KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #287: This Charming Man by The Smiths.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #287: This Charming Man by The Smiths.

In 1983, The Smiths released their self-titled debut album. The second song from that album to hit the airwaves was, “This Charming Man”. This is the song that changed everything for the band. It was the very first taste of success for the song writing team of Johnny Marr (music) and Morrissey (lyrics). It was, also, a revelation to thousands of fans who were captivated by the power of Morrissey’s voice and the genius of Marr’s guitar work. More than that, though, “This Charming Man” is a song about homosexuality that is directly-stated, dressed up in Edwardian language and made to seem elegant and respectable. At the time of its release, “This Charming Man” by The Smiths was seen as a counter-balance to the flamboyant ways of singers such as Boy George from Culture Club”. As previously noted, The Smiths spoke to the unheard and the unseen and, with “This Charming Man”, they spoke directly to those struggling with their sexual identity. “With “This Charming Man”, The Smiths told their fans that they could be sexual and desirable and classy and, most importantly, that is was ok to be themselves.

“This Charming Man” is based on a movie called, “Sleuth” starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine which, in turn, is based upon a Tony-Award winning play. The gist of the song is that a young man has an incident while riding a bicycle and is “helped” by a dashing, older man who happens along, offering him a ride in his car.

“Why pamper life’s complexity

When the leather runs smooth

On the passenger’s seat” croons Morrissey.

He, then, goes on to utter one of my favourite lines:

“I would go out tonight But I haven’t got a stitch to wear.

This man said, “Its Gruesome that someone so handsome, should care.”

One of the things that makes “This Charming Man” such a good song is the intentional decision to use rich language to evoke a more elegant exchange of favours. Morrissey, who is Gay, has been quoted as saying that he never saw himself reflected in the Gay scene, as depicted by the Media and the Entertainment Industry of the early 1980s (who were promoting Boy George) and was looking to create a something, more in the image of what he wished for himself, that might inspire and comfort others, too. It appears that he got his wish. When The Smiths first appeared on TV to play this song, they did so with an artistry and confidence that captured the attention of many who watched them. From that appearance on “The Peel Sessions”, all the way into our more modern and increasingly accepting times today, “This Charming Man” has been held up as one of the best songs ever for those who question whether or not being Gay and feeling elegant are compatible attributes. They most certainly are.

So, without further delay, please enjoy the song that really started it all for The Smiths. Here is “This Charming Man”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “This Charming Man” by The Smiths, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Smiths, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting the best of music, regardless of the sexual orientation of the artist or band. Their wonderful website can be reached by clicking on the link here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #368: Panic by The Smiths.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #368: Panic by The Smiths.

“Panic” by Manchester’s, “The Smiths” was released in 1986. The song was written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr as a commentary on their view that there was a disconnect between what was going on in the world (politically and economically) and what was being played by DJs on the radio. All throughout the 1980s, “The Smiths” had built their careers by appealing to those who felt ignored or neglected by the greater of society. In “Panic”, they spoke directly to this by including lines such as,

“Burn down the disco,

Hang the blessed DJ,

Because the music that they constantly play

It says nothing to me about my life.”

“Panic” was, not surprisingly, met with mixed reviews. Fans of the band tended to support the notion that much of what passed for popular music of the day was nothing more than sugary confection and lacked meaning and substance. However, the music industry, in particular, took great exception to the song and, specifically, viewed it as a thinly-veiled attack on music made by black musicians. The reasoning behind these accusations was that “DJs and Discos” were often home to musical movements such as Reggae and Ska which were, primarily, Jamaican, in origin. Morrissey and Marr denied that there were any racial overtones to this song but, by now, Morrissey had begun to gain a reputation for pomposity and boorish utterances and, “Panic” did nothing to dissuade the critics of the band. While this song did not lead directly to “The Smiths” breaking up in 1987, it does highlight the growing emboldenment of Morrissey when it came to his politics and the growing sense of frustration within the rest of the band, who saw this as a distraction from their goal of making good music.

In the History of Modern Music, one of the more notable trends is for the lead singer of a band to “outgrow” the band. This can be the case when the record label believes there is more money to be made because of the talent/charisma of the lead singer (think, Diana Ross and the Supremes or George Michael of Wham) or else, ego becomes involved (think David Lee Roth and Van Halen or, in the case of this post, think Morrissey and The Smiths). When “The Smiths” disbanded, Morrissey continued on his own but never achieved the same level of success as a solo artist that he did as a member of “The Smiths”. In fact, as time has gone on, Morrissey’s politics have aligned themselves more with the right-wing views of people like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton, who view White Nationalism as the foundation of, what they claim as, a civilized society.

Morrissey’s story is a case in point where you don’t have to take my word for how things have turned out. When you end up in the bombsights of a satirical show like, “The Simpsons” then, you know your carcass has begun to bloat. Recently, “The Simpsons” devoted an entire episode to sending up Morrissey. The episode was called, “Panic in the Streets of Springfield” (which plays on the opening line of the original song which starts off, “Panic in the streets of London”.) In the episode, the Morrissey character is voiced by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The character appears as Lisa’s “invisible friend” as she tries to sort out the confused feelings she is experiencing as she becomes a teenager. His views on life….that everyone else is inferior and that all other music is terrible…..wears thin for Lisa in the end, as she begins to make her own judgments and refutes his gaslighting opinions. As the episode concludes, the Morrissey character is seen clearly for the raving irrelevancies that characterize his worldview. Lisa Simpson, who has always been the conscience of the show, grows as a result of her dismissal of Morrissey’s beliefs.

When making good music was at the core of their motivation, “The Smiths” were one of the most important bands in the world. Consequently, we will see them again before this list concludes. However, when derision and condescension begin colouring one’s creative expression, the results are less impressive. “Panic” was meant to be an airing of a critical opinion of the state of music in the UK at the time and, that is fine. We are all entitled to airing an evidenced-based opinion. But, by invoking race into the mix, Morrissey tipped his hand and revealed that there were ulterior motives involved. Whenever folks catch wind that a public figure is being less that forthright then, their opinion should be held up to closer scrutiny and revealed for what it is (which is what happened to Morrissey). Thus, “Panic” became famous as a cautionary tale, rather than the scathing rebuke of modern music that it was intended to be. Not all songs, as it turns out, are meant for pleasure and enjoyment. Some serve as turning points in important careers and reminders to those in the spotlight that an attitude of dismissiveness wears thin after awhile. On stage, as in life, positivity trumps negativity and populism does, indeed, appear to have a shelf life. Here is “Panic” by “The Smiths”. Listen carefully and see what all the fuss was about.

The link to the video for “Panic!” by The Smiths, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Smiths, can be found here.

The link to the video for the Morrissey/Simpsons episode can be found here.

The link to KEXP can be found here. Thanks, as always, for supporting good music.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP Song #488…Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by The Smiths.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #488: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by The Smiths.

The Smiths were formed in the same Manchester music scene as discussed in previous posts about The Happy Mondays, as well as, the band, James. However, regardless of the success of either of those groups, or of any other band that came out of Manchester, The Smiths were, by far, the biggest and most influential act of them all. In fact, in a recent poll conducted to see who people thought were the biggest bands in UK history, The Smiths came in at #6. The only bands in front of them were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Pink FLoyd and Led Zeppelin. The Smiths finished ahead of such legendary bands as Queen, The Who, The Kinks and many others.

The funny thing about this is that the numbers don’t back up the level of adoration and esteem in which the band is held by so many. The Smiths were a band for only five years. They produced only four albums. They never had a number one song nor a gold record. In fact, their biggest and most recognizable hit, “How Soon Is Now?” was actually first released as a “B-side” and only ever gained traction as a single of its own by word-of-mouth from fans. So, what is it, then, about The Smiths that has caused them to leave such a lasting impact on the modern music scene in the UK and around the world?

At their core, The Beatles had Lennon and McCartney, The Stones had Keef and Mick, The Smiths had Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Morrissey (whose first name was Stephen but, who only went by his surname) was the lead singer and chief lyricist. Johnny Marr was the lead guitar player and arranged all of the music. They were friends who met in their late teens. They discovered that they shared similar tastes in music and that they had come from similar working class neighbourhoods in northern England. They had that level of chemistry and connection that all the great duos seem to have. The songs that they produced together were intelligent, humorous, cutting and relevant to a whole host of people who previously felt unseen and unheard. At first blush, The Smiths can come across as overly fussy and angst-driven but, when you look past the surface, what you find is a band who seemed to understand the real lives of real people almost better than anyone ever. The Smiths sing about everything from how it feels to be unemployed, to not having anything to wear to go out dancing, to feeling alone because you can’t trust the idea that someone could actually, truly love you.

The Smiths appear multiple times over the course of this Top 500 list so, there is plenty of time to get into finer details on Morrissey/Marr and the songs they wrote. For now, enjoy this song about love and trust and alcoholism. If you have never heard The Smiths before, get ready for one of the most unique voices to ever sing into a microphone. As well, enjoy the beautiful guitar work of Johnny Marr, as he weaves his music in and out and around Morrissey’s words. In this video, Morrissey is leading a group of Morrissey look-a-likes on bicycles. The video is actually filled with Smiths memorabilia and references. For instance, this song comes from their fourth album, “Strangeways, Here We Come”. Knowing that will explain some of the opening shots. The shirts they are wearing are all Smiths concert merchandise. Look out for Oscar Wilde, too. Apparently, he was a hero to Morrissey.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, without further delay, here come The Smiths! Enjoy.

The link for the music video for Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by The Smiths can be found here.

Thank you to Morrissey, Johnny Marr and the rest of the band for making music that was so important to so many people. To learn more about The Smiths, check out their website here.

Thank you to KEXP, as always, for providing the inspiration that resulted in the creation of this post.A link to their fabulous website can be found here.