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Fact #156330


Short story:

The Smiths make their first appearance on BBC tv pop show Top Of The Pops, performing This Charming Man.

Full article:

Johnny Marr (guitarist, The Smiths) : Fond memories, yeah, we followed Marilyn. It was live, and you're expecting to slip and fall over, so my feet were rooted to one spot and I was trying to move around without moving my legs. There was all these balloons and Morrissey had his flowers. And we had a gig at the Hacienda afterwards. It was insane. We got to Piccadilly station and Mike Pickering met us saying, 'It's chaos in there!' Two thousand inside and one thousand outside. It was the start of three years of 'A Hard Day's Night'. In and out of cars, carried above people, going through three sets of leads a night, having your number plates stolen...

Geoff Travis (owner, Rough Trade Records) : The success of The Smiths meant that we had more money to work with other bands. All the money we made, went back into the label. So it meant that we had a chance to make records with Pere Ubu , Woodentops, Shelleyann Orphan and Easterhouse.

We learned how hit records happened and what you had to do. The whole pace of the group, the way they made decisions was fascinating - everything was done on the run. They were great records. I suppose that we got into a situation where we expected everything to do reasonably well. We expected everything to get a good reception.

Johnny Marr : I wrote This Charming Man for a John Peel session. I just leapt out of bed and wrote it. It was the culmination of trying to find a way of playing that was non-rock but still expressed my personality. I felt we needed something more upbeat in a different key and was miffed that Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame was getting on the radio and we weren't. That's why it's got that sunny disposition; my usual default setting was Manchester in the rain. When we were recording it, Rough Trade's Geoff Travis came in and said: "That's got to be the single."

At the time, there'd been this question of whether it was cool to go on Top of the Pops, probably from the Clash refusing to do it. But we were a new generation and it felt like there were new rules. It's paradoxical, but a connoisseur's approach to retro music was modern. We were into Phil Spector and the girl groups but wanted a modern currency, which set us apart from the bands using electronics. Plus, when the members of the Smiths were children, Top of the Pops was one of the most important days of the week. Suddenly we found ourselves on it. Previously, we'd been synonymous with the John Peel show, and suddenly that culture was on Top of the Pops – John Peel started to present it, and it was a new phase: post-punk going mainstream.

Marilyn was on just before us and he was a beautiful creature, but to be confronted with the kind of language Morrissey used in the song after Paul Young and a Tina Turner video must have been very arresting. Interesting and subversive ideas can get through if you wrap them up in a great pop tune.

Everyone remembers the flowers Morrissey took on to the show. I'd been very aware of how powerful Top of the Pops could be visually, from my childhood watching T. Rex. We'd first used gladioli onstage at the Hacienda about a year before, to counteract the all-encompassing austere aesthetic of Factory Records. People assumed it was an Oscar Wilde homage but that was a bonus. The flowers made the stage very treacherous if you were wearing moccasins, but they became emblematic, iconic. 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.

After that we tried to make every TV appearance a spectacle – Morrissey pulling off his shirt and having things written on his chest, the hearing aid. In a band you can have that visual dialogue with your audience, but you try to stay one step ahead. I tried to evolve into one of the Ronettes. By the time we did William, it Was Really Nothing, I had a beehive, and we'd get boys turning up at gigs with beehives – some of my proudest moments.

Over the years a lot of people have mentioned that first appearance as a year-zero event. It's impossible for me to fully analyse the impact without growing an ego the size of Chicago, but 11 years later the black Rickenbacker on the cover of the first Oasis single is my guitar. Not a lot of people know that. It was an acknowledgment.

At the time I noticed it in the record company first. Staff that had looked like Ladbroke Grove hippies suddenly looked like our mates. Then quiffs started appearing in the high street, and a wave of bands sounded like us. I took that as enormously flattering and incredible, but a couple of years later things turned a little. There was this idea of how we should sound that ignored a lot of what we had done. We were seen as the archetypal indie group, and there was a twee aspect to that music that didn't represent us. People grabbed the shadow and missed the substance.

The term "indie" started cropping up in our reviews, to describe us as opposed to New Order and Depeche Mode, who had an electronic aspect, and the Bunnymen and the Cure who were on major labels. Indie seemed to be applied to us in terms of the guitar approach and the fact we were on an independent label, but being sold in Woolworths. Indie now is to rock music what rock was to Rock with a capital R when I was in my teens. The term "rock" had to be modernised. I think the Smiths were indie through and through.
(Source : The Guardian, June 14, 2011)

Johnny Marr : I'll try any trick. With the Smiths, 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 ... it was the first record where I used those highlife-sounding runs in 3rds. I'm tuned up to F# and I finger it in G, so it comes out in A. There are 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.
(Source : Dec 1993 interview in Guitar Player magazine)