The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead” Lyrics Meaning

Questions surrounding the British monarchy’s legitimacy may never go away. It is an institution that began way back in the 10 century, an era in which no one would deny the world was quite different than it is now. And as of the writing of this post in early 2021, it seems to be coming increasingly common to see articles online where the Royal Family is considered to be too expensive, unnecessary or what have you. 

But again, such sentiments aren’t particularly anything new. For instance this song (“The Queen Is Dead”) we’re dealing with today came out in 1986. Moreover its vocalist and co-writer, Morrissey, can be considered A list artist across the pond. However, that hasn’t prevented him from establishing himself as someone who has regularly dissed the Royal Family throughout the years. And all of such tirades probably date back to this song, “The Queen Is Dead”.

Lyrics of “The Queen Is Dead”

The track commences with an excerpt from another, much older tune, “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty”. That song actually dates back to World War I. It was extremely popular then. Even today, it still is. Actually it is representative of British soldiers abroad suffering from homesickness. 

So the implication would be that this reference is meant to illustrate The Smiths’ own love for their homeland of the United Kingdom. So from the onset we see that they are patriots, if you will.

But that sentiment is reserved specifically for the nation, not the Royal Family which represents them. For instance following, Old Blighty The Smiths puts forth another intro, this time consisting of only one phrase, “I don’t bless them”. Such can be interpreted as him blessing his homeland yet not the royals themselves, as put forth above. 

Or even more specifically, considering the title of the song and all it is likely a roundabout reference to the well-known, de facto British national anthem entitled “God Save the Queen” which, as its title entails, serves as a blessing of the Royal Family. But reciting such is not a practice The Smiths engage in considering they don’t feel that way about the monarchs. 

In fact they let it be known explicitly that they “don’t bless them”, i.e. the monarchy, thus setting the tone for the rest of the song to follow.

Verse 1

So for example, we have the Queen of England being referenced at the beginning of the first verse. But instead of being referred to as ‘Her Royal Highness’, i.e. a popular exaltation of a female royal, Morrissey rather terms Elizabeth II “her very lowness”. 

Moreover, it is arguable that he depicts her with “her head in a sling” and other allusions to Her Majesty basically being trapped, judged and executed. And he’s not actually encouraging anyone to take such an action. Rather it’s more like he’s just fantasizing about an event, which in his mind “sounds like a wonderful thing”.

Concurrently, he also makes mention of ‘a boar hemmed between archers’. That may be another reference to the Queen, as presented above. But some have also interpreted it as referring to the singer himself, as well as his ilk, i.e. the downtrodden of British society. 

In fact such individuals are sort of sub-characters throughout the song, such as when in the fifth verse the vocalist notes that he and other laymen are “so lonely”. 

Indeed this track is meant to be sort of the blue-collar, hardcore, outsider’s reflection of the monarchy. That is to say that the narrator does not come off as a music star or anything like that. Rather he is someone in tune with what’s going on in the ‘hood because he is actually from the ‘hood.

Lyrics of "The Queen Is Dead"
Prince Charles Taunted

The verse concludes with the singer then turning his focus on Prince Charles. He is the first-born son of Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022) and Prince Philip (1921-2021). And what that means, simply put, is that if the Queen were to pass away, then he would succeed her, himself becoming the King of England. Charles eventually went on to become King of England in 2022.

Thus he was considered not only the second most-powerful but also the second most-popular monarch, after Elizabeth II herself. Or put otherwise any diss against the royal family has to also include jabs at Charles. And fundamentally, it appears that Morrissey is referring to him as some type of mama’s boy or as being effeminate. Or that’s one way of interpreting what he’s putting forth.

According to sources, Morrissey is rather questioning whether Charles fantasizes about taking the throne himself. So conclusively we can say that both of the above notions are true. He is taunting Charles, asking if he desires his mother’s place. But at the same time he alludes to him being some type of a crossdresser, if you will. 

So it’s like he uses the opportunity of posing a legitimate question to also diss Prince Charles, keeping within the overall theme of not feeling too kindly about the Royal Family.

Verse 2

This idea is buttressed, in the roundabout way, during the first half of the second verse. Morrissey jokes that he is actually descended from “some old queen or other” himself. However, upon discovering such he “was shocked into shame”. Or put differently, such a lineage is not something he’s proud of. 

Or stated alternatively yet again, considering that this claim is likely fictional, what he is saying is that if he were a royal, that is not something he would take pride in but would rather feel ashamed.

Moreover he is making fun of people who tend to take royal lineages so seriously by claiming he’s the “18th pale descendent” of said queen. In fact there is a pretty-complex system in place to determine the line of succession to the British throne. And we can perhaps go further to say that The Smiths seem not only dislike the royals but also consider the public’s obsession with such as being childish.

Then Morrissey seems to take the argument to the place where this whole post began, by noting how “the world has changed”. Next he references “some nine year old tough who peddles drugs”. The way some argue the point is as if Morrissey is just noting a negative trajectory of the world in general, as musicians tend to sometimes do. But combining the two aforementioned observations, we can also postulate that the artist is saying that the Royal Family is an anachronism, as manifested by their inability to deal with modern issues like small boys not only being compelled to but also actually dealing drugs.

Verse 3

The third verse commences with Morrissey putting forth a fictitious tale of himself breaking into Buckingham Palace and having an exchange with the Queen directly. Apparently this part of the song was encouraged by the exploits of one Michael Fagan. Michael was a regular dude who did in fact sneak into the Palace. He even made it all the way to the Queen’s bedroom, armed, where she was asleep at the time, before being detected. 

So with that in mind, it would appear that he is dissing royal security, likely as a microcosm for the lack of competency of the Royal system itself.

Then in interacting with the Queen, she tells Morrissey that he “cannot sing”. And he mockingly counters that diss by stating that his inability to sing is nothing as compared to his ability to play the piano. So put otherwise, he doesn’t really care what the Queen thinks of him. And it is evident that Morrissey is aware of himself not being viewed favorably on that end of the political spectrum either.

And as you have probably already ascertained, this song is very metaphorical in nature. It is an exercise in continuous interpretation on the part of the listener, as nothing is said directly. 

So with the second half of the verse, we will hypothesize that Morrissey is saying something like the people are so emotionally attached to the British Monarchy that serious questions are never raised concerning their legitimacy. He uses the allegory of being “tied to your mother’s apron” to get that point across. And of course, given what was put forth in the first verse, that statement can also be construed as yet another jab against Prince Charles.

Verse 4

And the allegorical tirade continues into the fourth verse. In this stanza the vocalist now seems to be saying something, more conclusively, like the Royal Family being superficial. They are more concerned with, say, how they look in public than the serious issues of the day, “like love and law and poverty”.

Verse 5 (“The Queen is Dead”)

So all of the above ultimately leads us to the fifth and final verse. This is The Smiths’ last opportunity to actually elaborate concisely what the title of this song means. 

So far we have dealt with swarths of metaphors, but none of them illustrate exactly what the phrase “the Queen is dead” is supposed to signify. Perhaps in the writer’s eyes, the Queen is dead to him!

Queen Elizabeth II eventually died at the age of 96 in 2022 – 36 years after this song was released.

Irrelevant Institution?

As you may have already figured out, the thesis sentiment is indeed tied into this whole idea of the Royals being irrelevant. There are numerous issues with contemporary British society which The Smiths notice. For instance, this selfsame fifth verse introduces two institutions into the equation, “the pub” and “the church”, which up until this point were unmentioned. 

And the former is depicted as a place that is detrimental to one’s physical wellbeing, while the latter your financial wellbeing. And first off, both of these institutions come off as being ubiquitous in British society, one which regular people normally pass simply while going about their business. 

Furthermore, they are both, in their own respective ways, negative. Meanwhile, the Queen herself is unwilling or perhaps even powerless to defend her people from either. Moreover, going back to the previous verse, Morrissey is under the impression that the Royals don’t really care about common issues anyway.

The Lyrics of The Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead"

What “The Queen Is Dead” really means

So “the Queen is dead” does not mean she is physically in her grave or anything like that. Nor is the titular “Queen” really a direct reference to Elizabeth II. The Queen is rather, as intended, a personification of the monarchy. And what The Smiths are arguing is that the entire institution is woefully outdated – ineffective even as far as the modern, shall we say more-troubled world is concerned. 

Or let’s say that if they were effective, then the British society wouldn’t be so troubled in the first place. And yes, “dead” may be a strong word to use to get that point across. But such powerful wording also encapsulates the vocalist’s genuine disdain for the royal system – his desire for them to in fact disintegrate, so to speak.

All in all…

Indeed the feel of this song is more important to relaying its thesis than the lyrics themselves. Certain lyrics are so painfully allegorical to the point where there can be no consensus as to what they all definitively mean. But underneath it all what we do know is this. 

The Smiths are not fond of the British monarchy at all. And whereas Morrissey and co. may perceive the Queen as being self-centered and the Prince less than manly, in the end their disposition isn’t really about the figures involved. 

Yes, the personal nature of the members of the Royal Family aren’t helping matters any. But the ultimate point being presented, once again, is that British society itself is now at a point where the Royal Family is no longer needed. In other words, this reality is not only due to the impotency of the royals as leaders but also the historical evolution of the country itself.

Summary of “The Queen Is Dead”

Lyrically, the song severely attacks Queen Elizabeth II and the entire British royal family. In a 1986 interview that Morrissey had with NME, he shed some light on the song. According to him, he initially didn’t want to attack the British monarchy in the aggressive way he did. However, he was forced to do so all the same. And why? Simply because of how sad life had become with the presence of the monarchy in England.

He added that the whole idea of the Royal Family being an important institution was like a “hideous joke”.

Away from the royal family, the lyrics of the song also briefly attack pubs and churches in England. Morrissey refers to the pubs as entities that wreck and sap your body. As for the church, he refers to it as an entity whose primary mission is to grab your money.

Writing Credits for “The Queen Is Dead”

This track was produced and co-written by The Smiths’ frontman Morrissey alongside his bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Marr. And the other two credited writers are A. J. Mills (1872-1919) and Fred Godfrey (1880-1953). Of course being that they’re both long dead, they never actually collaborated directly with The Smiths. Rather it is they who wrote the aforementioned “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty”. The song in question was originally published way back in 1916.

The Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead"

Release Date of “The Queen Is Dead”

This song is the title track from The Smiths’ third album. It was released as part of its album in June of 1986. The Smiths didn’t release it as a single.

The Smiths were a band from Manchester who were extant for just a few years, from 1982 to 1987. But within that time they managed to drop four studio albums. One of these albums topped the UK Singles Chart. The other three peaked at number two.

“The Queen Is Dead” is amongst the albums which reached number two. It was a massive success in England. It achieved platinum status in the UK and gold status stateside. Furthermore, it also somehow went gold in Brazil. But even beyond its chart showing and certifications, it is considered to be a true classic. This legendary album produced three powerful singles, namely:

The Smiths is the band that put both Morrissey and Johnny Marr on the map. Both men went on to become music legends on their own. And the other two primary members of the crew were drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke.

More Interesting Facts!

There is a brief sound bite at the beginning of the song. On the sound bite, you can clearly hear a woman singing the famous music hall song “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty”. This was a song that was very popular during World War I.

The sound bite is from the 1962 British drama film The L-Shaped Room starring Tom Bell and Leslie Caron. The woman singing “Take Me To Old Blighty” is the late Australian-born British actress and singer Cicely Courtneidge.

The theme of “The Queen is Dead” makes it one of the most controversial songs ever written in the entire history of British music.

Speaking to NME, Johnny Marr said of the song as one whose sound was shaped by the works of American rock bands The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. According to Marr, he wanted to create a sound that had in it the aggression of the works of “Detroit garage bands”.

This Smiths’ classic is devoid of a chorus.

Almost four decades after “The Queen Is Dead” was released, it became globally famous again. This happened shortly after Queen Elizabeth II died on the 8th of September, 2022.

Is Morrissey really right about the British Royal Family not being relevant?

The British people (the United Kingdom thus England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) practice a system of governance which is referred to as the constitutional monarchy. This is a system of government where the monarch is the head of state and a prime minister is the head of government. Thus, the monarchy or sovereign rules the kingdom through parliament.

As of this writing, King Charles III is the monarch of the United Kingdom (UK). He is also the head of the British royal family. King Charles automatically became King upon the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

The position of the monarch is regulated through descent and parliamentary laws and statute. Thus, the order of succession is fixed for members of the Royal Family in the order in which they stand in line to the throne. Parliament has laws that ensure that all members of the royal family play a role to assist the duties of the Kingdom.

Duties of the British Royal Family

The British royal family has more than a thousand official duties they are to perform every year. These duties include execution of official state responsibilities and the following:

  • Commonwealth meetings
  • state burials
  • national award ceremonies
  • meetings with presidents of other countries

When national events and meetings are held in the United Kingdom (UK), the royal family is to support the King in making the guest feel welcome. Some members of the royal family are allowed by law to represent the Monarch (King) and nation in these official events and meetings when the King is indisposed.

These are the close relations of the King:

  • his children and their spouses
  • grandchildren and their spouses
  • the King’s cousins

The exposure and understanding of various subjects of life such as culture (national and local life), education, health, security, sports, history, and entertainment members of the British royal family gain from attending these official meetings are unmatched. They also get to meet many important personalities of the world.

Members of the royal family discuss the content of these meetings with parliament and share their views on how best the kingdom can develop with the knowledge they get from these meetings. This significantly strengthens national unity in the UK.

Even more duties

They also play an important role in managing national security. They do so by recognizing and supporting all security agencies and the military in the UK. The royal family also pays official visits every year, to camps of armed forces of the UK that serve at home and abroad.

Many public and non-profit organizations across the United Kingdom and worldwide receive support from the royal family. Over four thousand organizations across the world have a member of the British royal family as their chairperson. These organizations include the following:

  • sporting academies
  • health research centers
  • orphanages
  • educational scholarship teams  

The royal family works along with these organizations and many others to help make life better for countless people the world over. These organizations receive a lot of funding and resources from the family to support them in completing their projects and schemes.

While the roles of the British royal family have evolved over time, their relevance has never been questioned. It is safe to say that the royal family will remain relevant to Britain and the world as a whole for a very long time. Furthermore, as long as the UK practices the system of monarch constitution of governance, the royal family would remain relevant.

Current line of succession to the British Throne

  • Prince William
  • William’s son, Prince George
  • Prince George’s younger sister, Princess Charlotte
  • Princess Charlotte’s younger brother, Prince Louis
  • Prince Harry
  • Harry’s son, Archie Harrison
  • Prince Andrew
  • Princess Beatrice
  • Princess Eugenie

3 Responses

  1. A Sad Day says:

    Can’t believe it took over 3 decades for “The Queen Is Dead” to become relevant. I have this feeling that either this song or the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” will fly to number 1 on the UK Singles Charts following the Queen’s death. The Smiths are indeed legends.

  2. Tom likes The Smiths says:

    Such a masterpiece! I was just a kid when The Smiths released this track in 1986. Now 36 years later, there is a strong likelihood that this song will climb to number 1 all because of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. I can only imagine the smile on Morrissey’s face now. He has likely been waiting all his life for this day.

  3. Richard Davis says:

    Despite being one of the most influential bands England ever produced, The Smiths never achieved a number 1 single on the UK Singles Charts. Their most successful song on this chart was “This Charming Man” (the re-issue version). But now that the Queen is actually dead, I have this strong feeling that The Smiths might just get the first number 1 single of their career! Strange but amazing.

    When you think of it critically, “The Queen is Dead” is an absolute timeless masterpiece in all aspects. It was timeless metaphorically. Today, it is timeless literally.
    Morrissey and Johnny Marr knew that someday it would eventually blow up. They “predicted” The Queen’s death in 1986 and waited patiently for it.
    Heck, they literally waited their entire career for September 8, 2022.
    RIP, Queen Elizabeth II.

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