95. The Smiths - How Soon Is Now?

I have no idea what on earth makes that noise at the beginning of this song, but it is an amazing sound. I could probably listen to a loop of just that for four minutes and be happy. Johnny Marr, guitarist and songwriter, said it was an oscillating guitar effect, but it’s gotta be something more than that. It’s like The Edge saying the beginning of “Even Better Than the Real Thing” is just some basic neckwork on the guitar. He’s being modest.

And that’s just the beginning. There’s that haunting wail of a slide guitar that matches the despair of the lyrics to come.

Marr wrote some great music, but they needed their singer and lyricist to do his magic, and Morrissey did not dissappoint. It’s a song about apathy and shyness. That seems to sum up Morrissey pretty good. The line "I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar / I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular" seems to be like so many people I knew in high school. They so much wanted to be a part of things but just couldn’t get up from that chair. Especially the way he sings the “nothing in particular” line. There’s so much apathy in his phrasing it gives the lyrics even more depth. A friend of mine called Morrissey the saddest bastard in the history of the world. That may be right, but the sad ones write some of the best lyrics.

There is some strange whistling in there that I couldn’t figure out and always thought was pretty dumb. Then I read the lyrics more closely and realized how it fit in. The whole song is about loneliness and being so terribly shy. What do you do when you’re alone somewhere with nothing to keep you busy? You whistle a little tune to amuse yourself. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it just seems that Morrissey is so “in character” in his singing, that he took it that extra step to keep it genuine. So now I think that’s pretty cool.

This song was actually first a B-side (youngsters, look it up on Wikipedia) to their song “William, It Was Really Nothing.” A B-Side? How could they? Well, they didn’t, really. The band really liked the song, but the record company wasn’t so sure, to they basically thew it away on the back of the “William” 12”. Goes to show you that record companies don’t know much about great music. They just want “popular” music. This song ended up being both, thank goodness.

From time to time in these posts, I'll add a little postscript at the end of one with a little tidbit of information or some extra opinion that I didn't think really fit in with my discussion of the song, but I just wanted to share. They'll be in parentheses and italics at the end of a post.

(There's a fantastic Wikipedia article about this song specifically and Johnny Marr's intro guitar sound. Here's what he says:

The vibrato sound is f*cking incredible, and it took a long time. I put down the rhythm track on an Epiphone Casino through a Fender Twin Reverb without vibrato. Then we played the track back through four old Twins, one on each side. We had to keep all the amps vibrating in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting the track, recording it in 10-second bursts... I wish I could remember exactly how we did the slide part -- not writing it down is one of the banes of my life! We did it in three passes through a harmonizer, set to some weird interval, like a sixth. There was a different harmonization for each pass. For the line in harmonics, I retuned the guitar so that I could play it all at the 12th fret with natural harmonics. It's doubled several times.

I have no idea really what that means, but for those of you guitar players out there who are in guitar geek heaven just reading that, let me know what the heck he's talking about.)

1 Response
  1. Sharky Says:

    I found your blog today when I was looking for an interpretation of "Nobody Knows Me" by Lyle Lovett, and it turns out that we like a lot of the same music, so I am going to try to catch up on your posts. This is one of my favorite songs.