Song of the Day #361: ‘Hand in Glove’ – The Smiths

thesmithsThe band reunion I’d most like to see — more than Talking Heads, Ben Folds Five, Led Zeppelin or Simon and Garfunkel — is The Smiths. It’s so tantalizingly close to happening — all the members are alive and well and active in the music industry — yet it likely never will. Morrissey and Johnny Marr hate each other like poison and they reportedly turned down $5 million dollars to reunite for a single song at a recent festival.

It just seems wrong that a band so influential and creative should have lit up and flamed out over the course of only five years in the mid-80s. By now The Smiths could have been as big as U2, with as many albums under their belts. Sure, Morrissey has released a series of fine solo albums, but his work apart from Marr has never been quite up to the level of the stuff The Smiths put out.

This week I’ll feature a handful of those songs by one of my favorite bands.

The Smiths formed in 1982, when Steven Morrissey (who quickly dropped his first name) and Johnny Marr (the stage name of John Maher) left other British rock bands and teamed up, recruiting drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke along the way. Marr wrote all of the band’s music, and came up with a guitar sound imitated to this day, while front man Morrissey handled lyrics and vocal melodies.

To contrast themselves from their contemporaries with such elaborate names as Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and Spandau Ballet, the band chose the simple moniker The Smiths. It’s ironic that Morrissey, king of the misfits, prided himself on the ordinariness of his band.

Morrissey was the original Adam Lambert, a gay man who was coy about his sexuality and a sex symbol for both men and women alike. He was bigger than gay or straight… he was just flamboyantly fabulous, period. But a look at his lyrics right from the start made it clear where his heart lay.

The lovers in today’s song, ‘Hand in Glove,’ off the band’s 1984 debut, are probably gay, based on this line: “If the people stare then the people stare… I really don’t know and I really don’t care.” That’s a theme that recurs in Morrissey’s work to this day. As does the pessimism in this song’s final lines: “But I know my luck too well… and I’ll probably never see you again.”

Yes, Morrissey and The Smiths turned misery into an art form. But as I hope to show over the next few days, they did it with a passion and a sense of humor rare in the music world both then and now.

Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
No, it’s not like any other love
This one is different, because it’s us

Hand in glove
We can go wherever we please
And everything depends upon
How near you stand to me

And if the people stare
Then the people stare
Oh, I really don’t know and I really don’t care

Hand in glove
The Good People laugh
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we’ve something they’ll never have

Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we’ve something they’ll never have

And if the people stare
Then the people stare
Oh, I really don’t know and I really don’t care

So, hand in glove I stake my claim
I’ll fight to the last breath

If they dare touch a hair on your head
I’ll fight to the last breath

For the Good Life is out there somewhere
So stay on my arm, you little charmer

But I know my luck too well
Yes, I know my luck too well
And I’ll probably never see you again
I’ll probably never see you again
I’ll probably never see you again
Oh …

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #361: ‘Hand in Glove’ – The Smiths

  1. Dana says:

    Man, do I hate this guy’s voice! I can’t believe you are doing a whole theme week on the Smiths. Ugh!

    And the suggestion that the Smiths EVER were or could have been as big as U2 is just plain silliness.(and I’m not a big U2 fan either btw) U2 was huge, playing stadiums worldwide, almost out of the gate, then soared with Joshua Tree. The Smiths were a band with a relatively small, passionate fan base that never really broke into the mainstream. They were much like REM before Losing My Religion. Their breakup was a nonevent to 99% of the population of this planet and their reuniting would be met with utter indifference by that same population. In fact, I bet if a poll were taken today, it would look something like this:

    Do you want the Smiths to get back together?

    85% Who are the Smiths?
    6% Didn’t know they had broken up (and didn’t care)
    4% No, then I would have to learn who they were
    3% No, my brother in law kept playing them relentlessly back in the late 80’s, I was thrilled when they broke up, but saddened that Morrisey kept going and sounded just like the band he left.
    1% Yes
    1% Undecided

    Okay, I’ll rant more on tomorrow’s SOTD:)

  2. Clay says:

    I deliberately chose this week to feature The Smiths because I knew you were off the mainland. But I see you can spew just as effectively your venom from across the Pacific. πŸ™‚

    Still, I got some good laughs out of your comment. I particularly like the poll!

    While I am certainly overstating the band’s popularity (the reference to U2 is admittedly a stretch), you are definitely underestimating their importance. To quote the band biography on AllMusic, The Smiths provided “the blueprint for British guitar rock” into the 90s and beyond.

    Your comparison to R.E.M. is a great one, and the one I should have made. Both had cult alternative followings and widespread critical acclaim but only moderate chart success (all of The Smiths’ albums went at least gold but only a couple went platinum). And both had compelling, mysterious, sexually ambiguous lead singers.

  3. Kerrie says:

    I can understand why Dana is driven crazy by Morrisey’s voice (it is what I’ll call an acquired taste – should one be inclined to develop a taste for such things), but for me it just brings back high school and my college years. When I hear anything by the Smiths (easily identified by voice if not guitar style) I am transported back to those years – which may have been a roller coaster then, but I like remembering now. πŸ™‚

    I do agree with Dana about the U2 comparison, though, and would have said something similar (although the poll was a really nice touch I wouldn’t have thought of…). Fortunately, you have seen the error of your initial comparison so I’ll leave it alone….

  4. Amy says:

    First, I must commend you on the sly reference to Adam Lambert. Bringing up the American Idol reference yourself so as not to have to deal with one of your American Idol obsessed readers doing so. Niiiiice πŸ™‚

    Second, I don’t see what there is to hate about Morrisey’s voice. I can certainly appreciate that it might not gain the band (or the man) fans, but I don’t see where it’s so objectionable.

    Third, isn’t this the band that Summer is listening to in the elevator of 500 Days of Summer? Every time I see the trailer for that film, I want to hear the song she is listening to. If it’s not the Smiths, then it should be πŸ™‚ as I think they’re the kind of band that inspires that sort of loyalty and excitement over finding others who “get it.” And I don’t mean to suggest people who don’t like the band don’t get it, just that they aren’t members of that particular club.

    I find myself rather indifferent when I hear most of their stuff. I know there are a couple of songs you’ve shared with me over the years that I like very much, but today’s song inspires neither passion nor vitriol. I do like the lyrics.

    Oh, and I’ll try to limit Dana’s computer time this week πŸ˜‰

  5. Clay says:

    I hadn’t seen the full 500 Days of Summer trailer but I just checked it out and it is indeed The Smiths they’re listening to in the elevator. Very cute scene (can’t wait to see that movie!).

  6. Kerrie says:

    All I can say is “Girlfriend in a Coma” is a classic and I love it. (hint hint) And though I can understand Dana’s distaste for Morissey’s voice (it’s not your garden variety pop/rock voice – for example, I’m not a fan of Tom Waits’ voice for some of its particularly grating qualities. Okay, that’s a bad example. I got nothin’…), I don’t happen to feel the same way; I think it’s cool. πŸ™‚

    Can’t wait to see what you’ve got lined up for the rest of the week.

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