I have a bit of history with The Last Of The International Playboys, more so than with any other Morrissey song.
I received Now That’s What I Call Music 14 for my 10th birthday (a quick note for non-UK readers, the ‘Now…’ series were compilations of popular songs in the charts, and started off as (I believe) annual issues, becoming more frequent over time. I’m writing in the past tense although I believe they still come out semi-regularly, but I’ve paid little or no attention to them for many, many years, because they say nothing to me about my life (as someone once sang)).
I had to check to be sure, and it must have been my 10th birthday as the compilation went on sale about a fortnight before the big day (double figures and everything).
Oddly, I can vividly remember listening and re-listening and re-re-listening to the first tape time after time, and almost all those songs stick with me today, but remember pretty much nothing about tape two. I also remember the cover art, and how it came in one of those two-tape boxes which had a hinge in the middle, opening up like some kind of cheap, communist-era eastern European aeroplane toy… Ah, nostalgia…
But worry not about my limited memory of the complete opus, for tape one contained, yes, The Last Of The International Playboys by Morrissey.
The 10-year-old me picked up on two of Mozzer’s cultural references in particular. I didn’t really get what a ‘playboy’ was (international or domestic), but my mate Darren who lived over the road had bedcovers emblazoned with the Playboy logo and name (what the hell were his parents thinking?), not that I had the slightest inkling who Hugh Hefner was, nor how the bunny logo was reflected back in real life. Of course, I did know what ‘famous’ meant, and seem to remember cobbling together an assumption that a ‘playboy’ must be a man who had a good time of things.
But what really stood out for me were the following passages:
“Reggie Kray, do you know my name?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do…
Ronnie Kray, do you know my face?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do”
Even at that tender age I had somewhere picked up the awareness that the Kray twins were Very Bad Men. I even remember being aware of the ‘but they looked after their old mum’ line that often seemed to suffix tales about them (and I might be imagining this, but I’m pretty sure I already saw this line as being idiotic in the extreme).
So who was this Morrissey bloke, and why did he seem to want recognition from a couple of nasty men, while at the same time boasting about being the last swinger in town? Also, why had he ended up in prison?
“In our lifetime those who kill
The news world hands them stardom
And these are the ways
On which I was raised…
I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
Such things I do
Just to make myself more attractive to you
Have I failed?”
Ah. That’s why.
I didn’t fully appreciate the attempts at social commentary and derision of the media, and the homosexual undertones passed me by, but the desperate, blame-ducking self-justification seemed to strike a chord. As did the bold, strident guitars and drums, and squiggly keyboards.
I can’t say I loved it, but it certainly intrigued the hell out of me for as long as I listened to Now…14 tape 1 on near-permanent loop.
About 10 years later I had plunged head-long into the complete oeuvre of The Smiths and Morrissey and re-discovered this song. It all came back to me, and, by now much better acquainted with Moz’s worldview, I loved it (I even managed to find the tape at the bottom of my old wardrobe in my Mum and Dad’s house). It’s still one of my all-time favourites of Morrissey’s, and I can now recognise it as the pop-tastic, playful, cheeky, slightly edgy record it was all along.