Happy Anniversary: The Smiths, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”

Friday, January 26, 2018
Happy Anniversary: The Smiths, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”

31 years ago today, The Smiths released a song which featured sleeve art that led many of those not in the know to see teenagers purchasing a copy of the single and ask, “So you’re an Elvis fan, eh?”

Okay, sure, maybe they did have an appreciation for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but that’s not why they were buying “Shoplifters of the World Unite.” Frankly, with a title like that, record shop owners were probably just glad that they were even taking the time to buy it.

In an interview on the TV series The Tube, Morrissey clarified that listeners who might be inspired to utilize the so-called “five-finger discount” should not take the song literally. “[It does] not literally mean picking up a loaf of bread or a watch and sticking it in your coat pocket,” he said. “It's more or less spiritual shoplifting, cultural shoplifting, taking things and using them to your own advantage."

Although fans were later able to secure a copy on THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN in the UK and LOUDER THAN BOMBS in the US, “Shoplifters of the World Unite” didn’t originally appear on an album, instead emerging as a standalone single, not unlike a number of other songs issued by The Smiths during the course of their career. Oh, and regarding the single’s cover art, the photo of Elvis Presley as a fledgling rocker was taken by James R. Reid, who was The King’s hairdresser, and it was his very first press shot.

“Shoplifters of the World Unite” climbed to #12 on the UK Singles chart, but it did slightly better in Ireland, where it made its way into the top 10, eventually hitting #7. Of course, it didn’t chart in America, but at least we know why: they just hadn’t earned it yet, baby.

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