The Smiths – This Charming Man

Written by RJ Evans, London, UK -
In the September of 1983 I was terrified – the first month of my first year at university.  By October I was more comfortable and settling in to what I could, even at that point, see were going to be some of the best years of my life.  I had fixed upon what I wanted to do for the next three years but had not – as yet – come across what I wanted to listen to.

I hadn’t liked The Smiths’ first single, Hand in Glove.  I thought it was poorly produced and more than a little tinny.  Then, in the same October I was acclimatising to academic life (and the less scholarly activities on its periphery) the band released their second single, This Charming Man.

I loved it immediately.  Lyrically it was very different – ambiguous and old fashioned with a sense of vulnerability which I think appealed to my youthful self.   It was certainly a change from the macho sensibilities of the period, when it came to guitar music – and didn’t celebrate the alpha male one little bit, just the opposite in fact.

The scenario of the song, where a cyclist hesitantly accepts a lift from a passing motorist, was also a little dissimilar to the usual synth pop boy meets girl songs we were so used to in the early eighties.  It was, lyrically, unlike anything of the time – with almost archaic language – certainly evocative of some misty time gone by – like an Ealing film with something of an edge, translated in to song.

It also started something of a sub-hobby for me – and that was spotting where Morrissey had lifted lyrics from films and plays to interpolate them, with ease and a fond nod to the authors, in to his music. The choice of sleeve cover for each of their singles and albums also became something of an obsession.

This Charming Man was, I think, a song that was utterly unconcerned with musical fashion.  However, such was its draw for so many that The Smiths rapidly became a fashion in their own right.  The world was soon awash with Morrissey clones (not necessarily a bad thing at that point in the Cold War).

Of course I didn’t realise it at the time, but This Charming Man became one of the defining songs of my years at university and – as such – one of the significant songs of my life.  I cannot listen to it without being immediately transported back to that stage of my life, the excitement of being away from home for the first time and the new and exciting people I was meeting on an almost daily basis (the world was a mess but our hair was perfect).  This Charming Man was also one of those pivotal songs which helped steer my evolving sense of place in the world – professionally, socially and politically. 

RJ lives and works in London. He curates the Kuriositas blog.

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