In my last post about The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, I listed my ‘Desert Island‘ favourite 5 songs of them. Today’s song How Soon is Now also made that short list. In fact it’s in my top 2 of that list and is my go-to song for those unfamiliar with their music. Coincidentally, it is was originally released a B-side of the 1984 single William, It Was Really Nothing which is the other in my top-2. In 2007, Marr (guitarist) said “How Soon Is Now? is “possibly [the Smiths’] most enduring record. It’s most people’s favourite, I think.”
It boggles my mind How Soon is Now was produced in 1984. The richness and currency of its sound and lyric, is like it was released to the masses yesterday. It hasn’t aged a bit and there exists few 80’s songs you could say that about. It reached No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart and when re-released in 1992, it reached No. 16. Despite its prominent place in the Smiths’ repertoire, it is not generally considered to be representative of the band’s style, but I believe the mood it conjures and what it expresses represents The Smiths modus operandi. I really enjoy the self pitying and mischievous rhetoric.
I am the son and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular
You shut your mouth, how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr wrote How Soon Is Now? along with William during a four-day period at Earl’s Court in London in June 1984 and that might explain why some perceive it not representative of the band. The opening of the song was adapted from a line in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch: “To be born the son of a Middlemarch manufacturer, and inevitable heir to nothing in particular“.
Marr gave an account in 1990 of how he achieved the resonant sound:
‘The vibrato [tremolo] sound is 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!‘
Hence, How Soon Is Now? was considered a “major problem” to play in concert by the Smiths, and live versions by the Smiths are relatively rare, although the song has also been performed live by Johnny Marr, both solo and with his band the Healers.
1. How Soon Is Now – Wikipedia