Supper’s Ready (as made famous by Genesis)

“Supper’s Ready” is a song by the band Genesis. A recorded version appeared on their 1972 album Foxtrot, and the band performed the song regularly on stage for several years following this. Live versions appear on the albums Live at the Rainbow recorded in 1973, Seconds Out recorded in 1977, the compilation Genesis Archive 1967-75, and the box set Genesis Live 1973–2007. A reworked version also appears on Steve Hackett’s 2012 album Genesis Revisited II and its accompanying live albums Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith and Genesis Revisited: Live at Royal Albert Hall.

In an interview, Peter Gabriel summed up “Supper’s Ready” as “a personal journey which ends up walking through scenes from Revelation in the Bible….I’ll leave it at that”. He was also quoted in the book I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo as saying that the song was influenced by an experience his wife had of sleeping in a purple room, and the nightmares it gave her.[1] AllMusic has described the song as the band’s “undisputed masterpiece”.[2]

Nearly 23 minutes in length, the song is divided into seven sections. A number of musical and lyrical themes do re-appear throughout. The melody of the verse in section I reappears as a flute melody between sections II and III. The melody of the chorus in section I reappears with new lyrics in the coda to section VI. The song that comprises the majority of section II reappears briefly in instrumental form at the beginning of section VI, and then returns to form the body of section VII, with new lyrics.

One commentator regarded the structure of “Supper’s Ready” as a variation of sonata form—a musicological analysis by Nors Josephson proposes that “section VII may be viewed as a Lisztian, symphonic apotheosis” of the “cyclical fanfares that originated in section II.”[3] On the other hand, the individual components of “Supper’s Ready” are much closer to traditional rock songs than they are to classical pieces, even if they contain elements of both.

The song undergoes multiple changes in time signature, key signature, Leitmotif, instrumentation, and mood.[4]

The song’s writing is credited to the whole band (Banks/Collins/Gabriel/Hackett/Rutherford). In various interviews, Banks mentioned that he composed several of the musical progressions whilst still a university student; Gabriel authored most or all of the lyrical content, as well as the “Willow Farm” section; Collins apparently contributed much to the arrangements and segues from one section to another. In Olivier Lecart’s book Genesis, Mike Rutherford hints that he was responsible for the unique rhythm of “Apocalypse in 9/8”.

I: “Lover’s Leap” (0:00 – 3:47)
This section features a gentle arpeggiated guitar backing (with Hackett, Banks and Rutherford all playing 12-string guitars), soft electric piano (Hohner pianet), bass pedals, cello and flute, and a section with folky three part vocal harmonies (which omit the third note of the chord). The only percussion used is triangle, cymbals, and bells.

Lyrically it tells of a man returning home after a long time to be greeted by his lover, and mentions supernatural imagery (“six saintly shrouded men”), which Gabriel claims relate to a genuine spiritual experience which occurred with himself, his wife Jill and producer John Anthony. According to Gabriel, during a late-night conversation, his wife began speaking with a completely different voice. Gabriel held up a makeshift cross out of a candlestick and another household item, and Jill reacted violently; (in Armando Gallo’s book, ‘I Know What I Like’, Gabriel mentions that his wife had reacted badly to sleeping in a room with purple walls, purple being ‘very high in the colour spectrum’). Jill was eventually calmed down and taken to bed, but neither Peter nor John Anthony slept that night. On another occasion, also late at night, Gabriel looked out of the window of his wife’s parents’ house to see what he perceived to be an entirely different lawn, across which seven shrouded men were walking. Gabriel recounted that these experiences led him to contemplate notions of good, evil, and the supernatural, and eventually inspired the lyrics to “Supper’s Ready”.

Hackett, however, has a different explanation: “I believe there’d been some drug taking going on. I believe she [Jill] was having a bad trip at one point, and that Pete and a friend managed to talk her round and get her out of the horrors or whatever it was. So that’s a part of what the song was about, but in a way there’s a kind of redemption implication that goes with that.”[5]

In the programme given out at Genesis concerts at the time, “Lover’s Leap” was explained as: “In which two lovers are lost in each other’s eyes, and found again transformed in the bodies of another male and female.”[6]

This segment was performed as part of an acoustic medley on the group’s 1998 Calling All Stations tour with Ray Wilson on vocals.

II: “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man” (3:48 – 5:43)
Banks composed the chord progression whilst still at University. When performing the song live, Gabriel would don a “crown of thorns” headpiece at this point. The piece segués into the next with a “Lover’s Leap” reprise.

The programme describes this section as follows: “The lovers come across a town dominated by two characters; one a benevolent farmer and the other the head of a highly disciplined scientific religion. The latter likes to be known as “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man” and claims to contain a secret new ingredient capable of fighting fire. This is a falsehood, an untruth, a whopper and a taradiddle, or to put it in clearer terms; a lie.”

III: “Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men” (5:44 – 9:42)
This section is much more dynamic than the previous two, with lively drums, an elegiac electric guitar solo, and a lot of interplay between the guitar and organ (including a section with fast organ and guitar arpeggios, Hackett employing the “tapping” style of playing). The lyrics refer to a battle of some sort, presumably involving Ikhnaton.

The programme spells “Itsacon” as “Its-a-con”. It describes this section as follows: “Who the lovers see clad in greys and purples, awaiting to be summoned out of the ground. At the G.E.S.M’s command they put forth from the bowels of the earth, to attack all those without an up-to-date “Eternal Life Licence”, which were obtainable at the head office of the G.E.S.M.’s religion.”

IV: “How Dare I Be So Beautiful?” (9:43 – 11:04)
This is a slow and gentle section, the only instrumentation being treated acoustic piano chords, each chord being faded-in on the recording, thus losing the piano’s characteristic attack and sounding more like an organ (it was done on Hammond organ live). The title is a catchphrase used by the band’s early music-business contact, Jonathan King. The lyrics deal with the aftermath of the preceding battle, and referring to the Greek myth of Narcissus, who turned into a flower.

The programme describes this section as follows: “In which our intrepid heroes investigate the aftermath of the battle and discover a solitary figure, obsessed by his own image. They witness an unusual transmutation, and are pulled into their own reflections in the water.”

V: “Willow Farm” (11:05 – 15:36)
Live in concert, Gabriel would appear in his “flower mask” (by Gabriel’s own admission, partly inspired by the BBC children’s programme The Flower Pot Men). This section features vaudeville-style sections, the Mellotron Mark II’s “combined brass” tape set, sped-up vocals, and musique concrète noises of trains and explosions. Lyrically, it has a Python-esque quality, dealing with elements of the absurd in the English psyche, “there’s Winston Churchill, dressed in drag, he used to be a British flag, plastic bag, what a drag!” and numerous elements of word play, boarding schools, agricultural depravity and social conformity. The lyrics also reference Foxtrot’s cover artwork (“the fox on the rocks”) and a song from Nursery Cryme, Genesis’ previous album (“The Musical Box”).

The programme describes “Willow Farm” as follows: “Climbing out of the pool, they are once again in a different existence. They’re right in the middle of a myriad of bright colours, filled with all manner of objects, plants, animals and humans. Life flows freely and everything is mindlessly busy. At random, a whistle blows and every single thing is instantly changed into another.”

“Willow Farm” was originally a stand-alone song, with music and lyrics by Gabriel. At one point, while “Supper’s Ready” was being written and assembled, Banks or Gabriel had the idea of including “Willow Farm” in the middle of it. Banks commented that this jarring, fast-paced piece prevented “Supper’s Ready” from seeming too much like a repeat of their earlier epic “Stagnation”.[7]

After the vocal section of “Willow Farm” ends, there is a reflective interlude, not definitely belonging to either “Willow Farm” or the following “Apocalypse In 9/8”. It starts with bass pedal, electric guitar, organ and Mellotron drones, then proceeds with soft guitar and flute.

VI: “Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet)” (15:36 – 20:50)
At this point, the drums enter, with the rhythm section striking out a pattern using the unusual metre of 9 beats to the bar (expressed as 3+2+4).[8] The lyrics employ stereotypical apocalyptic imagery, alternating with an organ solo from Banks (played in 4
4 and 7
8 time signatures against the 9
8 rhythm section), then switching to a climactic vocal from Gabriel, and the Mellotron “three violins” tape set. Banks has said that his approach to writing the solo was to parody the style that Keith Emerson had developed with Emerson, Lake & Palmer.[citation needed] In live performances, during the organ solo, Gabriel would don a bizarre “Magog” outfit with geometrical headdress which can be seen on the cover of the band’s Genesis Live (1973) album. This headdress seems to be associated with the mention of Pythagoras-he of the Pythagorean theorem fame (Euclidean geometry). “Gabble Ratchet” is a reference to the Hounds of Hell;[9] they are usually portrayed as geese, which explains the sound effect heard during this section (18:48–18:53 on Foxtrot). They are also known as “Gabriel’s Hounds”. The programme for the 1972/3 tour refers to this section as “co-starring the delicious talents of wild geese”.[10]

The programme describes this section as follows: “At one whistle the lovers become seeds in the soil, where they recognise other seeds to be people from the world in which they had originated. While they wait for Spring, they are returned to their old world to see Apocalypse of St John in full progress. The seven trumpeters cause a sensation, the fox keeps throwing sixes, and Pythagoras (a Greek extra) is deliriously happy as he manages to put exactly the right amount of milk and honey on his corn flakes.”[6]

This segment was performed as a standalone once in 1978 and on the first leg of the 1986 Invisible Touch Tour as part of the “In the Cage”/”…In That Quiet Earth”/”Supper’s Ready” medley.

VII: “As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)” (20:51 – 22:54)
“As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs” is a folklore variation of the logical tautology that “X = X”[11] and in this context is a reference to certainty and faith—being absolutely convinced of the ultimate victory of good over evil and that God and Heaven do indeed exist. “Aching Men’s Feet” is a play on “making ends meet”.[citation needed] “Apocalypse” segues into this part via a slower section that reprises the lyrics from “Lover’s Leap” in combination with the chord progression from “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man”, backed by a pressed snare drum roll and tubular bells. During live shows, a flash charge would be fired and Gabriel would discard his Magog costume to reveal himself in shining white apparel that glowed when exposed to black light. During one gig, he attempted flying on a kirby wire, and was nearly strangled.[citation needed] From this point to the end, drums, deep bass pedals and Mellotron brass are present, as are Blakean lyrics which reference The New Jerusalem (The Crystal City of God that is established after the death of the Anti-Christ) and the Second Coming of Christ with reference to the biblical Revelation 19:17: “There’s an angel standing in the sun. He cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the sky, Come! Be gathered together to the great supper of God.”

After completing the lyrics in this section, Gabriel would pick up and raise an active blacklight tube, holding it near himself, upraised with both hands, as though it were a sword. Gabriel would be the only one lit onstage at this point and would actually appear to be glowing from the combination of blacklight, his reflective white costume and fluorescent makeup. Gabriel considered this effect to be a theatrical way of symbolizing the victory of good/light over evil/darkness.

The piece fades out on overdubbing cascading electric guitar parts. On the original recording this section is in the key of A, but because of Gabriel’s inability to properly recreate the vocal performance onstage from either hoarseness or tiredness, the band regularly had to change the key to G.

The program describes this section as follows: “Above all else an egg is an egg. ‘And did those feet …………’ making ends meet. Jerusalem = place of peace.”[6]

This segment was performed as a standalone twice in 1978 and on the first leg of the 1986 Invisible Touch Tour as part of the “In the Cage”/”…In That Quiet Earth”/”Supper’s Ready” medley.

The final song on A Trick of the Tail, entitled “Los Endos”, quotes from this segment near the very end. As the band fades out, Collins can be heard singing “there’s an angel standing in the sun” twice in succession, followed by “free to get back home” as the last notes disappear. These are the only lyrics heard in the song, which is otherwise instrumental; this quote has generally been omitted from live versions (except for Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall and Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith in 2012).

Live performances of “Supper’s Ready” were preceded by Peter Gabriel telling a story. At the Rainbow Theatre on 20 October 1973 (as released on the Genesis Archive 1967–75 set), Gabriel told a story about “Old Henry” featuring him whistling “Jerusalem” before announcing that “supper was ready”.

On the 1976 tour for A Trick of the Tail, Mike Rutherford told a story to introduce the song. On the following year’s tour for Wind & Wuthering, Phil Collins would tell Peter Gabriel’s “Romeo and Juliet” story from “The Cinema Show” to introduce the song. In these stories, Juliet wore a “I Love Gary Gilmore” T-shirt and instead of saying “time for ‘The Cinema Show'”, Juliet said “I want to go because I’m hungry and ‘Supper’s Ready'”.

During the 1982 tour, Collins told a story before the song. Often this story would tie in to the song itself, but on some occasions he told a Romeo and Juliet story instead. At the 1982 Genesis reunion show, Gabriel told a story about a woman on a subway train (which he had told during the Foxtrot tour, and which had appeared on the Genesis Live album cover), slightly altered to segue into “Supper’s Ready”.

After 1982, only fragments of this song were played live by Genesis. During the first leg of the Invisible Touch tour in 1986, the band played the last two parts (“Apocalypse in 9/8”, “As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs”). During the We Can’t Dance tour in 1992, Collins suggested they play “Supper’s Ready” in its entirety, but was voted down by Rutherford and Banks. Finally, on the Calling All Stations tour in 1998, Genesis performed an acoustic medley containing the first section.

The song was played live during the Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, A Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, …And Then There Were Three… (only played twice), Three Sides Live encore, Invisible Touch, and Calling All Stations tours.

Peter Gabriel – lead vocals, flute, bass drum, tambourine, oboe
Phil Collins – drums, backing vocals, triangle, tubular bells, percussion, whistles
Tony Banks – piano, Hohner Pianet, Hammond organ, Mellotron, treated piano, 12-string acoustic guitar
Steve Hackett – electric guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, classical guitar, guitar effects
Mike Rutherford – bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, cello, backing vocals, Dewtron “Mister Bassman” bass pedals

You Only Live Twice (as made famous by Nancy Sinatra)

“You Only Live Twice”, performed by Nancy Sinatra, is the theme song to the 1967 James Bond film of the same name. The music was by veteran Bond film composer John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The song is widely recognized for its striking opening bars, featuring a simple 2-bar theme in the high octaves of the violins and lush harmonies from French horns. It is considered by some to be among the best James Bond theme songs,[1] and has become one of Nancy Sinatra’s best known hits. Shortly after Barry’s production, Sinatra’s producer Lee Hazlewood released a more guitar-based single version.

The song has been extensively covered by artists, from Coldplay to Soft Cell, Björk and Little Anthony & The Imperials to Shirley Bassey. Robbie Williams notably re-recorded the opening bars of the song for his hit “Millennium”.

James Bond veteran John Barry returned to the franchise to produce the score. The lyrics were by Leslie Bricusse, who had previously cowritten the lyrics for the theme to Goldfinger. Julie Rogers was asked to perform the song, and recorded it with a 50 or 60 piece orchestra at CTS Studios. The song was quite different from the later Sinatra version, with a more Oriental flavour. Jazz singer Lorraine Chandler also recorded a version of the song that differed greatly from the other two. Chandler’s version has a bombastic, Shirley Bassey-sound, which differs from the mellow alternate versions. John Barry said: “It was usually the producers that said ‘this isn’t working, there’s a certain something that it needed’. If that energy wasn’t there, if that mysterioso kind of thing wasn’t there, then it wasn’t going to work for the movie.”[2] The song shares only two lines with Sinatra’s, “You only live twice”, and “you’ll pay the price”. The film’s producer Cubby Broccoli, wanted his friend Frank Sinatra to perform the song. Frank suggested that they use his daughter instead. Barry wanted to use Aretha Franklin, but the producers insisted that he use Nancy instead, who was enjoying great popularity in the wake of her single, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”.[3]

The version (2:46) featured in the film’s opening title sequence and on the soundtrack LP is in the key of B and has a single vocal track. The song was recorded with a 60 piece orchestra on 2 May 1967 at the CTS Studios in Bayswater, London.[4] Sinatra later recalled that she was incredibly nervous during the recording, and it took around 30 takes to acquire enough material.[5] Producer John Barry eventually created the final product by incorporating vocals from 25 takes.[6]

Woman (as made famous by John Lennon)

“Woman” is a song written and performed by John Lennon from his 1980 album Double Fantasy. The track was chosen by Lennon to be the second single released from the Double Fantasy album, and it was the first Lennon single issued after his death on 8 December 1980.[1] The B-side of the single is Ono’s song “Beautiful Boys”.[1]

Lennon wrote “Woman” as an ode to his wife Yoko Ono, and to all women.[2] The track begins with Lennon whispering, “For the other half of the sky …”, a paraphrase of a Chinese proverb, once used by Mao Zedong.

In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine on 5 December 1980, Lennon said that “Woman” was a “grown-up version” of his song “Girl”.[3] On 5 June 1981, Geffen re-released “Woman” as a single as part of their “Back to Back Hits” series, with the B-side “(Just Like) Starting Over”.[1]

John Lennon – vocals, acoustic guitar
Earl Slick, Hugh McCracken – lead guitar
Tony Levin – bass guitar
George Small – piano, Rhodes piano, Prophet-5 synthesizer
Andy Newmark – drums
Arthur Jenkins – percussion
Michelle Simpson, Cassandra Wooten, Cheryl Mason Jacks, Eric Troyer – backing vocals

Watching The Wheels (as made famous by John Lennon)

“Watching the Wheels” is a single by John Lennon released posthumously in 1981, after his murder. The B-side features Yoko Ono’s “Yes, I’m Your Angel.” It was the third and final single released from Lennon and Ono’s album Double Fantasy, and reached number 10 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 7 on Cashbox Magazine’s Top 100.[1] It also peaked at number 30 in the UK.

In “Watching the Wheels” Lennon addresses those who were confounded by his “househusband” years, 1975–1980, during which he retired from the music industry to concentrate on raising his son Sean with Ono. The acoustic demo of “Watching the Wheels” is featured in the ending credits to the 2009 film Funny People. The song features a hammered dulcimer accompanying the lead piano.[2]

The photograph on the cover was taken by Paul Goresh, a fan of Lennon who also took the infamous photo of Lennon signing a copy of Double Fantasy for his killer, Mark David Chapman. Both photos were taken at the same place, in front of the Dakota building, which was the site of his 1980 shooting. Later, Chapman was recorded in police custody reciting the line “People say I’m crazy” from the song. This clip was used by the band EMF for the track “Lies” on their 1991 album Schubert Dip, though immediate protests from Ono prompted the sample’s removal on subsequent pressings.

John Lennon – vocals, piano, keyboards
Earl Slick, Hugh McCracken – lead guitar
Tony Levin – bass guitar
George Small – keyboards, piano
Andy Newmark – drums
Matthew Cunningham – hammer dulcimer
Arthur Jenkins – percussion
Michelle Simpson, Cassandra Wooten, Cheryl Mason Jacks, Eric Troyer – backing vocals

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