” has been covered by several artists, most notably Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame. Other famous musical artist that have covered this classic are:
- Miley Cyrus
- Neil Finn
- The Cranberries
The Cranberries’ Cover of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”
In 2012, The Cranberries, fronted by the late Dolores O’Riordan, performed a very powerful live version of this Smiths’ classic. The said performance, which can be viewed below, occurred at the studios of French radio station, Ouï FM.
It should be stated that O’Riordan was a huge fan of the Smiths. According to her, the band was one of her greatest musical influences.
Noel Gallagher’s Masterpiece Covers
One of the most outstanding covers of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is by Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame. Noel, whose entire musical career was inspired by The Smiths, has covered this song live on numerous occasions. It apparently happens to be his favorite songs by musical heroes, The Smiths.
One of his most outstanding live performances of this song took place at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall in 2007. The concert was organized to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity. In performing this song at the said event, Noel was backed by an orchestra and his then Oasis bandmate, Gem Archer. The backing of the orchestra in addition to the sheer emotions Noel put into the performance is why many consider it one of the best covers of this classic by a non-Smith member.
Why is this interpretation by Gallagher so powerful and remarkable? Three reasons. The first is of of course the powerful string section by the orchestra. The second is the Oasis sound present throughout the song. And last but not least is the fact that Gallagher clearly puts his heart and soul into the song.
Again, in 2007, Gallagher performed another similarly brilliant live version of “There Is A Light That Never Goes” at a concert in Moscow, Russia.
“The Queen Is Dead”
“The Queen Is Dead” was released on the 16th of June, 1986 as the Smiths’ third studio album. The album’s title was inspired by “Last Exit to Brooklyn”. This is a 1964 novel by American writer, Hubert Selby Jr.
Recording took place at the following recording studios in the UK:
- Jacob Studios (London)
- RAK Studios (London)
- Drone Studios (Manchester)
Frontman of the band, Morrissey was supported by singer, songwriter, Johnny Marr in producing the album.
“The Queen Is Dead” came out through an independent London based record label, Rough Trade.
The album remained on the charts in the UK for 22 weeks, peaking at No. 2. On the Billboard 200 in the US, it peaked at No. 70. The album went on to receive a gold certification from the RIAA there. The UK’s BPI certified it platinum while Brazil’s Pro-Música Brasil gave it another gold certification.
NME placed “The Queen Is Dead” at the apex of its 2013 list, “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
It was No. 113 on Rolling Stone’s 2020 edition of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
In 2000, the album was featured at No. 10 in the book, “All Time Top 1000 Albums”, by renowned British writer, Colin Larkin.
Below are the singles that were used in promoting “The Queen Is Dead”:
I don’t think the song is glorifying suicide at all. Rather the lines that refer to death are romantic in the sense that Morrissey, the protagonist, would be content to die in this moment because his travelling partner is all that he would ever need or want out of life. Essentially, these lines say that the other person in the car is “the one”.
Anyway, that’s my take on this special track.
I do agree with you. My personal take on the meaning of this song is simply about a man who is going through a divorce and desperately want a way out. In essence, he has the opportunity to “fake” a car crash with a beautiful woman by his side. In doing so, he can move onto a new life because “There is a light that never goes out.”
I was thinking about a possible hidden meaning in this song. It may be an allegoy of a biblical passage. The cucifiction of Christ. Dismas, the penitent thief, is singing the song. Does anyone agree? No? Sorry…. My bad…
What a strange thing to say
Haha, I have been laboring (and enjoying) that I thought it was a suicide song, in that, instead of “ask,” I thought the word was “pass.” The meaning being he was in a tunnel, later driving himself, and wanted to drive head on into the approaching car, but he lost his nerve and just couldn’t pass. I think I am going to stick to this meaning, as it pleases me more than if it were just a silly song about love.
I remember being young and thinking how romantic Romeo and Juliet’s tragic end was. So this song sort of reminded me of that, I would die for you, sentiment. So it reminds me of being young. Also of the boy I had a crush on in high school, who had a silver Volkswagen, and I would fantasize sitting on the passenger seat, looking at him switching gears, and desperately finding a way to tell him how I felt. And also feeling like a stranger in my home because I was gay. And maybe because I was young, I had hope, and I still thought there was maybe a light that would never go out.
Minor nitpick: you wrote “eludes” when you meant “alludes.” A worthwhile read otherwise.
Thanks for identifying the typo and drawing our attention to it. It has been accordingly corrected. Thanks a lot.
I think the car passenger is male.