It’s not like any other love
Thirty years ago today The Smiths released their first single.
There can’t be many bands who arrive pretty much fully formed, but The Smiths were one. Hand in Glove announced this self-contained world. There are colloquialisms and sayings ,”The sun shines out of our behinds” paired with nods to the “kitchen sink” playwright Shelagh Delaney. The song chronicles a doomed love affair that feels real (“we may be hidden by rags”), urgent, young and rebellious (“we can go wherever we please”). Morrissey introduces a world influenced by those sixties kitchen sink dramas, by his vaguely hermit-y life in Manchester, with a certain filmic sensibility (he had written a low-budget book on James Dean prior to The Smiths, and I think it shows). All of this wrapped in a rather homoerotic cover designed by Morrissey himself.
The band was just as fully-formed – Johnny Marr had written a concise, catchy, yet a little other-worldly pop song. And was still a teenager. Marr and bassist Andy Rourke weave intricate melodies, underpinned by the driving beat of drummer Mike Joyce. The harmonica at the start seems like a rather brash nod to another great debut single – the Beatles’ Love Me Do. The production might be a little rough around the edges, but The Smiths sound was already there. The confidence was already there. Hand in Glove was a statement of intent.
The Smiths were not quite like any other band, and right away presented themselves as a band to care about, obsess over. There was enough going on in the song, and the sleeve and the early interviews to keep a fan going for months (even for a fan like this one, who found them about 10 years too late). Even from this song alone you can see how some people made The Smiths their life.
I wonder if in this age of instant gratification, where everything is available and easy-to-find, if a band like The Smiths could mean as much. Somehow the joy is not only in the rush of the initial listen, but in the picking apart of the influences and messages and melodies too. Would a band like The Smiths mean as much now, when you can so easily move on to the next thing? Could a band create its own world so completely and successfully?
Probably, but I expect I’m too old to realise a band was doing that now. I hope they could, anyway.