Who was The Smiths' The Boy With The Thorn In His Side about?

16 September 2021, 14:00

The classic Smiths single from 1985 has a rather obscure lyric... just who IS the boy that Morrissey sings about?

“The boy with the thorn in his side, behind the hatred there lies / A murderous desire for love…”

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was the tenth single to be released by The Smiths on 16 September 1985. It followed the release of Meat Is Murder and arrived long before its inclusion on the classic album The Queen Is Dead the following year.

Thanks to the band’s huge fanbase - and a memorable appearance on Top Of The Pops - the single charted at Number 23 in the UK. But who was the "boy" of the title?

The Smiths - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side single cover
The Smiths - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side single cover. Picture: Press

Around the time the single appeared in the shops, Morrissey was interviewed by actress Margi Clarke (then best known for the film Letter To Brezhnev, now better known as Tyrone’s mum in Coronation Street) for the Channel 4 music show The Tube.

The pair were old friends from the post-punk scene and Clarke thought she had the inspiration for the song nailed.

Clarke thought that The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was inspired by the Oscar Wilde story, The Nightingale And The Rose, in which a bird sacrifices its life to give a young man a rose to woo his sweetheart with: “The thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.”

“No, that's not true,” Morrissey told Clarke. “The thorn is the music industry and all these people who never believe anything I said, tried to get rid of me, wouldn't play the records.

“So I think we've reached a stage where we feel… if they don't believe me now, will they ever believe me? You know, what more can a poor boy do?”

Morrissey performing live with The Smiths,12 March 1984
Morrissey performing live with The Smiths,12 March 1984. Picture: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

Despite having a hit single in the charts, Morrissey and his songwriting partner Johnny Marr felt that they were not being served well by their label Rough Trade. But on top of this was the burden of stardom that the singer was struggling with.

He told Clarke: “I wanted [fame] for so long and now I’ve got it. Isn’t that odd? The strangest thing in the world is when you get what you really pray for.”

Needless to say, the NME were not impressed by the new Smiths single. Reviewer Richard Cook noted: “Seems like Morrissey himself gives up on the song half-way through when he stops the words and uses up the rest of the needletime with yodelling.”