Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Smiths - How Soon Is Now?

The Smiths were an interesting band whose fortunes widely diverged on each side of the Atlantic.  In Britain, they had 3 #2 and 1 #1 LPs and 18 top 40 singles.  In the U.S., they did not have a top 50 album or a charting single.  Nevertheless, they were critically acclaimed in both countries and widely seen as perhaps the most important British alternative act of the decade.  In particular, their use of guitars and rejection of dance beats cut strongly against the grain, and laid the groundwork for the 1990's alternative scene in the U.K.

The band formed in Manchester in 1982 and consisted of Morrissey (Steven Patrick Morrissey, vocals), Johnny Marr (John Maher, guitar), Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums).  The Smiths was chosen as the most ordinary name they could think of, to contrast the band with the synth pop scene, where names such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Spandau Ballet were used.  After an indy single was picked up by John Peel, the influential BBC Radio 1 DJ, the band landed a recording contract which led to nearly immediate success in their home market.

"How Soon Is Now?" was originally the B side of "William, It Was Really Nothing." As the song gained momentum, it was released as a single in its own right, and was added to some versions of the Meat is Murder LP.  The single reached #24 on the U.K chart in 1985 (and re-charted at #16 in 1992).

Although "How Soon Is Now?" is not viewed as a typical Smiths song, it is a lush, atmospheric masterpiece.  The opening line was inspired by a quote from the George Eliot novel Middlemarch.  Johnny Marr's guitars were painstakingly crafted using multiple amps, which made the song difficult to play live in the 1980's.  (In fact, the band rarely played it live).  The video was put together by Sire Records; the band only found out about it after the fact (and by all accounts, was none too pleased).  Both the short and long versions of the video are below:

Cool trivia fact:  The 1990 Soho hit "Hippychick" starts with the famous guitar intro from "How Soon Is Now?"

Cool trivia fact #2:  A Love Spit Love cover was used in the movie The Craft, and as the theme to the U.S. TV Show Charmed.  (Love Spit Love was the Butler brothers' band after The Psychedelic Furs broke up).

Cool trivia fact #3:  Many critics believe that the intro was influenced by the Rolling Stones' 1964 cover of Bo Diddley's song, "Mona (I Need You Baby)."  Decide for yourself:

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