In this song, it is unclear if The Smiths' front man, Morrissey, is truly distraught about the condition of his girlfriend, or if he is being sarcastic. Morrissey's sexuality has been a matter of conjecture for many years, so it is even debatable whether the "girlfriend" referred to in this song is his own.
The B-side to this single is a cover of Liverpudlian singer Cilla Black's song, "Work Is a Four Letter Word." Guitarist, Johnny Marr, detested this cover so much that he quit the band soon after recording it. Marr recalled to Record Collector magazine in 1992: "'Work Is A Four Letter Word' I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs. That was it, really. I made a decision that I was going to get away on holiday. The only place I could think of was L.A. L.A. was the only place I knew where there'd be sunshine, so off I went. I never saw Morrissey again."
The single artwork is an image of the British dramatist, Shelagh Delaney, who wrote the play, A Taste of Honey
- a work which Morrissey references in multiple Smiths songs, including "Hand in Glove
" and "Reel Around the Fountain
This song plays over the opening credits of the 2001 episode of The Drew Carey Show, "Drew's In A Coma," in which Drew is left comatose after a car accident.
The official video was directed by Tim Broad and features Morrissey performing alone alongside footage from the 1964 film, The Leather Boys, starring Rita Tushingham.
This was the first single to be released from The Smiths' final studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come. Both Morrissey and Marr have stated that this is their favorite Smiths album. It is named after Manchester's notorious prison, Strangeways - whose walls are rumored to be 16 feet thick! In 1987, Morrissey told Q magazine: "I feel at the moment that almost anything absurd can happen. And if I ended up in Strangeways, I wouldn't be at all surprised."
Johnny Marr and Morrissey were both fans of Bob and Marcia's 1970 reggae tune "Young, Gifted And Black
." Marr told The Observer
in 2013: "We bonded over a lot of records, but we both loved that song in the same way at the same time. And that's very likely to be the thing that inspired the music for 'Girlfriend in a Coma.'"