The album spent twenty-two weeks on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at No. 2. It also reached No. 70 on the US Billboard 200 chart, and was certified Gold by the RIAA in late 1990. It has sold consistently well ever since and has received unanimous critical acclaim, with NME listing it as the greatest album of all time in 2013.
Guitarist Johnny Marr wrote several songs that would later appear on The Queen Is Dead while the Smiths toured Britain in early 1985, working out song arrangements with bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce during soundchecks. The title of the album is from Hubert Selby Jr.'s 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn.
"The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" was, according to Marr, "an effortless piece of music", and was written on tour in the spring of 1985. The song's lyrics refer allegorically to the band's experience of the music industry that failed to appreciate it.:48 In 2003, Morrissey named this as his favourite Smiths song.
A demo of the music for "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" was posted by Marr through Morrissey's letterbox in the summer of 1985. Morrissey then completed the song by adding lyrics. Marr has stated that he "preferred the music to the lyrics".:405
"Frankly, Mr. Shankly", "I Know It's Over" and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" were written by Morrissey and Marr in a "marathon" writing session in the late summer of 1985 at Marr's home in Bowdon, Greater Manchester.:136 The first of these is reputed to have been addressed to Geoff Travis, head of the Smiths' record label Rough Trade. Travis has since described it as "a funny lyric" about "Morrissey's desire to be somewhere else", acknowledging that a line in the song about "bloody awful poetry" was a reference to a poem he had written for Morrissey.:86