Saturday, 27 June 2009

Songwriting with The Smiths

For those who are unaware, there was once, and in the hearts of many, still is, a band called The Smiths, who, despite their name, at no point worked in the medium of metal. The band was well-known for Morrissey's unique songwriting, but what is not so well known is the tortuous artistic process behind many of the songs and lyrics that made it onto record. Through the ceaseless research of my super-secret contact, I am now very proud to present an exclusive look into the working titles of some of those cracking tunes.

How Soon Is Next Wednesday?

'How Soon is Now?' began life as a melancholic tale of waiting for a plumber to call to fix a dodgy boiler, with the plaintive slide guitar representing the little whining noise one makes when trying to take a cold shower. Lyrics re-written to avoid offending the lucrative plumbing market, known for their consistent support of jangly '80s guitar bands.

This Wretched Man

'This Charming Man' was originally written about the morning after, and included the chorus lyrics, 'I would go out tonight, but it's Sunday and it's raining and I'm hungover'.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Actually made it onto the album after it was decided that the original, 'Some Girls Make Me More Miserable Than Others' was deemed to leave the album 'a bit heavy, man'.

Pretty Girls Make Papier-Mâché

A paean to the glory days of Blue Peter, this was re-written as 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' because the primitive printing technologies of the day couldn't get the accents for 'Mâché' correct on the album sleeve.

I Owe You A Pint

Early version of 'I Don't Owe You Anything', born when Johnny Marr mistook a scrawled reminder from Morrissey as a cryptic lyric for a new song.

That Joke Cracks Me Up Every Time You Wit

Became 'That Joke Isn't Funny Any More' after Morrissey realised that in fact, he was heartily fed up with the joke, and rather hoped Marr would stop bloody telling it. The joke's exact words are unknown, but the punch-line is believed to be “Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said 'bacon'.” On a related point, 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before' is named after the last thing Johnny Marr said before Morrissey punched him, causing his departure from the band.

The Queen's Just Stunned, She'll Be Alright in a Minute

The Queen's medical condition worsened considerably between draft and the studio. A proposed closing song entitled 'This is An Ex-Queen' never made it onto the album. Or, curiously, anything else.

There Is A Light That Is On The Blink, Would You Mind Taking A Look At It?

A tragic tale of a short man's inability to change a bulb, this was later changed to '...That Never Goes Out' after Morrissey was enthused by tales of newly developed energy-saving bulbs.

Vicar in Hatutu

This story of failed missionary work on a South Pacific island was almost shelved when it was discovered that only eleven people knew that Hatutu was a real place. A fortunate likeness of sound saved the song from the cutting-room floor, and 'Vicar In A Tutu' survived to kick-start a sadly brief fashion in the Church of England, an achievement fortunately not replicated by Mansun's 1996 single 'Stripper Vicar'.

I Know It's LBW

One of the best-known songs about cricket, this was altered to 'I Know It's Over' purely to help the scansion, although the change has led to some thinking that it has something to do with sex. People are strange, huh? Another frequently misinterpreted track is 'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish', which is, of course, about a particularly large ice-cream sundae.

Last Night I Dreamt That I Was Being Chased By Robert Smith, And When I Woke Up There Was Hair-Spray On My Pillow

The epic centrepiece to Strangeways Here We Come, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me' was originally a stream-of-consciousness narrative detailing Morrissey's anxieties about the state of grumpy British music, but was eventually transformed into a dour meditation on love and loss. The two-minute intro of chaotic shouting is the only known recording of the notorious fight between The Smiths and The Cure.

Sadly, there are no visual recordings of the brawl, but a passing sound engineer described it as 'basically like that gang battle in A Clockwork Orange.' The feud began when Robert Smith accused The Smiths, en masse, of stealing his name. In response, Morrissey insisted that there could only be one enduringly popular British band from the 1980s beginning with 'The'*, but was quite willing to refer to Smith's group as 'Panacea'**, whereupon Porl Thompson nutted him. Smith was going to, but didn't want to ruin his hair. The ominous piano that plays over these sounds of conflict is in fact part of the same recording, since Johnny Marr was too wrapped up in his instrumental to realise that there were fisticuffs breaking out all around him.


* And you wonder why The Stone Roses broke up?

** Since used as a name by a Swedish doom metal covers band who misread their dictionary.


  1. Couldn't find a Swedish doom metal band by that name, but there is a Russian one called 'Panacea Enterpainment', and there's a Polish band called Sirrah (coincidentally also doom metal), who have a song called Panacea.

  2. A commenter, good lord! Hello, and that. Welcome, come on in, have a drink, or a biscuit, or something.

    Wow, that means I was pretty close to being right - this hasn't happened for quite a while!

    Panacea Enterpainment clearly deserve some kind of prize for being one the worst named bands around. Once Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine retire, I can't see any other contenders.

  3. Heh. This post made me chuckle. That's quite an achievement.

  4. Hooray, thanks! I think it was the product of a long afternoon with not a lot to do. Have been peeking at your tales of India - sounds like an amazing trip, if quite bizarre. Will keep an eye out for more...