At the record company meeting
On their hands - a dead star
And oh, the plans they weave
And oh, the sickening greed

At the record company party
On their hands - a dead star
The sycophantic slags all say :
"I knew him first, and I knew him well"

Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra track (and a tacky badge)

A-list, playlist
"Please them , please them !"
"Please them !"
(sadly, this was your life)

But you could have said no
If you'd wanted to
You could have said no
If you'd wanted to

"Please them ! Please then!"
(sadly this was your life)

But you could have said no
If you'd wanted to
You could have walked away
...Couldn't you?

I touched you at the soundcheck
You had no real way of knowing
In my heart I begged "Take me with you ...
I don't care where you're going..."

But to you I was faceless
I was fawning, I was boring
Just a child from those ugly new houses
Who could never begin to know

Who could never really know

Best of! Most of!
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and feel deceived

Climber - new entry, re-entry
World tour! ("media whore")
"Please the Press in Belgium!"
(This was your life...)

And when it fails to recoup ?
Well, maybe :
You just haven't earned it yet, baby

I walked a pace behind you at the soundcheck
You're just the same as I am
What makes most people feel happy
Leads us headlong into harm

So, in my bedroom in those 'ugly new houses'
I danced my legs down to the knees
But me and my 'true love'
Will never meet again...

At the record company meeting
On their hands - at last! - A dead star !
But they can never taint you in my eyes
No, they can never touch you now

No, they cannot hurt you, my darling
They cannot touch you now
But me and my 'true love'
Will never meet again

Lyrics submitted by weezerific:cutlery, edited by Mellow_Harsher

Paint a Vulgar Picture Lyrics as written by Johnny Marr Steven Morrissey

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Paint a Vulgar Picture song meanings
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  • +7
    General Comment

    As many have said, this song is a great summation of the music biz. It is also a great summation of Morrissey and the Smiths recording careers, minus the death. I know some may say, 'well, reissues and repacking is in the hands of the record companies'. Well, even if Morrissy and Marr 'couldn't have said no' they could at least of spoken out against it right? In fact, the latest Morrissey release is a compilation of his recent b-sides, with no new material whatsover, which Morrissey is actively promoting. So does he want his fans to buy his singles or not? Or does he want them to re-purchase them all with a nifty new photograph of himself on front?

    Paint a Vulgar Picture is a Wilde quote and also seems to refer to Wilde's novel the Portrait of Dorian Gray. The protagonist of that novel sells his soul to keep his youth and beauty and pledges to lead a life of sin and debauchery in return. A beautiful portrait that an artist has done of him will age instead and reflect the true state of Dorian's soul- which is as ugly as the sins he commits. The Dorian story is a very apt reference for the recording industry. When an artist is young, they seem to be more pure- in it for the art than the money (though not as true these days). The fans want to believe in this image. Its the commonly held stereotype that the more successful a person becomes in the recording industry, the more corrupt they inevitably become- due to wealth and the general environement of the music industry. The record companies themselves add a lot of stress and pressure to the artists, which can lead them to all sorts of bad choices. However, the record companies attempt to maintain an artist's pristine image so they will remain popular with the fans- so they hide the needles, stash bottles and cover up the embarrassing stories. The beautiful public image is maintained, while the artists private selves are secretly decaying. As an artist inevitably falls out of favor, retires, or dies, the recordings themselves eventually get corrupted through endless reissuing and repackaging- becoming little more than widgets for the companies to squeeze more $$ out of. And of course, the biographies and tell alls come out about the corrupted and morally bankrupt stars- leading the fans to either become horribly disillusioned or, as in the song, leaving the fan to sadly cling on to the artists previously manufactured image or their ideal of what the artist was when they began their career.

    BillyBuddon December 12, 2009   Link
  • +4
    My Interpretation

    I created an account just to give my interpretation of this song.

    Well, for me, Morrisey is imagining how everyone will react to his own death, like the record companies will celebrate that they have a dead star on their hands, the "sycophantic slags" will claim to have known him well, and all the sales will be soaring.

    Then he goes on to re-examine his present life from a rather self-loathing point of view, like he was constantly being told to please everyone, and he repeats himself that it was his choice, he could have walked out if he had wanted to, so he has no excuse.

    Also, for me, when we talks about touching someone at the soundcheck, I think it is literal, like he saw a person, a complete stranger, and he imagined he/she was exactly like him ("you are the same as I am"). And could have saved him, taking him away from all that life he dreaded so much, and he walked behind him/her, and hoped that somehow he/she would know, know what an agony he was living in. But as he/she did not notice, he interpreted it as another blow to his self-esteem, thinking "to you I was faceless I was fawning, I was boring" And then he goes home and tries to remain happy ("I danced my legs down to my knees") but he cant help thinking that himself and his "true love" would never meet again. Still he comfort himself by thinking that in his mind he/she will not be corrupted like he was by record companies and fame (we could assume the stranger was involved in the music business, given that he'd seen him/her at a soundcheck), "but they can never taint you in my eyes" To him he/she will always be some undefiled version of himself.

    Agustina17on February 15, 2013   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    I still remember the announced press-conference in Belgium with The Smiths. Every newspaper and magazine had sent their journalists and photographers, and they were all been gathering in the hotel in Brussels but at the right time Morrissey, nor the others didn't turn up. It ended with furious articles in the press, about the snobby attitude of Morrissey, and with 'official' apologies from the record company stating to demand explications of the band.

    A few months later the Smiths gave a personal comment to the press in Belgium in this song about being a toy in the hands of greedy businessmen, and being told to 'please the press in Belgium'...

    What a band!...

    patfrombelgiumon September 17, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    You can find a bit more context in the demo versions of this song, which included some extra lyrics.

    "At the record company party, on their hands at last! a dead star. Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge. And they paint a vulgar picture of the way they say that you were but they can never really hurt you my darling, they can never touch you now".

    And there was another verse that ultimately made way for the guitar solo.

    "Anecdotes and stories / "Oh yes we were so close you know" / So why did the body lie for seven days / before someone passed his way?"

    And here's what Morrissey said about it in 1988.

    "No, it wasn't about Rough Trade at all. So I was a bit confused when Geoff Travis, the Rough Trade big boy, despised it and stamped on it. It was about the music industry in general, about practically anybody who's died and left behind that frenetic fanatical legacy which sends people scrambling. Billy Fury, Marc Bolan..."

    davidaon June 19, 2021   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    Morrissey tells us how the record company truely operates. Eating you up and spitting you up. The dead star, perhaps Morrissey was preparing us for the Smith's breakup?

    mourninggloryon July 03, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    This song gives me the chills, given Moz's current situation-- reissue, repackage, repackage!" Until he releases new stuff, the record co's that own the older will doubtlessly give us "Best ofs Morrissey"-- and there's not a damn thin ghe can do about it. The irony is that this song was directed at the larger labels (I believe the SMiths were on Rough Trade, a smaller label when this was written) and now Moz refuses to sign with a smaller label, though he has a full CD recorded. AAARGH!!

    jenwill2on March 12, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    "You just haven't earned it yet, baby" -Geoff Travis

    "Paint a vulgar picture" -Oscar Wilde

    marquiceriseon December 28, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    'y did the smiths breakup?'

    Band tensions had been running high for a long time, especially since Johnny Marr preferred to have John Porter as the producer, while Morrissey preferred Stephen Street. Morrissey was accused of sabotaging a few songs, such as Ask, and it apparantly started to get unworkable. They were forced to take on a new manager who (for reasons I can't remember) they couldn't work with at all, and so he was fired and replaced by Johnny Marr, who eventually got sick of it and decided to take a break. However, they then had to record b-sides for the Girlfriend In A Coma single, and they got in an argument because Morrissey wanted to (and eventually did) do a Cilla Black cover. Marr left the band, and they eventually decided to split up rather than attempt to replace him.

    If anyone else wants to correct me on any points there, go ahead.

    infotainment_ladon February 19, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Fav. Smiths song of all time (for right now!).

    BillyBudd has it on the spot. First of all, Morrissey already talks about the subtle cruelty of the record companies. Secondly, if you have read the lyrics of Cemetry Gates, you would know Moz is a fan of Wilde. This interpretation fits the song perfectly.

    PaintAVulgarPicon March 28, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Great song. It sums up the music business well I think. It's a shot at them more than anything. The star has to live to please the fans and the record company just wants to milk everything it can out of them.

    mb2621on July 16, 2011   Link

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