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Ranking: Every Song by The Smiths from Worst to Best

All 72 songs that helped define a generation of misfits straight outta Manchester

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    We revisit our definitive Smiths ranking as their debut turns 35 this week.

    Say what you will about internecine bad blood and the virtuous desire to keep the past in the past, but here’s the real reason we’ll never see Manchester legends The Smiths on stage together again: They’ve already accomplished everything they set out to do.

    In just five short years, between 1982 and 1987, the foursome of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce produced 72 songs whose youthful angst, literary humor, and yearning nostalgia became the slim canon that helped define subsequent generations of little misfits.

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    On “Rubber Ring”, Morrissey wrote: “But don’t forget the songs/ That made you cry/ And the songs that saved your life.” On the following list, we pay these tracks an overdue visit; from the singles that defined their sound to the album tracks and B-sides that spread out with unexpected depth, we’ll unearth the hits and misses that made The Smiths the most singular band of the ’80s.

    –Tyler Clark
    Contributing Writer

    Buy: Pick up copies of your favorite Smiths albums at Reverb LP. Click here for more.


    72. “Golden Lights”

    “Ask” B-side (1986)

    The Smiths don’t have many train wrecks in their catalog, but this cover of a 1965 single by English singer-songwriter Twinkle is the sublime exception that proves the rule. Part of that disappointment is owed to the jarring mismatch between band and source material, but Stephen Street shoulders some of the blame for sending Morrissey’s voice through a bizarre flange effect in the mixing stage. Producer John Porter was righteously miffed at that, and the band would never leave Street — or any other mixer, for that matter — alone with their work again. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Is life always like this, brother?/ Good for one side but bad for another”


    71. “The Draize Train”

    “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” B-side (1986)

    There’s a dubious origin story attached to the third and final Smiths instrumental. As Len Brown recounts in his Meetings with Morrissey, Moz simply refused to write words for the song because he thought “it was the weakest thing Johnny [Marr] had ever done.” That’s an extremely priggish move to pull on your guitarist, but in this particular instance, well, let’s just say he had a point. –Collin Brennan
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    70. “Meat Is Murder”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    One of the rare Smiths song Morrissey still consistently plays live, “Meat Is Murder” is a vegetarian anthem that outlines the beliefs he literally brings to his meat-free shows. While Moz pushes his rhetoric, the rest of the band replaces their normally lively arrangements with a wallowing nightmare of ethereal drag. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “And death for no reason is murder/ And the flesh you so fancifully fry/ Is not succulent, tasty, or kind”


    69. “Work Is a Four-Letter Word”

    “Girlfriend in a Coma” B-side (1987)

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    If Johnny Marr is to be believed, this is the song that cemented The Smiths’ breakup; the guitarist famously told Record Collector in 1992 that he “didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.” The Smiths’ second cover song is a perfectly serviceable rendition of the 1968 blue-eyed soul B-side; however, given its infamous effect on the band and “contractual obligation” quality of the harmonies, there’s a reason this one ranks near the bottom of the list. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “I don’t need/ A house that’s a showplace/ I just feel/ That we’re going no place/ When you say that/ work is a four-letter word”


    68. “Oscillate Wildly”

    “How Soon Is Now?” B-side (1985)

    Talk about false advertising. If the band had called this “How Soon Is Now?” B-side “Noodle Around Tepidly” or “Morrissey Needed a Nap but We Still Had Some Studio Time, So…” it might’ve gained a few spots for honesty. They didn’t, though. Shame. –Tyler Clark


    67. “Miserable Lie”

    The Smiths (1984)

    Though “Miserable Lie” belongs to the earliest crop of Morrissey-Marr collaborations, this precocious post-punk tune bears many hallmarks that would later come to define The Smiths: lost innocence, inter-class love affairs, and a half-and-half pairing of sexual deviance and domestic squalor. It’s also got ambition to spare, as evidenced by the jarring tempo change that shifts it from a ballad to a banger around the one-minute mark. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “The dark nights are drawing in/ And your humor is as black as them”


    66. “Money Changes Everything”

    “Bigmouth Strikes Again” B-side (1986)

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    The plodding instrumental that accompanies this “Bigmouth Strikes Again” B-side just oozes Smiths swagger. “Money Changes Everything” is capable of retaining the eerie attraction The Smiths create even without Morrissey’s classic croon. –TJ Kliebhan


    65. “Jeane”

    “This Charming Man” B-side (1983)

    The Smiths generally had a difficult time staying on the same page, but “Jeane” is an early example of intra-band dynamics playing to their advantage. Marr had essentially written the song as a Drifters rip-off, but Morrissey wisely recognized that it yearned to rock harder and encouraged his guitarist to — in the grand tradition of punk — play faster. There’s not a lot of meat on poor “Jeane”’s bones, but she’s a stomper with some nice surface-level appeal. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “I’m not sure what happiness means/ But I look in your eyes/ And I know that it isn’t there”


    64. “What She Said”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    The success of “What She Said” is directly tied to the driving and salient rhythm Mike Joyce maps on the drums. Accompanied by Marr’s blistering screech of a guitar riff, the whole band pushes the pace as fast as they can for this quick two-and-a-half-minute track. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “How come someone hasn’t noticed/ That I’m dead/ And decided to bury me/ God knows, I’m ready”


    63. “I Keep Mine Hidden”

    “Girlfriend in a Coma” B-side (1987)

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    Recorded during the same mop-up session as “Work Is a Four-Letter Word”, this slight ditty about the virtues of hiding your emotions doubles as a snide critique (reportedly of Marr) that you can almost picture Morrissey delivering with his eyes locked on his frenemy guitarist. In addition to tossing gas on the sparks in the already-tense room, the song also opens with a whistle solo that, once it gets stuck in your head, will do exactly the same to your brain. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “I keep mine hidden/ But it’s so easy for you/ Because you let yours flail/ Into public view”


    62. “Wonderful Woman”

    “This Charming Man” B-side (1983)

    It wouldn’t be Morrissey if this song were truly an ode to a wonderful woman, but the powerful, heartless woman who magically controls the man’s every desire is perhaps a better character anyway. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “Ice water for blood/ With neither heart or spine/ And then just to pass time/ Let us go and rob the blind”


    61. “Well I Wonder”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    Morrissey’s cadence is well on display in this ballad describing crossing paths with a romantic interest. Andy Rourke’s punchy bass infuses a much-needed feeling of urgency into what’s otherwise a classic Smiths slow-burner. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “Well I wonder/ Do you see me when we pass?/ I half-die”


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    60. “Vicar in a Tutu”

    The Queen Is Dead (1986)

    Morrissey loves nothing more than tweaking the hypocrisies of the church, except perhaps sticking up for the unloved misfits of the world. On “Vicar in a Tutu”, he tries to do both and alternates between rooting for and ridiculing the titular clergyman over one of the band’s not-infrequent dips into the world of country-western guitar. Unfortunately, these competing impulses never quit gel and instead combine to form the least essential track on the nearly flawless The Queen Is Dead. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “The monkish monsignor/ With a head full of plaster/ Said, ‘My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned'”


    59. “Pretty Girls Make Graves”

    The Smiths (1984)

    This song is a coded critique of hetero society, but it once again uses a cruel woman to convey this message. In the final chorus, Morrissey moans, “I lost my faith in womanhood,” as if the listener might not have known. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “And sorrow’s native son/ He will not smile for anyone”


    58. “You’ve Got Everything Now”

    The Smiths (1984)

    There may not be a better way to sum up The Smiths’ lyrical themes than “Oh, what a terrible mess I’ve made of my life.” Despite that outlier, the song is mostly an exercise in the rebellious strut the band prided themselves on. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “No, I’ve never had a job/ Because I’ve never wanted one”


    57. “Suffer Little Children”

    The Smiths (1984)

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    A Tom Waits-esque murder ballad ends The Smiths’ classic debut record by recounting the haunting Moors Murders that took place in the band’s hometown of Manchester in the 1980s. The sinister laughing children that echo in the background of this track earn it a spot among the most unsettling in The Smiths’ whole catalog. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “You might sleep/ But you will never dream”


    56. “I Won’t Share You”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    The song that displaced “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” as the closing track to Strangeways, Here We Come is built around a chord progression echoed elsewhere in The Smiths catalog. The difference here is that it’s played on an autoharp, the sound of which serves as an uncannily appropriate complement to Morrissey’s fragile, wounded ego. “I won’t share you,” he sings, and for a second we imagine this to be another of his obsessive love songs. But then he continues: “…with the drive and ambition/ The zeal I feel/ This is my time.” Ouch. Talk about sweeping the rug out from under our feet. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Has the Perrier gone/ Straight to my head/ Or is life sick and cruel, instead?”


    55. “London”

    “Shoplifters of the World Unite” B-side (1987)

    On “London”, Moz assumes the role of a rotten Jiminy Cricket, by turns tempting his young ward-listeners with the promise of the jealousy-inducing life that awaits in the big city and then immediately undercutting the message with a well-timed “Do you think you’ve made the right decision this time?” As Morrissey sows doubt, Marr and co. become the chugging train and propel this uncharacteristically hard-charging song towards Euston Station and a life where the new arrivals will still be sad, but about more expensive things. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “You left your tired family grieving/ And you think they’re sad because you’re leaving/ But did you see jealousy in the eyes/ Of the ones who had to stay behind?”


    54. “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle”

    The Smiths (1984)

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    One of the first songs written by Marr and Morrissey, this track is both a horror movie and a love song, presenting a series of terrifying situations told in poetic alliterations. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “My life down I shall lie/ If the bogey-man should try/ To play tricks on your sacred mind/ To tease, torment, and tantalize”


    53. “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    The lead track from Strangeways, Here We Come sets the tone for the record’s advanced theatricality and expanded sonic palette with an unexpected trick: the complete lack of guitars. For his part, Moz continues his obsession with Oscar Wilde in ways both obvious and subtle; in addition to channeling the poet’s world-weary ennui, Moz also paraphrases his title from Wilde’s mother, whose poems about the potential of a republican takeover of Ireland mirrored The Smiths’ own spotlight-grabbing ambitions at the top of the record industry. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “And people who are uglier than you and I/ They take what they need, and just leave”


    52. “Unhappy Birthday”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    What a fun idea we have here: loathing somebody enough to turn their special day into an occasion for spite. In all seriousness, the beauty of “Unhappy Birthday” is that it refuses to take itself seriously at all. Outlandish lines like, “No, I’m gonna kill my dog,” show hints of a more mature Morrissey, willing to laugh at his own reputation even as he gamely strives to reinforce it. Strangeways, Here We Come is a more humorous album than it gets credit for, and songs like this one help to brighten its darker corners. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday/ ‘Cause you’re evil”


    51. “Girl Afraid”

    “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” B-side (1984)

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    “Girl Afraid” would appear to fall within the classic Smiths category of “songs about promiscuous sex,” but the second verse’s shift in gender makes it clear that it’s actually about another of Morrissey’s favorite topics: disconnect. This one wouldn’t be much more than a curiosity if it weren’t for Marr’s slinky, sinister guitar riff, which matches Moz’s subject matter like black on black. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Prudence never pays/ And everything she wants costs money”


    50. “Paint a Vulgar Picture”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    While this song fulfills all the misery requirements (lost love, feelings of profound inadequacy, etc.), it’s also a not-so-subtle jab at the record industry. The first few verses paint a disdainful image of company execs, criticizing them for greed and opportunism. It adds several layers of irony, as these companies were indeed greedy enough to release the track even though it insults them flat-out. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “You’re just the same as I am/ What makes most people feel happy/ Leads us headlong into harm”


    49. “Death at One’s Elbow”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    The whimsical organ on “Death at One’s Elbow” distinguishes this track as one of the more lighthearted entries in The Smiths’ discography. That is, until you look at the jealous lyrics Morrissey saw fit to accompany this jovial two-minute tune. –TJ Kleibhan

    Peak Morrissey: “Don’t come to the house tonight/ Because you’ll slip on the/ Trail of my bespattered remains”


    48. “I Don’t Owe You Anything”

    The Smiths (1984)

    If selfishness could be distilled, this song would be its purest form. The track is Morrissey’s ode to trying less, giving less, and caring less, and yet somewhere within his candid lyricism lies an inexplicable kernel of sympathy. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “I don’t owe you anything/ But you owe me something/ Repay me now”


    47. “These Things Take Time”

    “What Difference Does It Make?” B-side (1984)

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    The first line of this track is a reimagining of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which foreshadows the embattled attitude of the rest of the song. It also shows off some classic Smiths lyricism as Morrissey oscillates between subversive and referential. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “Vivid and in your prime/ You will leave me behind”


    46. “Never Had No One Ever”

    The Queen Is Dead (1986)

    How can you experience the anguish of heartbreak when no one’s ever taken the time to actually do the breaking? The unfulfillment of The Queen Is Dead’s “Never Had No One Ever” acts as a companion piece to the loss found one song prior on “I Know It’s Over”, but it’s by definition the weaker of the two emotions; Moz can sob all he wants, but even he knows that the real affecting lyrics come when there are no tears left to cry. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “I had a really bad dream/ It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days”


    45. “Unloveable”

    “Bigmouth Strikes Again” B-side (1986)

    What a wonderfully underrated song, pairing Marr’s endearingly lethargic upstrokes in the verse with Morrissey’s sly, self-deprecating sense of humor throughout. There might not be a funnier or more quotable line in The Smiths’ entire catalog than Moz’s riff on the goth uniform du jour, and it’s made better by the fact that he was probably poking fun at The Cure’s Robert Smith. The satire holds up decades later as ammunition to hurl at self-serious scene kids who can’t seem to remember that this stuff’s supposed to be fun. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “I wear black on the outside/ ‘Cause black is how I feel on the inside”


    44. “Accept Yourself”

    “This Charming Man” B-side (1983)

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    A rare bit of positivity from Morrissey, who spends most of the song coming to terms with his flaws while hoping another love interest might do the same. This excellent track was overshadowed due to its relegation to the B-side of “This Charming Man”, but “Accept Yourself” offers a similarly electrifying guitar riff and upbeat groove. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “I once had a dream, and it never came true/ And time is against me now/ Time is against me now”


    43. “Sweet and Tender Hooligan”

    Louder Than Bombs (1986)

    This song is so overtly whimsical it’s almost queasy; the repetition of the lyrics and jangling of guitars both contribute to the claustrophobia. When Morrissey repeats “free me” in the last verse, the emotion is tangible. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “In the midst of life, we are in death, etc./ In the midst of life, we are in debt”


    42. “Death of a Disco Dancer”

    Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

    You could spend hours theorizing who the title character in “Death of a Disco Dancer” is meant to represent, and many Smiths message board posters have (popular theories range from acid-house club kids to targeted gay men to victims of terrorist bombings in Ireland and elsewhere). If you did that, though, you might miss a creepy, freaked-out jam thundered along by some of Joyce’s best-ever drumming, as well as Moz’s main message: In a world like ours, the only person you can trust is yourself, and even that’s a maybe. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “And if you think peace/ Is a common goal/ That goes to show/ How little you know”


    41. “Stretch Out and Wait”

    “Shakespeare’s Sister” B-side (1985)

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    Another song about sex! Not quite a ballad and not quite a stomper, “Stretch Out and Wait” exists in a fertile middle ground of pop music, where there’s ample room for big hooks to flourish alongside some of the most poetic lyrics of Morrissey’s career. Let your puny body lie down, so this one can wash over you. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “God, how sex implores you/ To let yourself lose yourself”


    40. “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”

    The Queen Is Dead (1986)

    In the scheme of The Smiths’ catalog, this throwaway single is far from their most notable, but it does have major points of significance. It was only ever played live once at Brixton Academy in 1986, and it also serves as the album closer on The Queen Is Dead. Upon its release, critics were perplexed that the band would top off their most exhaustively genius album with such a playful, aimless song. –Mary Kate McGrath

    Peak Morrissey: “Send me the pillow/ The one you dream on/ I’ll send you mine”


    39. “I Want the One I Can’t Have”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

    Smiths-era Morrissey was rarely as conspicuous as he was on “I Want the One I Can’t Have”. This inevitable feeling of rejection from a potential love interest is the precise kind of heartstring that Moz masterfully seems able to pull with continual ease. –TJ Kleibhan

    Peak Morrissey: “A double-bed/ And a stalwart lover, for sure/ These are the riches of the poor”


    38. “Frankly, Mr. Shankly”

    The Queen Is Dead (1986)

    Can you imagine having Morrissey as an employee? You don’t have to on this lighthearted music-hall ditty that jars listeners out of their anxiousness after The Queen Is Dead’s namesake opener. Over a jaunty Rourke bass line, Moz takes out his frustrations with Rough Trade honcho Geoff Travis by launching into a deliciously barbed mock resignation. Those label issues never really went away, and Morrissey’s ruminations on the pursuit of fame and its attendant costs would only get deeper (and more vicious) when they moved to EMI for Strangeways, Here We Come. –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “But still I’d rather be famous/ Than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day”


    37. “Nowhere Fast”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

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    Morrissey’s made a career out of poking at the bruising ennui of everyday life, but nowhere does that stasis sound so active as “Nowhere Fast”. Against Joyce’s locomotive drums, Morrissey yearns to muster the courage to hop that passing train, tell off the Queen, or live a fully realized life. In the meantime, he recounts his “if only”s and “I’d like to”s until he’s in a full-on existential tizzy that’s almost manic in its indecisiveness.” –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “And when I’m lying in my bed/ I think about life/ And I think about death/ And neither one particularly appeals to me”


    36. “Reel Around the Fountain”

    The Smiths (1984)

    The lushness of “Reel Around the Fountain” showcases a mature sound that could easily be mistaken for a band far beyond their debut record. The Smiths showed on their first outing that Morrissey’s casual coolness toward love songs alongside Marr’s unperturbed scaling of the fretboard were a most infectious pairing. They would delightfully tweak this formula over and over as the band’s career progressed. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “Fifteen minutes with you/ I wouldn’t say no/ Oh, people see no worth in you/ Oh, but I do”


    35. “Shakespeare’s Sister”

    “Shakespeare’s Sister” Single (1985)

    A frenzied A-side single released to the public just a month after Meat Is Murder in spring of 1985, “Shakespeare’s Sister” has a tendency to get lost in the conversation about truly great Smiths songs. But it deserves a seat at the high table thanks to the throwback rock ‘n’ roll rhythm of Marr’s guitar, the air-locked tightness of Joyce’s drum fills, and the interwoven threads of cello and bass courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Rourke. For his part, Morrissey blitzes through a lyric sheet that stinks of suicide and owes a heavy debt to one of his favorite feminist works, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Young bones groan/ And the rocks below say/ “Throw your skinny body down, son”/ But I’m going to meet the one I love/ So please don’t stand in my way”


    34. “Rusholme Ruffians”

    Meat Is Murder (1985)

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    The Smiths are typically hailed as the combined genius of Morrissey and Marr, but the second track off Meat Is Murder was commandeered by Rourke. The groovy and compelling bass line struts with attitude in a way typically reserved for Morrissey’s stage theatrics. –TJ Kleibhan

    Peak Morrissey: “And though I walk home alone/ My faith in love is still devout”


    33. “Sheila Take a Bow”

    “Sheila Take a Bow” Single (1987)

    This one’s about as glam-rock as The Smiths ever got, following in the grand tradition of “Panic” with Joyce’s stomping drumbeat and Marr’s squealing slide guitars. The track’s Bowie-esque feel evidently struck a chord with the public, as it went on to become the highest-charting single of the band’s lifetime. Sheila take a bow, indeed. –Collin Brennan

    Peak Morrissey: “Is it wrong not to always be glad?/ No, it’s not wrong, but I must add/ How can someone so young/ Sing words so sad?”


    32. “Still Ill”

    The Smiths (1984)

    Morrissey’s brilliant use of imagery on “Still Ill” is curtailed by his own lovely moans and empathetic malaise. The version of this song that appears on the Hatful of Hollow compilation features a nice harmonica that sounds wildly inappropriate for a Smiths song and yet feels strangely at home in this instance. –TJ Kliebhan

    Peak Morrissey: “Under the iron bridge we kissed/ And although I ended up with sore lips/ It just wasn’t like/ The old days anymore”


    31. “Cemetry Gates”

    The Queen Is Dead (1986)

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    You don’t need “Cemetry Gates” to know that Morrissey was the type of teenager who hung out in graveyards with his friends. What you do need it for is a rare chance to see Moz comfortable in his own skin. Packed with references to Shakespeare, Wilde, and those melancholy Romantics, Morrissey’s ode to youthful days spent with friend Linder Sterling actually does feel like a sonic approximation of Morrissey’s perfect Sunday. It even gives him the chance to take the piss out of himself: just before he chastises the listener about the perils of plagiarism, Moz lifts the entire passage about “all those people [and] all those lives,” without citation, from The Man Who Came to Dinner. Ha! –Tyler Clark

    Peak Morrissey: “A dreaded sunny day/ So let’s go where we’re wanted/ And I meet you at the cemetery gates”


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