. . .
I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear
“This Charming Man” just might be my favorite Smiths song.
I’m going to begin at the beginning. Or at least, my beginning, as “This Charming Man” was the second Smiths single, after “Hand in Glove,” but because it was the first Smiths song I ever heard, and they’re one of my all-time favorite bands, this is where we are starting. And the rest of these posts will be in order of how these songs came into my life, which from here on out, basically coincides with how they were released.
I wish I could find the actual article online, but my memory is this: as 1983 crashed into 1984, Rolling Stone magazine had a feature on artists to watch in 1984. One of those artists was The Smiths, and in the blurb I seem to recall that there was some arrogant quote (probably from Morrissey) about how they were going to change rock and roll or something like that. Like I said, I wish I could find it online.
UPDATE: A couple of days after I posted this, my sister Sherilyn — who is a researcher extraordinaire — sent me an image of that Rolling Stone blurb, which pretty much confirms my memory, and I’m pretty sure I was curious about a guitar-driven band that came out of England.
In any event, I was intrigued enough by their name and that quote to seek them out in the Tower Records import section. And what I found, of course, was the 12″ single of “This Charming Man” (the one with the different “London” and “Manchester” versions), and when I put it on, it was instant and utter love from the opening notes.
I mean, Johnny Marr’s guitar literally dances out of the speakers — in his autobiography, Set The Boy Free, Marr talks about how he double-tracked a Telecaster & a Rickenbacker in order to get that distinctive sound — and then as the crack rhythm section of Andy Rourke (credited on the sleeve as “the bass guitar”) and Mike Joyce (“the drums”), kick into a jumped-up Motown rhythm (The Smiths were secret Mods!), Marr’s guitar continues to pile on a manic amount of swirling notes over Rourke’s hyperactive bassline, until they all come to a dead stop for a second.
At which point, Morrissey (“the voice”) starts telling a tale as old as time.
Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate
Will nature make a man of me yet?
When in this charming car
This charming man
Look, we’ve got a month or so to discuss Morrissey and all of his complexities, transgressions and witty genius, but look at how much he is invoking already in just four lines. In his weird crooner’s voice, at his weird crooner’s pace. While the music all around him is exploding, he is taking his fucking time, and the contrast is delicious.
Why pamper life’s complexity
When the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?
I would go out tonight but I haven’t got a stitch to wear
This man said, “It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care”
Everybody always points to “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear” as the the universally relatable line — and in fact it is, which is why Morrissey sings it again a couple of times as the second verse — I’ve also always loved “It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care” because of the awesome internal rhyme.
And then with Morrissey’s joyful yelp of “ahhhhhh” they all glide into the chorus.
Ah, a jumped-up pantry boy
Who never knew his place
He said, “Return the ring”
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things
For those of you keeping score at home, “jumped-up pantry boy” is from the Michael Caine/Laurence Oliver joint, Sleuth, and the consensus among those who study these things is that the narrator of the song was engaged and was being encouraged by the charming man to call it off.
Or you could just enjoy the way Morrissey sang “na-na-na-na thissss charrrrrrmiiiiin man” as Johnny Marr’s guitar spun and twirled into the night.
Despite its clear and utter awesomeness, “This Charming Man” stalled out at #25 on the U.K. pop charts, though it did make #1 on the U.K. indie charts — the first of fourteen singles in a row that would do that — and when it was re-released in 1992 in conjunction with their first greatest hits album, it made #8 there.
Also, “This Charming Man” was the only one of their early singles that didn’t make it to the U.K. pressing of The Smiths. Both “Hand in Glove” (in a superior remixed version) and “What Difference Does It Make?” (which was released only a month before the album) are on it, but for, reasons, I guess, they didn’t put “This Charming Man” on it. Luckily, their U.S. label, Sire, stuck it onto the beginning of side 2, making The Smiths a superior experience for us Yanks.
As far as your humble correspondent goes, I’d never heard anything like this — the only analogues were R.E.M. and The Church and the former was more mysterious and latter obscure — and all I wanted to do was play it for other people. Luckily, I had a radio station at which to do that: the mighty 90.7 KFSR, Fresno where I had settled into the late Friday afternoon pre-party airshift that I would keep for the next five years. And so I’m pretty sure that I was one of the first people to play The Smiths on the radio in the U.S., a fact that I’m still fucking proud of.
At the very least, I was the first DJ to play The Smiths in Fresno, which I’d like to think is a direct line to Morrissey calling Fresno “Morrissey Central” in his autobiography, as he describes the wild, ecstatic mostly LatinX audience he played for a couple of decades later. You’re welcome!
“This Charming Man” Official Music Video
“This Charming Man” mimed on Top of The Pops, 1983
“This Charming Man” Live in Germany, 1984
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