In this song, a male protagonist, who has punctured his bicycle tire on a desolate hillside, is approached by a "charming man" in a "charming car." After a brief hesitation, the protagonist climbs into the car with the man, who flirts with his passenger and invites him out later that evening. The protagonist rejects the man's offer, because he hasn't "got a stitch to wear." Front man, Morrissey, told Undress in 1984 that this latter line was written from personal experience: "For years and years I never had a job, or any money. Consequently I never had any clothes whatsoever. I found that on those very rare occasions when I did get invited anywhere I would constantly sit down and say, 'Good heavens, I couldn't possibly go to this place tonight because I don't have any clothes, I don't have any shoes.' So I'd miss out on all those foul parties. It was really quite a blessing in disguise."
Morrissey lifted the line, "A jumped-up pantry boy, who never knew his place," from the 1972 film adaptation of the homoerotic play, Sleuth
, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The film itself is referencing the 1945 novel, Loving
, by Henry Green. In this story, the caretaker of an Irish castle, Charlie Raunce, accuses his pantry boy of being "jumped-up" and "not knowing his proper place." Later events include the theft of a ring, for which the pantry boy is wrongly accused.
Lannie - Cedar Rapids, IA
Guitarist Johnny Marr composed this especially for a BBC radio session with the DJ John Peel, who championed the band. For these "Peel Sessions," bands were granted three hours of studio time to record a few songs with minimal overdubbing, which Peel would play exclusively.
Marr recalled to Guitar Player
in 1990: "I remember writing it, it was in preparation for a John Peel single. I wrote it the same night as 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' and 'Still Ill.'"
Peel played the Session version of "This Charming Man" a few times, and it got a great response. This convinced The Smiths' record label, Rough Trade, to released the commercial version of the song as a single rather than their original choice of "Reel Around the Fountain
In 2006, the leader of the Conservative Party and future British Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the BBC radio show, Desert Island Discs, that this was one of eight songs that he would like to have with him on a desert island. Both Marr and Morrissey have distanced themselves from Cameron's endorsements. In 2010, Marr tweeted, "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it," while Morrissey attacked Cameron for engaging in the hunting and shooting of stags later that year.
The Smiths performed this for the first time on the British entertainment show Top of the Pops in 1983. Morrissey swung gladioli throughout the performance, which marked the first time many Britains had seen The Smiths. Marr commented to The Guardian in 2011: "Morrissey was using those gladioli in a way that was far from fey, almost brandishing them. Morrissey provided flamboyance, the rest of us wore sweaters and provided a streetwise, gang aspect. We'd had a year of rejections, getting in the trenches; nothing had been handed to us on a plate and we were ready." Oasis' guitarist, Noel Gallagher, was among those who caught The Smiths' performance that November evening: "None of my mates liked them — they were more hooligan types. They came into work and said 'F*ckin' hell, did you see that poof on Top of the Pops with the bush in his back pocket?' But I thought it was life-changing."
In 1984, bassist, Andy Rourke, told Record Mirror that he thought this was The Smiths' best single yet: "Of all our singles I think I like 'This Charming Man' best, just because the rhythms are so infectious. Smith music really moves me."
Marr revealed to Mojo in 2008 that the success of Rough Trade label mates, Aztec Camera, spurred him on to write this: "A couple of days before I wrote 'This Charming Man' I'd heard 'Walk Out To Winter' by Aztec Camera on BBC Radio 1, and I felt a little jealous. My competitive urges kicked in. I felt that we needed something up-beat and in a major key for Rough Trade to get behind. That's why I wrote it in the key of G, which to this day I rarely do. I knew that 'This Charming Man' would be our next single." Marr continued: "I did the whole thing in one go into this TEAC 3-track tape recorder that I used to write on. I came up with the basic chords and immediately overdubbed the top line and intro riff."
The sound effect that you hear at the end of the chorus is Marr dropping a metal knife on to his Telecaster. Marr told Select in 1993: "I'd take this really loud Telecaster of mine, lay it on top of a Fender Twin Reverb with the vibrato on, and tune it to an open chord. Then I'd drop a knife with a metal handle on it, hitting random strings. I used it on 'This Charming Man', buried beneath about 15 tracks of guitar. People thought the main guitar part was a Rickenbacker, but it's really a '54 Tele. There are three tracks of acoustic, a backwards guitar with a really long reverb, and the effect of dropping knives on the guitar - that comes in at the end of the chorus."
This topped Mojo's "The 50 Greatest UK Indie Records of All Time" list in 2008.
This was a single-only release in 1983 and consequently did not feature on a traditional studio album. In 1989, Warner Records purchased The Smiths' back catalogue and incorporated the song into subsequent pressings of the band's self-titled debut album. In 1992, Warner reissued "This Charming Man" in the UK, where it peaked at #8.
Johnny Marr recalled to Q magazine the morning he wrote this song: "I remember waking up in a cottage just outside of Manchester that the manager Joe Moss' wife owned, and getting ready to go to Rough Trade in London. I knew we had a John Peel session a week later and we needed a couple of new songs, so I put it down as almost a mess-about and the whole thing just poured out."
Marr added that he wasn't initially impressed with his new composition, "Because I'd done it so casually before I wasn't sure if it was any good or not," he explained," then we recorded it at Maida Vale and I realized it had something special about it."
Marr admitted that despite its ambassadorial status as The Smith's unofficial theme tune, this song was never a band favorite. "It still isn't, "he added. "I wince a bit when I hear it now. It only tells the shiny side of the story, it in no way epitomizes what was good about the band in the long term. But God bless it though, it seemed to catch on with a lot of people."