This Charming Man is the second single from English band The Smiths, released in October 1983. The track is perhaps one of the most well-known Smiths songs, and accordingly the highest-charting single in the band's history.
By 1983, The Smiths had gained recognition, mainly on the UK indie circuit. This was helped by positive reviews and a then-upcoming session on BBC Radio DJ John Peel's show. The band was let down by the relative failure of Hand In Glove. With an urge to match up to rivals, guitarist Johnny Marr believed The Smiths needed an up-beat song, "in a major key", in order to gain a chart positioning that would live up to expectations.
For the first Peel session, Marr composed This Charming Man in one night, along with Still Ill and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Based on the positive reception of the Peel session, Rough Trade head Geoff Travis suggested releasing This Charming Man as a single, passing over the slated release Reel Around The Fountain, which gained notoriety for perceived references to pedophilia. The Smiths entered Matrix Studios in London on September 1983 to record a second studio version of the song for release as a single. However, the result—known as the "London version"—was deemed unsatisfactory and soon after, the band travelled to Strawberry Studios in Stockport to try again. Here, they recorded the more widely heard A-side.
Music and lyricsEdit
The lyrics detail a first-person narrative of a male cyclist suffering a bicycle puncture in the countryside. The cyclist is then rescued by a "charming man", after much reluctance on the part of the protagonist. The "charming man" flirts with the cyclist, who continues to show great awkwardness and shyness.
Archaic language was deliberately used in the penning of the lyrics, to evoke a more "courtly" feel, different from 80s England. Morrissey said in a 1983 interview with Barney Hoskyns that he used such words to "try and revive some involvement with language people no longer use. In the daily scheme of things, people's language is so frighteningly limited, and if you use a word with more than 10 letters it's absolute snobbery."
As with many of Morrissey's compositions, the song's lyrics features dialogue borrowed from cult media. The line "A jumped-up pantry boy, who never knew his place" is borrowed from the 1972 film adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's homoerotic play Sleuth.
Both studio versions begin with an introductory guitar riff, joined by the rhythm section. Morrissey's vocals are first heard eight seconds into the track. His vocal melodies are diatonic, and consciously avoid blues inflections. The chorus is played twice; the first time it is followed by a brief pause, the second by the closing of the song. Mike Joyce did not play drums on "This Charming Man". The drums were originally programmed on a Linn Drum Computer, by session drummer Peter Boita under the direction of producer John Porter. Peter Boita then sampled a live drum kit, drum by drum, into an AMS digital reverb unit. His Linn Drum programme then triggered out the sampled sounds of the live drum kit from the AMS.
The song continues to be performed live by Morrissey on occasion. The track has been adapted to suit Morrissey's lower vocal range, and is no longer performed in the key of F#. Crunchier guitars are featured in place of Marr's trademark jangling, chiming guitars.
A 2004 BBC Radio 2 feature on the song noted that the performance was most people's introduction to The Smiths and, "therefore, to the weird, wordy world of Morrissey and the music of Johnny Marr". Uncut magazine, commentating on the nationally televised debut, wrote that "Thursday evening when Manchester's feyest first appeared on Top of the Pops would be an unexpected pivotal cultural event in the lives of a million serious English boys. His very English, camp glumness was a revolt into Sixties kitchen-sink greyness against the gaudiness of the Eighties New Wave music, as exemplified by Culture Club and their ilk. The Smiths' subject matter may have been 'squalid' but there was a purity of purpose about them that you messed with at your peril." Noel Gallagher said of the performance: "None of my mates liked them — they were more hooligan types. They came into work and said 'Fuckin' hell, did you see that poof on "Top of the Pops" with the bush in his back pocket?' But I thought it was life-changing."