….or how Johnny cooked up How Soon Is Now?
How Soon Is Now? – don’t forget the question mark! – is the song that people who dislike The Smiths like. Those same people who would lazily decree The Smiths as ‘miserable‘ whilst frantically waving a 12″ of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now right under your nose (“Exhibit A, M’Lud!”) embraced How Soon Is Now? as if it were the returning of The Messiah himself. It’s true! As well as being a dancefloor filler from Dublin to Dundee and Humberside, it was the song that truly broke The Smiths on the American touring circuit, from out of the colleges and into the (relatively) cavernous venues required to house the hordes who packed in expecting to hear more of the same rockist thunk. Ironically, it was the one song in The Smiths’ impressive arsenal that the band never quite managed to pull off live and in more recent times, Morrissey and his ham-fisted group of plodders have failed miserably to do it justice too. It’s a unique track, made in unique circumstances and although others have tried, no-one, NO-ONE! has managed to get it sounding quite as majestic as the band what wrote it. So how did they do it?
- One copy of Hey Bo Diddley. The first track Bo Diddley will do.
- One copy of Run Through The Jungle. Must be The Gun Club version, NOT the Creedence Clearwater Revival original. If you don’t have an actual version, a crappy lo-fi mp3 will have to do. Sorry.
- One copy of Can‘s I Want More from 1976’s Flow Motion LP.
- One copy of Hamilton Bohannon‘s Disco Stomp.
- One copy of Lovebug Starski‘s pioneering hip-hop single You’ve Gotta Believe from 1982.
Listen closely to Bo Diddley’s guitar playing. D’you hear that juddering tremeloed effect? File it away for use at a later date. Now take The Gun Club track. Oh! It has almost the same rhythm as Bo Diddley’s! And only one chord by the sounds of it! Keep that in mind for the moment. Now. Think. D’you remember driving back from Wales on a really hot day, sitting in the back of your parents’ car, listening to the radio? Hamilton Bohannon’s disco stomp was all the rage in 1975. Great rhythm guitar playing, I’m sure you’ll agree. You’ll want to use that too – throw it all in.
It’s time to cool it down now. Don’t worry, it can’t ever be too cool. In 1976 as the world went disco, even pioneering German prog-rockers were getting in on the act. Take your copy of I Want More by Can and give it a good listen to. Juddering? Repetitive? Keyboard motifs? Just as I thought! Make a mental note to do something about them later.
Now for the tricky part. Take all these wonderful ingredients and splice them together. Make a rough demo, call it ‘Swamp‘ then pop it through Morrissey’s letter box – he’ll sort out the lyrics, just you worry about the tune. Book a studio – Jam Studios in North London will be just fine. Ask John Porter if he’d mind coming along to twiddle a few knobs on the old Fender Twins. Change the light bulbs to red, spark up a generous spliff and start the tapes a-rollin’. Woah! Something’s cookin’ alright!
Cook for about 7 minutes. Take out the oven. Garnish with liberal sprinklings of Lovebug Starski (Morrissey would be horrified at the thought, but don’t worry, he’ll be too busy working up to a whistle later on, he’ll never notice – have a listen around the 3.11 mark – oh aye!) If you can, add some fantastic slide guitar, make it sound like a distressed cat miaowing into infinity ét voila! A masterpiece!
It’s worth noting that the first time you attempt this recipe, you may assume the vocalist is singing about the elements, “the sun and the air” and all that jazz. Listen again. Very clever guy, that singer. A bit too clever for the record company, who failed to spot the potential of How Soon Is Now? and were initially happy for The Smiths to stick it on as the extra track on the 12″ of William, It Was Really Nothing. I suppose it’s a measure of Morrissey and Marr’s confidence and unrivalled song writing skills that they could knock out such high quality songs between albums seemingly at will. For us mere mortals who aren’t blessed with the genius songwriting skills required to make such great records, perhaps this recipe of unlikely (though entirely obvious) influences will serve as some sort of cold comfort.
Here‘s the Italian 12″ version of How Soon Is Now? With a different vocal and different mix it’s rarer than a steak pie in Morrissey’s house.
There’s a fantastic Smiths bootleg that recently crept out, around Christmas time, featuring alternative mixes, scrapped demos, the whole shooting match, a Holy Grail for Smiths collectors. You can download it via here. Although, you knew that already, didn’t you?
There’s also a website linked over there on the right called Extra Track And a Tacky Badge. This is a right labour of love for those involved. They’re tweaking the band’s 17 singles to make them sound as magnificent as possible. If you’ve heard the work they did to the Joy Division and New Order catalogues, you’ll know what I mean. if not, get over there sharpish…