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Great B-Sides: How Soon is Now? by The Smiths

The Smiths Hatful of Hollow

It’s counter-intuitive to include The Smiths‘ most iconic song in a b-side series, but it was first released as the flip side of a single. Recorded in a four day burst of creativity that also yielded ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ and ‘Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’, ‘How Soon is Now?’ was relegated to a b-side, because it was considered too out of character for the group.

Johnny Marr’s guitar usually jangles; here it pulses with a tremolo effect. While Marr usually wrote fast moving chord sequences, most of ‘How Soon is Now’ is centred on the F# chord, and the song’s working title of ‘Swamp’ is fitting. The layered guitar parts also include a dramatic, delayed slide guitar line that adds tension to the song.

While the music’s not what you expect from Johnny Marr, the lyrics are unmistakably Morrissey, almost the quintessential representation of his lovelorn, awkward persona. Sometimes there’s a tongue-in-cheek humour behind his tirades, but here’s he just a sad sack. If you haven’t seen it before, the Tumblr account This Charming Charlie juxtaposes Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons with Morrissey’s lyrics: here’s a line from ‘How Soon Is Now?”

from http://thischarmingcharlie.tumblr.com/post/57828020860

Even though it started as a b-side, ‘How Soon Is Now?’ didn’t languish in obscurity forever – it was eventually released as a single, although it wasn’t a top 20 hit, probably because it was already previously released. It was also included on the compilation Hatful of Hollow (a collection of the group’s early singles and BBC sessions) and on some editions of The Smiths’ 1985 album Meat Is Murder.

But it its original form, ‘How Soon is Now?’ is part of one of the greatest a-side and b-side pairs ever – ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ is more conventional musically for The Smiths, with its jangly guitars, but for me it’s vying with ‘How Soon Is Now?’ for the title of their best song.


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

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

There’s a club, if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry and you want to die

When you say “it’s gonna happen now”
When exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

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

15 thoughts on “Great B-Sides: How Soon is Now? by The Smiths Leave a comment

  1. Was lucky enough to see The Smiths back in the mid -80’s- a memorable concert. My sister wanted to go so I took her- was glad I went. They were a near perfect band!

    Liked by 3 people

    • A lot of great rock bands happen when you get a very talented guitarist and a very talented singer in the same band. Morrissey and Marr aren’t really a natural fit for each other in some ways – kind of a miracle that they ended up in the same band.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like the Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane combo, an impossibly good 2 sides!
    I adore William’s song structure – and I had forgotten they’d recorded Please Please during that period too, not bad for a few days work!

    Liked by 2 people

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