Songwriting & Context – Lecture 2: Protest Song Research

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder

The Smiths released Meat Is Murder in February 1985 as a protest against the immoral and unethical treatment of animals, particularly in the food production industry as the title suggests. Having been an intermittent vegetarian for a few years now, only recently have I become fully interested in the injustices faced by animals at the hands of the food production industry. This interest has resulted in the decision to become a vegan and as such the message The Smiths convey in this song is one that resonates with me, despite it feeling somewhat aggressive.

In 1985, the vegan movement was well established, though still around twenty-five years from becoming ‘mainstream.’ The release of a song, particularly by a band so well-known in the UK, was of great significance to the popularity of the vegan/vegetarian movement. The push to de-commodify animals has never been more prevalent in everyday life, making songs such as Meat Is Murder ever more important as a way for current vegans and vegetarians, or those with a desire to participate in one of these lifestyles, to connect to the history of these movements. Although Meat Is Murder’s message has never been more important than it is now – with regards to over-farming, over-fishing, sustainability and health –  and while the song is still effective as an entity, the articulation is problematic. Recent research has proven that one of the major contributory factors of veganism’s relative unpopularity in terms of worldwide lifestyles is the aggression displayed by ‘angry vegans.’ In this way, Meat Is Murder, while still an important message and one that we should all bear in mind, is detrimental to the continued growth of more plant-based diets.

The Smiths writing on vegetarianism also aids in proving the importance of the work of vegans and vegetarians over the past eighty years. Research published by various medical journals, including The Permanente Journal, has proven the claims of vegans that animal products, particularly meat, do in fact have a negative impact on the human body. This research validates the sentiments expressed by Morrissey as he croons ‘And the flesh you so fancifully fry; Is not succulent, tasty or kind; It’s death for no reason; And death for no reason is murder.’ 

The form for Meat Is Murder is fairly difficult to discern based of the relative closeness of the chords used and the tightness of Morrissey’s range throughout the song. However, based on chordal analysis, I believe the song to have an AA2BCB structure. In terms of how convincing the song’s message is I believe it to be accurate in describing the issues with the commodification of animals although, as I mentioned earlier, it does come across as a little more aggressive than is perhaps useful. The issue is one that certainly requires a firm hand but, it is more beneficial to ease people into a lifestyle change rather than attacking them outright. The message is effective yet a little misjudged in its execution.

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