This song chronicles a love triangle between a marrying couple and a gay friend. The friend asks "William" why he is marrying a "fat girl" who "doesn't care about anything." It would seem that the friend had an affair with William in the past, but William is now in denial of his homosexuality and is marrying a woman instead - much to the friend's dismay. This is widely believed to be about front man Morrissey's friendship with William "Billy" Mackenzie, lead singer of the Scottish post-punk band, Associates. In 1993, Associates recorded "Stephen, You're Really Something" in response (Morrissey's first name is Steven).
Morrissey said of this song: "It occurred to me that within popular music if ever there were any records that discussed marriage they were always from the female's standpoint - female singers singing to women, whenever there were any songs saying 'do not marry, stay single, self-preservation' etc. I thought it was about time there was a male voice speaking directly to another male saying that marriage was a waste of time...that, in fact, it was 'absolutely nothing.'"
The lyrics took inspiration from Billy Liar, a 1959 novel by Keith Waterhouse about a working-class British teenager who dreams of making it big as a comedy writer.
The Smiths performed this on the British music show, Top of the Pops, in August 1984. Midway into the song, Morrissey ripped his shirt off to reveal the words "MARRY ME" scrawled across his chest.
The single's original artwork was lifted from an early 80s advertisement for A.D.S speakers. Due to legal issues, the artwork was later changed to a still of the actress, Billie Whitelaw, from the 1967 film, Charlie Bubbles.
This was a single-only release and did not appear on a traditional studio album. It was later included on the 1984 compilation album, Hatful of Hollow, which featured a mixture of singles, B-sides and live recordings.
According to Rolling Stone, OutKast's Andre 3000 is a huge Smiths fan; he named "William" as his absolute favorite song.