This was written as a riposte when the original lineup of Cockney Rebel walked out on Steve Harley. The song tells the story of the first incarnation of the band.
When he performed the song on Top Of The Pops, although the instrumental backing was mimed, Harley performed a live vocal and promptly forgot most of the second and third verses. (thanks, Shelley - Stoke-on-Trent, England)
The acoustic, flamenco-styled guitar solo was originally a soundcheck warm-up that was captured on tape and later used when it was realized it added to the song.
In 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Steve Harley recalls the end of Cockney Rebel version 1: "We split up because they wanted to to take my leadership away. They wanted to dilute it and Make Me Smile is saying 'Come back one day and I'll laugh.' It was arrogant but I knew they were wrong - they didn't understand the group like I did." In the song Steve accuses them of selling out and sings, "You spoilt the game, no matter what you say, for only metal-what a bore."
Steve adds in 1000 UK #1 Hits: "There are 120 cover versions of Make Me Smile, but only The Wedding Present have done it differently. They did a punk version and made it kick. They understood the venom in the lyrics."
This features in the 1997 film The Full Monty. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England, for above 4)
This song also featured prominently in the 1998 cult film Velvet Goldmine, about the rise and fall of Glam (or Glitter) Rock. The film's main character is based on David Bowie's character of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie disapproved of the film and refused to allow his music to be used, so a variety of other Glam and Glam-influenced tracks were used instead. (thanks, Terry - NYC, NY)
Harley started writing the song within days of the old Cockney Rebel breaking up. He told Uncut magazine January 2012 the first verse ("You've done it all, you've broken every code/And pulled the rebel to the floor"), "was probably written at four in the morning after a bottle of brandy, feeling sorry for myself."
The song was originally written as a slow blues, but producer Alan Parsons suggested speeding it up. He recalled to Uncut: "It was a little dirgy, slower and a little pedestrian, very on the beat. I changed it to a way I thought worked much better with the girls."