Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want is the sound of The Smiths in minature. It‘s got a whole multitude of acoustic & electric guitar tracks, with enough pretty chords and fancy picking to satisfy even the keenest bedroom Johnny Marr guitarist for years to come (believe me). It’s whimsical, melancholic and bathed in pathos. Morrissey’s close-miked vocal is equal parts full of hope and despair and, for me at least, shrouded in ambiguity – is it “Good times, for a change” (eg, normally times are anything but good) or is it “Good times for a change” (eg, these good times we’ve been having will no doubt soon be over). That’s puzzled me for years that has. Sometimes drives me crazy if I’m telling the truth. The lyric is often lazily trotted out by the Philistines as an example of why The Smiths were “depressing etc etc blah, blah, blah“. Remarkably, it’s all over in under 2 minutes. “Where’s the rest of the song?” asked Rough Trade upon their first listen. Of course, it’s perfect as it was. “Like a very brief punch in the face,” to quote Steven Patrick himself. But you knew that already.
Perfect as it was. That hasn’t stopped others from having a go though. Without popping off to the normal places to check I’d wager it’s the most-covered Smiths track….ever! It’s featured in a handful of movie soundtracks, sometimes as the original, sometimes under the guise of someone else. It’s been played live by any number of sensitive acoustic troubadours and as I type it’s being downloaded into the higher regions of whatever constitutes a Hit Parade these days by a whole generation of cloth-eared numpties who’ve taken to it after hearing Slow Moving Millie’s clunkingly twee aberration of a version that soundtracks the current John Lewis Christmas ad on the TV. (Try saying that after 2 light ales). I don’t like it, no.
In their prime The Smiths could rattle off songs the same way you or I tend to boil the kettle – daily and without really thinking about it. With supreme confidence they stuck Please, Please, Please… onto the b-side of the William, It Was Really Nothing single, alongside How Soon Is Now? The best bands always have their best songs tucked away on b-sides but that’s quite an amazing little single, eh? Johnny tells of writing it in his Earls Court flat in the Summer of 1984, just as The Smiths had joined that train that heaved onto Euston. The inspiration behind it was the little-known Del Shannon track, ‘The Answer To Everything‘, a record constantly playing in his house when he was growing up. “I tried to capture the essence of the Del Shannon tune in terms of its spookiness and sense of yearning.” If you haven’t already done so, now’s a good time to point you in the direction of Johnny Marr’s Dansette Delights, a compilation that features this very track. Anyway, I digress. What of those cover versions?
The first to appear was The Dream Academy‘s version in 1985. An instrumental was recorded for the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off movie, which is where most folk would’ve heard it. The Dream Academy were unfortunately a bit out of step for the mid 80s. Clearly in thrall to the pastoral, introspective charms of Nick Drake and even Syd Barrett they’d have had a better chance of success in the mid 90s, when anyone who was anyone was citing Drake ‘n Barrett as visionary influences. The Dream Academy’s version (horrible pan-pipey synth strings ‘n all) crashed the charts at number 81, “which is nearly a hit,” mused Morrissey, who would later include it on his audience warm-up tapes that played before his concerts.
She & Him do a nice 50s-inspired twangin’, end of the prom-type version. Slow and reverby and featuring the vocals of the future Mrs Plain Or Pan, Zooey Deschanel (aaah, Zooey!) it‘s one of the few Please, Please, Please… covers that dares to be just that wee bit different to the original.
On the other hand, Josh Rouse, the poor man’s Ryan Adams (albeit with far better manners) contributes a lazy half, cocked version. I like Josh Rouse, I really do. His 1972 album is worth more than a fleeting Spotify listen if you’re unfamiliar with his stuff, but really, his Please, Please, Please…! He doesn’t even play the proper chords or anything! That’s just not on!
Please, Please, Please… was rarely played live by The Smiths, but here‘s a terrific, and I mean terrific, version of it that opened one legendary LA show in 1986. Famous for a bouncer-inflamed riot at the end, The Smiths actually opened with Please, Please, Please….that night. A lilting, soulful version, bass, drums ‘n all. Now pop off and seek out Thank Your Lucky Stars. You will Thank Your Lucky Stars – the best Smiths bootleg out there, if y’ask me.