Why “Rubber Ring” Is the Best Song Ever

The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs1. That riff. The funkiest little thing Johnny Marr has ever come up with?

2. It’s written from the point of view of a song. Its narrator is the song itself.

3. In the corner of your room, can you hear me?


4. That dervish of an organ fill that comes in right after Morrissey says, “Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.”

5. When I was 17, I never would have believed that one day I would think of the Smiths as being corny and melodramatic.

6. Do you love me like you used to?

7. When I was 27, I never would have believed that one day I would realize that I had been right about the Smiths when I was 17. Well, maybe not 100% right, but pretty much.

8. But don’t forget the songs that made you smile and the songs that made you cry when you lay in awe on the bedroom floor and said, “Oh smother me, Mother…”

9. “Rubber Ring” employs the looped samples and noise in its cacophonous finale in a way that puts Wilco’s “Poor Places” to shame. Well, maybe not to shame, but I would be willing to bet that “Rubber Ring” is what Tweedy and Bennett were going for…

10. As originally released in September 1985 on the b-side of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” twelve-inch, it fades into the song, “Asleep.”

11. You are sleeping. You do not want to believe.

12. That sample was recorded by Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive, who claimed to be able to record the voices of the dead in his 1971 book, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead.

13. There is another world. There is a better world. There must be.

14. Everybody’s clever nowadays.

15. It is truly a sad fact that most people eventually grow out of the music that kept them alive as teenagers. The issues that bother teens are very real and serious. Grownups think kids’ problems are trivial and silly and that the kids are being overdramatic, but the grownups are wrong. That shit’s serious. It’s more serious than the stock market or the mortgage payment or that new promotion or whatever mundane bullshit adults get all worked up over. Those sad, strongly affected songs help us sort out our feelings and put them in a context we are just starting to understand.

16. Yes, you’re older now and you’re a clever swine, but they were the only ones who ever stood by you.

17. And now, listening to the music with fresh ears after several years of hating everything about my teenage self, I can cut myself—and Morrissey—a little slack. We were all right. A little goofy, sure, but who isn’t?

18. I remember my Hitachi dual-cassette deck with stickers all over it playing Louder Than Bombs, while I sat on my bedroom floor, listening.

19. My first Smiths tape was made for me by a guy from my French class named Jeff Young. Meat is Murder on one side, and the just-released Queen is Dead on the other.

20. Later that summer, Jeff and some friends drove to Chicago to see the Smiths on the Queen Is Dead tour. They had invited me, but I didn’t go. I hadn’t listened to the tape much yet, and besides, my mom probably wouldn’t have let me go anyway.

21. The passing of time and all of its crimes is making me sad again.

22. By the time I got ahold of a tape of Louder Than Bombs in the spring of 1987, I was already a big Smiths fan.

23. Again, it was a taped copy. It was taped for my girlfriend by a guy in her community theater group who had said he didn’t care who he would have to sleep with to get his Equity Card. He filled the extra room on the 90-minute tape with the b-sides of the “Panic” and “Ask” twelve-inches.

24. One of the reasons my girlfriend and I broke up is that I was obsessed with the Smiths. I remember arguing about the lyrics of “Sweet and Tender Hooligan.” She thought Morrissey was saying, “In the midst of life we are in death,” and I knew it was “in debt.”

25. I can remember a spot on that tape where it got all warbly because I spilled something on it. Probably bubbles. We were into blowing bubbles at that time. “These Things Take Time.” The next track played fine though.

26. The next track is “Rubber Ring.”

27. Years later when I got my first Mac, one of the first things I did was figure out how to loop bits of songs. One of my first loops was “Peace Frog” by the Doors. Another one was “Rubber Ring.” When I got my second Mac, those sound files wouldn’t play anymore.

28. I got Johnny Marr’s autograph after the The The show in Royal Oak, Michigan. I almost fainted. Earlier that day, I bought a guitar. Afterwards, I kissed a girl I had just met.

29. I’m not sure when I first started being embarrassed about the Smiths. Sometime in college. Sometime after I discovered Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, Funkadelic, Mike Nesmith, marijuana, CCR, Neil Diamond and hip hop.

30. Don’t forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life.

31. Recently, I’ve come back around. I no longer wallow in adolescent melodrama when I listen to the Smiths. Now it’s more of a celebratory thing. The music perfectly captures the exuberance and anxiety of being a teenager.

32. And now that I’m dancing and laughing and finally living, I hear that voice in my head and think of it kindly.

33. And I do love those songs like I used to. Well, maybe not exactly like I used to. Now my relationship with the Smiths is more mature, more understanding, and a lot healthier. We laugh together and have fun. We ride the train to work in the morning together and go for long drives on the weekends.

32 thoughts on “Why “Rubber Ring” Is the Best Song Ever”

  1. Jake, do you know what venue the Smiths played in Chicago on that tour for ‘Queen is Dead’? And what about Royal Oak? Were they at what is now called the Royal Oak Music Theatre (which has Twisted Sister booked for 11/1)?

  2. Personally, I always thought Morrisey and The Smiths were sort of laughing out of one corner of their mouths. I think they wondered how far they could take it and still come across as serious.

    At any rate, no one should be embarassed for loving them – they’re a great band!

  3. Johnny, on the 1986 Queen is Dead tour they played the the Fox Theater and the Aragon Ballroon in Chicago, but nothing in Detroit. They did however play the Royal Oak Theater on the 1985 Meat is Murder tour.

    PS – This info comes from the Gigography at http://www.passionsjustlikemine.com/ which is a really great source of Smiths info…

  4. i am fairly certain that 3rd Bass used that same sample “you are sleeping you do not want to believe” on ‘the cactus album’ somewhere. i oft used to wonder if the guys in 3rd bass were smiths fans. yes, i had some free time on my hands.

  5. Ay, dahlings…how’z it been?

    Now I am kicking myself for not having bought Louder Than Bombs on my recent trip to Mexico, where they were being sold for USD $9.90 a pop, which isn’t half bad, if you axe me. I purchased TQID and Singles instead, despite the latter having a hefty import price tag. Yet it had to be done. You understand…I had already become a fan…But I digress…Back in high school, my teenage mind wouldn’t have soaked in the essence of their music, for the obvious reasons. For some reason, this time I came from a fresh perspective and was willing to give the music a chance, because I had been hearing raving praise directed towards TQID for a while now. And it just captivated me from the first listen. I had found a new favorite band.

    28. I’m not sure when I first started being embarrassed about the Smiths. Sometime in college. Sometime after I discovered Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, Funkadelic, Mike Nesmith, marijuana, CCR, Neil Diamond and hip hop.

    Funny thing, I’m almost done with college (well, um, kinda), and only now at 21 (I entered college at the tender age of 17, it just happens) and long after indulging in all of the above mentioned culprits’ tuneage, it is now that I’m able to appreciate the Smiths’ music within and outside of its context. It just makes that much more sense to me than it ever could have made before. You gotta remember the Smiths were no longer teenagers when making their music.

    30. Recently, I’ve come back around. I no longer wallow in adolescent melodrama when I listen to the Smiths. Now it’s more of a celebratory thing. The music perfectly captures the exuberance and anxiety of being a teenager.

    For me, it’s both, really. I’m still young! (or fool myself into thinking that!)

    5. When I was 17, I never would have believed that one day I would think of the Smiths as being corny and melodramatic.

    Me, I think this was the whole point, in regards to their image, and one of the things that made them great and unique in the first place. They were undeniably and defiantly CAMP, and they were (particularly Morrissey) quite cheeky about it, which makes for a great contrast with the deadly sincere concerns addressed in the lyrics, provoking such extreme reactions in those who listen. They had a sense of humor about being miserable, which as a result bestowed their fandom with a lift, a renewed sense of confidence (i.e. they were not in it alone) that kept them going. As the listener sinks to the lowest depths, the music benefits from an enhanced relevance. Like for me, I was supposed to go to Mexico for a semester, but only lasted a month. I got the shits so bad, I almost came back in a casket. No shit. (bad pun, i know)

    Listening to the Smiths on my Walkman while I wallowed in my hospital bed was pretty f”n fitting, I gotta say. I lost about 20 pounds in a week, which helped the beer belly, thankfully. I ended up dropping out (second time!) and after two weeks of rest and on heavy antibiotics, I am starting to recover. This is good, though, since I get an extended “vacation” because of it.

    It must be said I haven’t listened to the Smiths in a week now, but I’m fond of the memories we cherished and it will remain as such for a long time to be, until the next time, of course. Hopefully, it will be soon enough. But how soon is now? (BOOM-SHA-KA-LA-KA!)

    Fuck being clever. Here’s the Smiths.

  6. It’s funny, Jake. Seems like every time you and I get together there is some amount of conversation regarding The Smiths. I too have swung back and forth on the pendulum of Smiths & Morrissey fandom.

    I still love every song. Even Meat Is Murder!

    I don’t really own that jean jacket. That was all a scam…..

    Peace

  7. I guess Rubber Ring was the third song i heard fom The Smiths. There was a time i thought it was the greatest song i had ever heard and i stil love it. It´s a pity that Rubber Ring is separated of Asleep on cd versions. The end of it to the start of Asleep always impressed me.

    Fuck Clapton! Johnny is God!

  8. Right on. I hate people who classify The Smiths as simply ultra-depressing, whiny, teen music. Songs like “Rubber Ring,” “Panic,” and “The Queen is Dead” are also as devastingly angry as the Sex Pistols, as politically conscious as The Clash, as snotty as The Fall, and as smart as Gang of Four. The Smiths were the culmination of one of Brit-rock’s many Golden Ages.

  9. Ha! # 28 takes the cake. That sounds like the best day of your life!

    I too recently listened to Louder Than Bombs & The Queen Is Dead after a few years on the shelf and was astonished how good The Smiths still are.

    Especially “This Night Has Opened My Eyes . . .

    …and I will never sleep again.”

  10. ahh, the smiths. old times, good times & bad. i caught a maracca that morrissey tossed into the audience at a show and gave it to a girl who i was with.

  11. Always love getting into a discussion about the Smiths. “Louder than Bombs” stays on my permanent roation. Also, The first line of the song can’t be left out: “A sad fact widely known/ The most impassioned songs/ To a lonely soul/ Are so easily outgrown.”

    Brilliant band, that’s all I can say.

  12. Yeah, that’s a right cool article…and now I must cower in shame because I haven’t heard much of the Smiths. *hides in corner*

    I do hope I won’t be embarrassed of my teenage music. I want to listen to the White Stripes, and all my other stuff for the rest of my life.

  13. I’ve never been embarressed of loving “The Smiths”, and never will be. They’ve done nothing but inspire me since my senior year in high school. 1989, by the way.

  14. Great article here. Yeah, the Smiths could seem a bit ridiculous at times, but they also could seem amazing as well. I almost got my ass kicked in the 8th grade for wearing my Queen is Dead shirt. Wonder what happened to that asshole? Probably works at burger king.

  15. I still think The Smiths are an amazing band. Morrissey is still the love of my teenage life and I don’t care how silly it is. It keeps me young. Thanks for the fun article.

  16. i dont really gravitate towards the HIP HOP music of today or any of the wanna be punk bands—-and or sum 41, new found glory,avril lavign —i was born in 86.i sometimes wish i was born in the 70′s so i could of enjoyed the 80′s—-i mostly like THE SMITHS-the cure-depeche mode-violent femmes—-people think i have a OBSESSION with morrissey /the smiths–i do but its not that BAD!!!! my 26yr old sis got me into the smiths. I AM NOT ASHAMED TO SAY I LOVE THE SMITHS!!!!!!!!!–most poeple my age have no clue who the smiths are.

  17. Your article made me giggle, Jake. Your wretched high school obsession with the Smiths almost cost a lovely little girl I’ll call Bean and me the delights of fried hot dogs and cheese balls for lunch.

  18. So is the song about a condom or am I just being overtly weird? It’s probably the latter, I hear that a lot.

    Great article, “Louder Than Bombs” stands tall as the album that made me realize that Ralph Tresvant wasn’t as wildly talented as I held him up to be at that point. And, to this day, there is no band in the world that I’d rather see reunited than The Smiths.

  19. Mark, I always assumed the title referred to the lifesaver-type floaty thing that they throw you when you fall overboard from a boat. Get it? The songs that save your life…

  20. I just turned 36 on Monday and I’ve never stopped listening to the music of of my teen years: The Smiths, Love and Rockets, 7 Seconds, Bad Brains, JFA, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, etc.

    In fact I have a radio station that plays it all.

    http://www.davidbean.net/radio

    Also, even though it’s the most popular Smith song, I think “How Soon is Now?” has got to be the best Smiths song ever. From the haunting guitar riffs Johnny plays to the opening lyrics:

    “I am the son and the heir to a shyness that is criminaly vulger.”

    and

    “There’s a club where you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you.

    So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own

    And you go home and you cry and you want to die.”

  21. Good article. With times passing, i don’t consider the smiths as before. There’s was certainly some indulgency and self-pity in morrissey’s lyrics but remenber the madness around the singer johnny Ray. It was the same feelings expressed as Morrissey. For me, the smiths are above all a great rock’n’roll band:for example, take the fantastic instrumental on “rank”, “the draize train”. When you hear that,isn’t it as fabulous as when you listened for the first time at seventeen?

  22. Probably the single best piece of storytelling I have ever read about a person’s experience with The Smiths. I, too, am a recovering addict who has come to realize that there are some things worth falling off the wagon for. Though Louder Than Bombs was my first, Strangeways Here We Come will always be my favorite….Thanks for the article. I’m sending it to everyone I know. Well, the ones who are cooler enough to get The Smiths anyway…

  23. Amazing what you stumble upon when you’re not looking for it. I was actually on this site reading an article on the unfortunate and untimely death of Eliott Smith last tuesday. I was just listening to “Rubber Ring”, on repeat mind you, on my way home from class today, remembering what a great song it is and how much the Smiths encompassed my entire life at one point. At 20 it’s still a reflection of my leftover adolescent angst. Not ashamed to say so.

  24. I was driving into work this morning marvelling again (for the umpteenth time over 15 years or so) at the brilliance of this track and loving the way the band just soar effortlessly during the coda while those loops are telling you that “you are sleeping .. you do not want to believe” and I thought “I wonder if anyone else feels the same way about that song” I’m glad to find that someone does. While we’re talking about superb Smiths moments, probably my favourite would be the original version of “Still Ill”, (the version on Hatfull of Hollow, which is superior to the version on “The Smiths”). I don’t think I’ve ever heard more evocative lyrics than:

    under the iron bridge we kissed, and although I ended up with sore lips, it just wasn’t like the old days anymore, no it wasn’t like those days

    To me, in this song Morrissey expresses so much about being young and yearning for something authentic in life which, in the 80′s, you felt had slipped away and belonged to another time. He had such a poetic and lyrical way of putting his finger on the things that were most important in life (like you said, things other than .. stock market or the mortgage payment or that new promotion or whatever mundane bullshit).

    It’s pretty amazing now, listening back to Morrissey from 15 or 20 years ago asking “Do you love me like you used to?” Yes, I still love the Smiths, and always will.

  25. Wooooo.

    At 45 later this week, I still dig the Smiths and all the attached feelings. Great college stuff (I went late in my life)and even greater leisure music for sure. What ever happened to Morrissey, just can’t keep up and always thought he had the “voice” to take him to the top of the “standards” tunes if he went for it.

    Great read, never went to this site before, will have to pop in my favorite, “I know it’s over”, tomorrow

  26. “And now that I’m dancing and laughing and finally living, I hear that voice in my head and think of it kindly.”

    Amen.

  27. There is another sample on this recording (which I bought when it came out)……..’what’s your name? What’s your name? Etc etc. This is from the WW2 drama In Which We Serve, starring Noel Coward. Very Moz……. I like it as it is one of the very few Johnny Marr guitar parts which is both a) in standard tuning and b) playable by a human being.

  28. “4. That dervish of an organ fill that comes in right after Morrissey says, “Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.”

    Not an organ, but Morrissey cupping his hands over the microphone and going “WHOOOSH” to imitate the sound of a “lift shaft” (elevator shaft)

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