In the February 1985 edition of the NME, Morrissey answered a questionnaire.
BEST GROUP: James
MALE SINGER: Pete Burns
FEMALE SINGER: Tracey Thorn
BEST NEW ACT: Shock Headed Peters
BEST SINGLE: ‘Nu Au Soleil’ – Ludus
BEST LP: ‘Fried’ – Julian Cope
BEST SONGWRITER: Don’t be silly
BEST DRESSED SLEEVE: ‘Jean’s Not Happening’ – Pale Fountains
CREEP OF THE YEAR: Sade
MOST WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING: John Walters
TV SHOW: ‘Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’
RADIO SHOW: Richard Skinner
FILM: ‘The Dresser’
SOUL ACT: Nico
REGGAE ACT: Reggae is vile
INSTRUMENTALIST: Johnny Marr
BEST DRESSED: Linder
PROMO VIDEO: All videos are vile
It was a joke answer, but a year later, in the Melody Maker, September 1986, Frank Owen had written:
“Pop has never been this divided,” wrote Simon Reynolds in his much-lauded, recent piece on the indie scene, referring to the chasm that now exists between indie-pop and black pop. The detestation that your average indie fan feels for black music can be gauged by the countless letters they write to the music press whenever a black act is featured on the front page. It’s a bit like the late Sixties all over again with a burgeoning Head culture insisting that theirs’ is the “real” radical music, an intelligent and subversive music that provides an alternative to the crude showbiz values of black pop. Morrissey has further widened this divide with the recent single, Panic – where “Metal Guru” meets the most explicit denunciation yet of black pop. “Hang the DJ” urges Morrissey. So is the music of The Smiths and their ilk racist, as Green claims?
There was no evidence at all that Panic was about hanging Black DJs and disco could mean any nightclub or school dance. It’s also not clear how much of the paragraph was part of the conversation, or what exact question Frank posed, but this was Morrissey’s answer:
“Reggae, for example, is to me the most racist music in the entire world. It’s an absolute total glorification of black supremacy… There is a line when defence of one’s race becomes an attack on another race and, because of black history and oppression, we realise quite clearly that there has to be a very strong defence. But I think it becomes very extreme sometimes… But, ultimately, I don’t have very cast iron opinions on black music other than black modern music which I detest. I detest Stevie Wonder. I think Diana Ross is awful. I hate all those records in the Top 40 – Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston. I think they’re vile in the extreme. In essence this music doesn’t say anything whatsoever.”
This was seen as evidence that Morrissey hated all black people, as if all black people are compelled to like reggae or Janet Jackson.
In fact, I’m not sure how journalists can claim that it’s racist to hate a genre of music without it occurring to them that it’s racist to associate a genre of music with everyone who shares a skin colour.
And aside from that, he wasn’t wrong. Sometimes reggae could be extreme.
It was associated with Rastafarianism, a religion that does believe (however literally) that white people are inferior and black people are destined to rule the world.
And with black power, which had its share of grifters, like Michael X, a minor criminal, who was deported from the UK for inciting racial hatred of white people and went on to be hanged for murdering two socialites in Trinidad in 1975…
It also had a homophobic side that would become more and more overtly violent as the 80s and 90s wore on.
Shabba Ranks wanted gay people to be crucified.
The homophobic murder of a gay man in London was linked to Sizzla, then touring the UK, whose lyrics have included the phrase “Shoot queers, my big gun goes boom”.
The black supremacy comment was conflated with his joke about Reggae being vile, and his ‘detestation’ of black modern music – defined by Frank Owen, as anything danceable in the charts, and summed by Morrissey as 80s Diana Ross, 80s Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston.
But he didn’t hate Reggae.
I once said Reggae is vile, did I? Well, several tongue-in-cheek things were said in those days, which, when placed in cold print, lost their humorous quality. This track, along with Double Barrel and Young, Gifted and Black, were staple necessities to me. (Word, June 2003)
When he curated a list of influences, he included ska track, Swan Lake, by the Cats.
And picked Young, Gifted and Black as one of his favourite singles of all time.