Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Song of the Day: 'When You Close Your Eyes' by Morrissey

This one is a most-unexpected number that was included on Morrissey's 2019 covers album, "California Son" -- the Smiths singer's rendition of "When You Close Your Eyes," a beloved album track Carly Simon wrote with Billy Mernit for "No Secrets" (1972). Carly is a prolific and autonomous songwriter, so I've always been intrigued by the rare songs on which she collaborated. ("You Belong to Me" was another, with Michael McDonald.) The Doobie Brother wasn't available, but lucky for me Mr. Mernit had some time to talk about today's SOTD:

KIT212: In 2019, Morrissey recorded an album of covers that included "When You Close Your Eyes," a song you wrote with Carly that appeared on her biggest studio album, "No Secrets." What do you remember about writing that song?

Billy Mernit: Carly and I used to like to sit at the piano and play four-handed, especially when we were writing together; you can hear us doing this on the track “Love Out in the Street” on the “Playing Possum” album. She had an entire first verse and chorus of “When You Close Your Eyes” written and we were working on additional lyrics for it. Really what the song lacked was a bridge. We played the chorus, and Carly said, “What we need here is a big surprise,” so I just banged my hands down on a different chord, and sang “Big surprise!...” and we both cracked up -- but it worked! That is exactly how the bridge begins on the record, and you can imagine how tickled I was to hear Richard Perry’s big string section come in there.

KIT212: When did you first learn of the Smiths singer's version and what did you think of it? 

Billy Mernit: As for Morrissey’s cover, I was completely blindsided. I only found out about it when someone who’d done an “unofficial video” for the track sent it to me. I think it’s great; the tune really fits the crooner side of his voice, and the production’s sweet. What makes me laugh is that back in the day, some punk and New Wave musicians derided me for working with Carly, so the idea that “the Smiths’ lead singer” would cover our song is pretty hysterical. I guess if you live long enough

EDITOR'S NOTE: I had so many other questions for Billy -- who is also a teacher, novelist and has ties to the 1980 cult classic "Times Square" -- that the interview wound up being about more than this song. Read the full thing HERE.

I quite like Morrissey's take on the Carly classic, but not everyone agreed.

In his 2019 review of "California Son," Mark Kennedy wrote in the Boston Globs: Simon sings in service of ["When You Close Your Eyes"]; Morrissey is posing in front of it.

Ben Hewitt wrote for Pitchfork: Morrissey adds a dark surrealism to Carly Simon’s “When You Close Your Eyes,” too, crooning over its twinkling electronics and lush harps like an eerie figure from a children’s fairytale.

Jordan Bassett for NME: "When You Close Your Eyes" is merely forgettable.

Nobody does it better

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