This Charming Man (as made famous by The Smiths)

“This Charming Man” is a song by the English rock band the Smiths, written by guitarist Johnny Marr and singer Morrissey. Released as the group’s second single in October 1983 on the independent record label Rough Trade, it is defined by Marr’s jangle pop guitar riff and Morrissey’s characteristically morose lyrics, which revolve around the recurrent Smiths themes of sexual ambiguity and lust.[1]

Feeling detached from the early 1980s mainstream gay culture, Morrissey wrote “This Charming Man” to evoke an older, more coded and self-aware underground scene. The singer said of the song’s lyrics: “I really like the idea of the male voice being quite vulnerable, of it being taken and slightly manipulated, rather than there being always this heavy machismo thing that just bores everybody.”[2]

Although only moderately successful on first release—the single peaked at number 25 on the UK Singles Chart, “This Charming Man” has been widely praised in both the music and mainstream press. Re-issued in 1992, it reached number 8 on the UK Singles Chart (making it the Smiths’ biggest UK hit by chart position). In 2004, BBC Radio 2 listeners voted it number 97 on the station’s “Sold on Song Top 100” poll.[3] Mojo magazine journalists placed the track at number 1 on their 2008 “50 Greatest UK Indie Records of All Time” feature.[2] It was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry in 2015.[4]

By early 1983, the Smiths had gained a large following on the UK live circuit and had signed a record deal with the indie label Rough Trade. The deal, along with positive concert reviews in the weekly music press and an upcoming session on John Peel’s radio show on BBC Radio 1, generated a large media buzz for the band. In a music scene dominated by corporate and video-driven acts, the Smiths’ camp and bookish image stood out, and many expected the band to be the breakthrough act of the UK post-punk movement.[2] The previous October Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their iconic track “Relax”, which was seen as an anthem to an out alpha male self-assertiveness, and alien to many UK homosexuals. However, the Smiths’ May 1983 debut single “Hand in Glove” failed to live up to critical and commercial expectations, mostly due to its perceived low production values. When Rough Trade label mates Aztec Camera began to receive day-time national radio-play with their track “Walk out to Winter”, Marr admitted to “feeling a little jealous, my competitive urges kicked in”. The guitarist believed the Smiths needed an up-beat song, “in a major key”, to gain a chart positioning that would live up to expectations.[2]

Marr wrote the music to “This Charming Man” especially for the Peel session[5] on the same night that he wrote “Still Ill” and “Pretty Girls Make Graves”.[6] Based on the Peel performance, Rough Trade label head Geoff Travis suggested that the band release the song as a single instead of the slated release “Reel Around the Fountain”, which had gathered notoriety in the press due to what were seen as lyrical references to pedophilia.[7][8] The Smiths entered Matrix Studios in London on September 1983 to record a second studio version of the song for release as a single.[7] However, the result—known as the ‘London version’—was unsatisfactory and soon after, the band travelled to Strawberry Studios in Stockport to try again. Here, they recorded the more widely heard A-side.[9]

The lyrics of “This Charming Man” comprise a first person narrative in which the male protagonist punctures one of his bicycle’s wheels on a remote hillside. A passing “charming man” in a luxury car stops to offer the cyclist a lift, and although the protagonist is at first hesitant, after much deliberation he accepts the offer. While driving together the pair flirt, although the protagonist finds it difficult to overcome his reluctance: “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear”. The motorist tells the cyclist: “it’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care”.[2]

Morrissey deliberately used archaic language when composing the voice-over style lyrics for “This Charming Man”. His use of phrases and words such as ‘hillside desolate’, ‘stitch to wear’, ‘handsome’ and ‘charming’ are used to convey a more courtly world than the mid-Eighties north of England, and evoke a style that has, in the words of the music critic Mat Snow, “nothing to do with fashion”.[2] Morrissey had already used the word ‘handsome’ in a song title—in “Handsome Devil”, the B-side to “Hand in Glove”—and observed in a 1983 interview with Barney Hoskyns that he used the word to “try and revive some involvement with language people no longer use. In the daily scheme of things, people’s language is so frighteningly limited, and if you use a word with more than 10 letters it’s absolute snobbery.”[2] Snow puts forward the case that through the use of the dated word ‘charming’, Morrissey sought to rebel against the then mainstream gay culture from which he felt alienated. Morrissey told Hoskyns: “I hate this ‘festive faggot’ thing … People listen to “This Charming Man” and think no further than what anyone would presume. I hate that angle, and it’s surprising that the gay press have harped on more than anyone else. I hate it when people talk to me about sex in a trivial way.”[2]

As with many of Morrissey’s compositions, the song’s lyrics features dialogue borrowed from a cult film. The line “A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place” is borrowed from the 1972 film adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 homoerotic play Sleuth, in which Laurence Olivier plays a cuckolded author to Michael Caine’s ‘bit of rough’.[2][9]

Both studio versions begin with an introductory guitar riff, joined by the rhythm section. Morrissey’s vocals are first heard eight seconds into the track. His vocal melodies are diatonic, and consciously avoid blues inflections.[10] The chorus is played twice; the first time it is followed by a brief pause, the second by the closing of the song. The rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce provide a beat more danceable than usual for a Smiths track. The drums were originally programmed on a Linn Drum Computer, under the direction of producer John Porter. Porter used the programme to trigger the sampled sounds of the live drum kit, featuring a Motownesque bassline.[11] Marr’s guitar part consists of single notes and thirds as opposed to strummed bar chords, and his guitar serves to creates a counter-melody throughout the song. Marr overdubbed numerous guitar parts onto the song,[10] and in a December 1993 interview, told Guitar Player magazine:

I’ll try any trick. With the Smiths, I’d take this really loud Telecaster of mine, lay it on top of a Fender Twin Reverb with the vibrato on, and tune it to an open chord. Then I’d drop a knife with a metal handle on it, hitting random strings. I used it on “This Charming Man”, buried beneath about 15 tracks of guitar … it was the first record where I used those highlife-sounding runs in 3rds. I’m tuned up to F# and I finger it in G, so it comes out in A. There are about 15 tracks of guitar. People thought the main guitar part was a Rickenbacker, but it’s really a ’54 Tele. There are three tracks of acoustic, a backwards guitar with a really long reverb, and the effect of dropping knives on the guitar – that comes in at the end of the chorus.[12]

The chord progression for the song, from the instrumental intro to the lyric “Will nature make a man of me” is: A | Asus4 | A | E | Bm7 | D7 | C#m | E | A | E/A | Asus4 | E[13]

On release, the song received near unanimous critical praise. Paul Morley of the NME wrote, “‘This Charming Man’ is an accessible bliss, and seriously moving. This group fully understand that the casual is not enough … This is one of the greatest singles of the year, a poor compliment. Unique and indispensable, like ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Karma Chameleon’ – that’s better!”[14] A contemporary review in The Face asked, “Where has all the wildness and daring got to? Some of it has found its way onto the Smiths’ record, ‘This Charming Man’. It jangles and crashes and Morrissey jumps in the middle with his mutant choir-boy voice, sounding jolly and angst-ridden at the same time. It should be given out on street corners to unsuspecting passers-by of all ages.”[15] Another contemporary review by Treble magazine described the song as a “stellar jangle-pop track,” based on one of Marr’s first truly iconic guitar licks.[16] While the band was little-known in the United States at the time, Robert Palmer of The New York Times described the song as “sparkling, soaring, superlative pop-rock, and proof that the guitar-band format pioneered by the Beatles is still viable for groups with something to say”.[17] The following year, Palmer chose the song as the second best single of 1984.[18]

AllMusic’s Ned Raggett noted that “Early Elvis would have approved of the music, Wilde of the words”, and described the track as “an audacious end result by any standard”.[19] Tim DiGravina, of the same organisation, wrote that “Debating the merits of the track here would be a bit pointless, as it’s a classic song from one of the last great classic bands. It might as well be called ‘This Charming Song’.”[20] In 2007, Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher described the first time he heard the track: “The second I heard ‘This Charming Man’ everything made sense. The sound of that guitar intro was incredible. The lyrics are fuckin’ amazing, too. People say Morrissey’s a miserable cunt, but I knew straight away what he was on about.”[21] In 2006, Liz Hoggard from The Independent said that “This Charming Man … is about age-gap, gay sex”.[22]

During an appearance on Top of the Pops, Morrissey appeared waving gladioli.[1] A 2004 BBC Radio 2 feature on the song noted that the performance was most people’s introduction to The Smiths and, “therefore, to the weird, wordy world of Morrissey and the music of Johnny Marr”.[3] Uncut magazine, commentating on the nationally televised debut, wrote that “Thursday evening when Manchester’s feyest first appeared on Top of the Pops would be an unexpected pivotal cultural event in the lives of a million serious English boys. His very English, camp glumness was a revolt into Sixties kitchen-sink greyness against the gaudiness of the Eighties new wave music, as exemplified by Culture Club and their ilk. The Smiths’ subject matter may have been ‘squalid’ but there was a purity of purpose about them that you messed with at your peril.”[15] Noel Gallagher said of the performance: “None of my mates liked them — they were more hooligan types. They came into work and said ‘Fuckin’ hell, did you see that poof on “Top of the Pops” with the bush in his back pocket?’ But I thought it was life-changing.”[21]

The earliest version of “This Charming Man” was recorded on 14 September 1983, in Maida Vale Studio 4, for John Peel’s radio programme (first broadcast: 21 September 1983).[23] Produced by Roger Pusey, and assisted by Ted De Bono, this version of the song was first included on the 1984 compilation Hatful of Hollow. On 28 October 1983, the “Manchester” version was released in the UK in 7″ and 12″ formats, reaching number 25 in the UK charts. The record sleeve uses a still frame from Jean Cocteau’s 1949 film Orphée, featuring French actor Jean Marais.[2] The song was later included as a bonus track on the cassette version of the band’s debut album The Smiths in the UK,[24] and subsequently on all American versions.

Following the 1989 bankruptcy of Rough Trade,[25] WEA Records purchased the Smiths’ back catalogue.[26] In 1992 WEA re-issued the band’s catalogue, and all subsequent pressings of The Smiths have incorporated “This Charming Man”. WEA re-released the single itself in 1992 to support the Best… I compilation album. The reissued single reached number 8 on the British singles chart, the band’s highest chart placing.[27][28]

In December 1983, DJ François Kevorkian released a “New York” mix of the single on Megadisc records.[29] Kevorkian geared the song for nightclub dancefloors. The track was intended to be pressed in limited numbers for New York club DJs. However, Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis liked the mix and gave the release wide distribution in the UK.[30] Morrissey publicly disowned the mix, and urged fans not to purchase copies.[29] Travis later claimed, “it was my idea, but they agreed. They said ‘Go ahead’, then didn’t like it so it was withdrawn.” He also said, “Nothing that ever happened in the Smiths occurred without Morrissey’s guidance; there’s not one Smiths record that went out that Morrissey didn’t ask to do, so there’s nothing on my conscience.”[30]

Morrissey – lead vocals
Johnny Marr – electric and acoustic guitar
Andy Rourke – bass guitar
Mike Joyce – drums

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (as made famous by The Smiths)

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is a song by the English rock band the Smiths, written by guitarist Johnny Marr and singer Morrissey. Featured on the band’s third studio album The Queen Is Dead, it was not released as a single in the United Kingdom until 1992, five years after their split.[1] It peaked at No. 25 on the UK Singles Chart.[2] The song has received considerable critical acclaim; in 2014, NME listed “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” as the 12th greatest song of all time.[3]

In 2005, Morrissey released a live version of the song as a double A-side with his cover of Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach”, reaching No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart.

The Smiths began working on “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” during its late 1985 recording sessions at London’s RAK Studios. In early September, the band recorded a rehearsal tape of the song performed in the key of F# minor. Four days later, the group made a monitor mix in the key of C# minor, this time accompanied by a synthesised string arrangement Marr created on an E-mu Emulator (credited to the “Hated Salford Ensemble” on the album release). While Morrissey was cynical about using synthesised strings, the lack of a budget to hire a real string ensemble as well as the band’s reluctance to allow outsiders into the recording process changed his mind. The recording was completed in November at Jacobs Studios in Farnham, where Morrissey redid his vocal part twice and Marr added a flute melody.[4]

Written in tandem with “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, the two songs share the same key as well as similar chords. Simon Goddard noted that both the guitar break in “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and the flute section in “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (originally written as a guitar part) are based on C# minor arpeggio figure.[5] The song features an ascending F#m–A–B chord sequence that guitarist Johnny Marr took from the Rolling Stones cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike”. Marr said in 1993 that he included the figure as an “in-joke” to determine if the music press would attribute the inspiration for the part to “There She Goes Again” by the Velvet Underground, who he contended “stole” the figure from “Hitch Hike”. Marr commented, “I knew I was smarter than that. I was listening to what the Velvet Underground were listening to”.[4]

AllMusic’s Tim DiGravina argues that while depressed characters were a regular feature in Morrissey’s work, his lyrics on “There Is a Light” “ups the sad-and-doomed quotient by leaps and bounds.”[6] Goddard argues in his book Songs That Saved Your Life that the basic narrative story is similar to that of the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause, in which Dean—an idol of Morrissey’s—leaves his tortuous home life, being the passenger to a potential romantic partner. In fact, a line from that movie (“It is not my home”) is quoted in the song. According to Goddard, an earlier version lacked some of the finished version’s ambiguity, culminating in the line “There is a light in your eyes and it never goes out”.[7]

Due to a dispute between the Smiths and its record label Rough Trade Records after the group completed The Queen Is Dead, nine months passed after the release of “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” before the group issued another single. Once the matter was resolved, Rough Trade owner Geoff Travis felt that “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” should be the band’s “comeback” record. However, Johnny Marr was insistent that “Bigmouth Strikes Again” be the band’s next single.[9] Despite Travis’s advocation of the song, Simon Goddard expressed doubt that the song’s “explicit glamorisation of suicide” would have endeared it to daytime radio. Regardless, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” became the second Smiths song to top BBC Radio One disc jockey John Peel’s Festive Fifty poll in his 1986 tally. The song was shortly thereafter included on the 1987 compilation album The World Won’t Listen.[10] In October 1992, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” finally received a single release by WEA to promote the …Best II compilation. The song reached number 25 on the UK Singles Chart,[10] making it their last UK Top 40 appearance to date.

Music critics consider “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” to be one of the Smiths’ finest efforts. Simon Goddard wrote, “In a straw poll among Smiths fans today, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ would more than likely still come out victorious”, which he credits to the “perfect balance” of Marr’s compositional skills and Morrissey’s lyricism.[10] AllMusic’s Tim DiGravina calls it “a standout among standouts from the Smiths’ masterpiece third album, The Queen Is Dead.”[6] In 2014, NME listed “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” as the 12th greatest song of all time.[3] The website Acclaimed Music lists it as the 78th most acclaimed song of all time, and the 8th most acclaimed song of the 1980s.[11]

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (as made famous by The Smiths)

“The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” is a song by the English rock band the Smiths. It was released as a single in September 1985, reaching No. 23 in the UK Singles Chart. A slightly remixed version appeared on their third album The Queen Is Dead in June 1986.

This was the first single by the Smiths to be accompanied by a promotional music video, something the band had previously resisted. They also performed the song on an episode of Top of the Pops. The main difference between the single version and the album version is in the use of synthesised strings. They are largely absent from the single version, only appearing in the song’s coda.

Margi Clarke asked Morrissey if this song was inspired by Oscar Wilde, and Morrissey replied: “No, that’s not true. The thorn is the music industry and all those people who never believed anything I said, tried to get rid of me and wouldn’t play the records. So I think we’ve reached a stage where we feel: if they don’t believe me now, will they ever believe me? What more can a poor boy do?”[1]

The original 12” and CD singles have “Rubber Ring” and “Asleep” segued into a continuous piece with the voice sample at the end of the former looped and faded into the wind noise preceding the latter. Described by Simon Goddard (in Songs That Saved Your Life, 2nd edition, p. 154) as a “spectacular combination” — a suggestion with which Johnny Marr concurs — this carefully executed sequence could only be found on the original 12″ and CD singles, before the 2017 release of the remaster/re-issue of The Queen is Dead, which includes the same songs with the same segue as tracks 10 and 11 (respectively) of its “Additional Recordings” bonus disc. The two tracks are separated on all other compilations.

The jumping man on the sleeve cover of the single release is a young Truman Capote.

The British 7″ and 12″ version contain the etchings: ARTY BLOODY FARTY/IS THAT CLEVER…JM. “Is that clever” is a lyric from “Rubber Ring”, which itself is a line from The Importance of Being Earnest, a play that was referenced in the etchings of “William, It Was Really Nothing” and Hatful of Hollow. “JM” is a reference to Johnny Marr, and was also an etching on the Sandie Shaw version of “Hand in Glove”.

Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (as made famous by The Smiths)

“Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” is a song by the English rock band the Smiths. It was released as the B-side of “William, It Was Really Nothing” in 1984 and later featured on the compilation albums Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs. It has become one of the most well-known songs of the Smiths and has been covered by numerous other artists.

Panic (as made famous by The Smiths)

“Panic” is a song by the English rock band the Smiths, released in 1986 and written by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. The first recording to feature new member Craig Gannon, “Panic” bemoans the state of contemporary pop music, which “says nothing to me about my life”, and exhorts listeners to “burn down the disco” and “hang the DJ” in retaliation. The song was released by Rough Trade as a single and reached No. 7 on the Irish Singles Chart and No. 11 in the UK Chart. Morrissey considered the song’s appearance on daytime British radio a “tiny revolution” in its own way, as it aired amongst the very music it criticised.[1]

It was later included in the compilation albums The World Won’t Listen and Louder Than Bombs.

“Panic” was recorded at London’s Livingston Studios in May 1986. It was the group’s first recording sessions since they completed work on their third album The Queen Is Dead six months earlier.[2] During the interim period, bassist Andy Rourke had been fired due to his heroin addiction, which had interfered with his playing. The band hired Craig Gannon to replace him, but after they rehired Rourke, guitarist Johnny Marr offered Gannon a position as second guitarist.[3]

The then five-piece band worked with producer John Porter; this was his first work with the group in two years. He was concerned that the song was too short, so he copied the band’s first take from 5 May and spliced a repetition of the first verse at the end to increase its length. The group was unimpressed and opted to leave the song as they originally structured it.[4]

A story circulated as the basis for the song holds that Marr and Morrissey were listening to BBC Radio 1 when a news report announced the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Straight afterwards, BBC disc jockey Steve Wright played the song “I’m Your Man” by pop duo Wham![5] “I remember actually saying, ‘What the fuck does this got to do with people’s lives?'” Marr recalled. “We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we’re expected to jump around to ‘I’m Your Man'”. While Marr subsequently stated that the account was exaggerated, he commented that it was a likely influence on Morrissey’s lyrics.[1] The band later commissioned a T-shirt featuring Wright’s portrait and the phrase “Hang the DJ!”[6]

“The anecdote might well be true,” writes Tony Fletcher in A Light That Never Goes Out, his biography of the Smiths, but he states that “I’m Your Man” had been off the UK pop charts for several months by the time of the Chernobyl disaster and that “Morrissey hardly needed further provocation to attack Wright, whose highly ranked afternoon show treated all popular music as secondary to his madcap party format”. (The antagonism was apparently mutual; former Smiths manager Scott Piering says that at a 1985 meeting, Wright and his producer both made clear that they disliked the band’s music.)[7] Moreover, the song itself makes no mention of the radio.[8]

The song begins with Morrissey mentioning chaos unravelling throughout Britain and Ireland (specifically mentioning London, Birmingham, Grasmere, Carlisle, Leeds, Dublin, Dundee, and Humberside). In the second part of the song, he reveals that the source of this chaos is pop music, which “says nothing to me about my life”. In reaction, he implores listeners to “burn down the disco” and “hang the DJ”, the latter lyrics repeated with the addition of a chorus of schoolchildren.[1] Journalist Nick Kent described “Panic” as a mandate for “rock terrorism”.[1] John Luerssen calls it a “commentary on the tepid state of pop music in 1986” and a “chiming guitar song,” based around a rotation between the G and E minor chords.[5] Simon Goddard has said it mimics “Metal Guru” by the glam rock band T.Rex.[4] Luerssen calls the song Marr’s homage to the T.Rex song.[5]

The song “extended The Smiths’ unorthodox tradition of releasing a non-album A-side” as a single.[5] It reached number 11 on the UK Singles Chart and stayed on the chart for eight weeks.[9] The single also stayed on the Irish Singles Chart for five weeks, reaching a peak of number 7,[10] and reached number 32 on the Dutch Top 40.[11] “Panic” was voted Single of the Year by the annual NME readers poll, and also (“somewhat incongruously”, noted Goddard) ranked sixth in the Best Dance Record category.[12]

“Panic” drew negative reaction from critics who construed Morrissey’s lyrics to have a racist connotation. Paolo Hewitt in the NME wrote, “If Morrissey wants to have a go at Radio 1 and Steve Wright, then fine [but] when he starts using words like disco and DJ, with all the attendant imagery that brings up for what is a predominantly white audience, he is being imprecise and offensive.” Fletcher says that the lack of any explicit indication the song was about radio meant “Panic” “could be construed as reviving the racist and homophobic ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign of late 1970s America.”[8] Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside accused the song and the band of racism.[13]

Morrissey denied the accusation, and in a September 1986 Melody Maker interview with Frank Owen decried Owen’s suggestion that he was leading a “black pop conspiracy”. Additional criticism was sparked by the same interview, wherein Morrissey was quoted naming reggae as “the most racist music in the entire world.”[13] Marr, in particular, was incensed by the article and in a 1987 NME interview threatened to “kick the living shit” out of the writer if he met him, such was his anger at the article’s slant. He also countered that “disco music” could not be simply equated with “black music”, saying, “To those who took offence at the ‘burn down the disco’ line […] I’d say please show me the black members of New Order!”[14]

Fletcher suggests the song was not as much about race or sexuality as it was about the culture of British popular music. “For British Smiths fans,” he writes,

… the ‘disco’ of ‘Panic’ was generally presumed to mean the longstanding city-centre meat market, which suggested exclusivity by demanding patrons wear a tie, or at least to ‘dress smart,’ but where drinks were overpriced, fights routine, and both the disc jockeys and the commercial Top 40 music that they played was almost embarrassingly disconnected from the neighbouring streets. Then again, when the Smiths performed ‘Panic’ to nearly 15,000 white American college kids, outdoors in the suburbs of Massachusetts, such reference points, vaguely stated in the first place, were easy to misconstrue.[8]