A Top 20 U.K. hit for the Adverts during summer 1977, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was written after vocalist/songwriter TV Smith read a report of convicted killer Gary Gilmore's death row request that his eyes be used for transplant purposes following his execution. It was an unusual theme for a pop hit, made all the more fascinating (and, in the eyes of the tabloid press, controversial) by the fate of the recipient, as the eyes took over and filled him with the same murderous impulses as Gilmore himself suffered. (Smith would return to a similar theme six years later in the song "The Suit").
The song was first performed live during spring 1977 -- the Adverts' debut single, "One Chord Wonders," was already in the stores when "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" made its first live appearance. However, it made such an impact that Smith lost no time in scheduling the new song as the follow-up -- it also marked the Adverts' major-label debut, a combination which established the group among the most successful and lastingly popular of all first wave U.K. punk bands. The song remains one of the most memorable and insistent of 1977's many anthems, and has become a staple of countless punk-era compilations.
Surprisingly, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" did not appear on the Adverts' debut album, 1978's Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts; a new version of the song was recorded for the set, but dropped at the last minute. Early-'80s reissues of the album (and, subsequently, CDs) did feature the regular 45 version as a bonus track; the unissued album version was finally released during 1983 as a single. Finally, in 2000, Smith himself remastered the album for a definitive reissue and returned to his own original vision of the record, inserting "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" into the first half of the album.
In common with the remainder of the Adverts' repertoire, Smith refused to play "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" live throughout the 1980s and early '90s. Following the song's rediscovery by Die Toten Hosen, however, Smith's modern career as a predominantly acoustic solo performer has made good use of the song -- live recordings appear on the B-side of his "Thin Green Line" single and on the Holidays in the Sun festival live album.