Secret Smile

Album: Feeling Strangely Fine (1998)
Charted: 13

Songfacts®:

  • This very sweet song started with a dream. In the early morning hours, Semisonic lead singer Dan Wilson woke up with the first half of it playing in his head, so he went to his piano, played the chords, wrote down the words he heard in his head, and wrote down the chords. The next day, he figured it must have been an existing song that entered his dream, but when he played it for friends, they assured him it was original (the same thing happened to Paul McCartney when he dreamed up "Yesterday"). Wilson's dreams didn't gift him the rest of the song, so he finished it off in a conscious state.
  • The subject of this song is Wilson's wife, Diane, but there is also a lot of pathos behind it, as he asks her to "remove this whirling sadness" and "save me from madness."

    "Ever since I was a preteen, I struggled with melancholy and the blues," Wilson explained in a Songfacts interview where he discussed the song. "My family found my melancholy or my sad side to be very troubling and perplexing. Part of it was that I was a smart kid and I excelled at what I did. I was mostly pleasant. So I was lucky in many, many ways. The path was strewn with roses. My family couldn't understand why these dark moods would strike me for long stretches, but I imagine that's a lot of people's experiences growing up.

    It lasted through my 20s and probably into my 30s, so when I wrote 'Secret Smile,' I may have just been experiencing exactly what the song is about. I can't really analyze it, because the lyrics mostly came from a dream and then the rest of it I just tried to channel my intuition rather than thinking intellectually about what the words were going to be."
  • In the UK and Canada, this was a solid hit, but in America it went largely unnoticed. The song was released on Semisonic's second album, Feeling Strangely Fine, which contains their hit "Closing Time." In the US, their record company, MCA, didn't release any singles from the album so that folks would have to buy the whole thing if they wanted one of the songs. "Closing Time" was promoted on radio and MTV, sending it to #11 on the Billboard Airplay chart. "Secret Smile" was the next song promoted, but it didn't earn enough airplay to make the chart.
  • Wilson's real-life wife stars with him in the video, which was directed by Sophie Muller. The clip is shot with footage made to look like intimate home movies of the couple, who are pursued by paparazzi when they leave their apartment.

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