If you’re a big enough fan of The Smiths, you’ve likely heard rough snippets of Johnny Marr and Morrissey’s first-ever recording: a 1982 cover of The Cookies’ “I Want a Boy for My Birthday”. Now, the entire song has been made available to hear for the first time.
As uncovered by Slicing Up Eyeballs, the full version was posted to Youtube by Dale Hibbert, a recording engineer who was briefly bassist for The Smiths. The dreamy three-minute take on the ’62 tune is an intimate one with the slightest punk edge. It’s equipped with a whiling guitar coated in a phaser wash, ebbing and flowing beneath Morrissey’s pastel-soft voice barely forming the words before resting on the “la la la” hooks.
The Smiths’ Cookies cover was discussed by journalist Simon Goddard in his 2013 book Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised Edition): The Art of The Smiths 1982-87. He wrote,
“The earliest known surviving document in the recording history of The Smiths stems from those very first attic practice sessions with Morrissey, Marr, and Hibbert. It was for the latter’s benefit that the singer and guitarist taped a simple arrangement of ‘I Want A Boy For My Birthday,’ a 1963 B-side by New York girl group The Cookies, on Marr’s TEAC machine so that Hibbert could learn the melody in preparation for The Smiths’ first demo session. The cover was Morrissey’s idea. ‘I’d never heard it before,’ says Marr, ‘but I thought, “Great, this’ll really freak ’em out!” I was really happy to encourage it.'”
Listen to The Smiths’ take on “I Want a Boy for My Birthday” in its full form below. It’s a nice reminder of an earlier time before Morrissey started veering toward far-right political views and, according to artists like Billy Bragg, ruining the band’s good name. Marr, however, isn’t worried about the frontman dragging the group’s legacy down anytime soon.