Friday, 2 June 2017

Clandestine Classic LII - Wonderful Woman (live)

The fifty-second post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Continuing my quest to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history, today I tackle the big one: how to present a clandestine classic from The Smiths? Not only are the majority of my readers already very well acquainted with this particular Salford lads' club but here's a band whose output has been bootlegged, anthologised, re-issued and repackaged to within an inch of its life. Simply, there isn't much out there left to discover. But there are some tracks that get played less than others. And there are some intriguing live versions out of those lesser played tracks, so that's the card I'm playing - stick with me.

Wonderful Woman originally surfaced as the second B-side on the 12" version of the band's second single, This Charming Man. What we didn't know at the time is that it had been first recorded during the aborted sessions for their debut album (and as such would later appear on the Troy Tate Sessions boot). For whatever reason, it didn't make the cut for the eventual, re-recorded eponymous debut album, which is a shame as it would have fit right in.

But what of the song? I seem to recall reading a theory somewhere once that this song is about Morrissey's mother, but I find that unlikely indeed (and I can't find a source for this theory anywhere online). A more straightforward interpretation is that wonderful is sarcastic, since this seems to be about a thoroughly unpleasant woman who has "ice water for blood, neither heart nor spine" and implores Moz, "I’m starved of mirth, let’s go and trip a dwarf." Or maybe she's wonderfully, terribly beguiling, because Morrissey adds "when she calls me, I do not walk, I run." I don't know about you but I can identify with that - she's bad for him, he knows it, but still he can't resist. Steven, I hear you.

Musically, this is cut from the same cloth as Suffer Little Children, with a deceptively simple repeating guitar motif from Johnny over a steady-as-she-goes rhythm section. Oh, and a whisper of plaintive harmonica. Morrissey's vocal delivery is typical of the earlier recordings, in that it's perfectly serviceable yet lacks the confidence of subsequent songs. So why a classic, I hear you ask? Well, there's something uncanny about the end of each chorus, as Johnny changes up, the harmonica kicks in, and Morrissey repeats "her, her, her." It's not hypnotic but it's certainly an ear-worm - you could quite easily loop that little section and leave it playing in the background all evening and get no complaints from me.

You can pick up Wonderful Woman, as it appeared on the B-side of This Charming Man, on the fairly comprehensive The Sound Of The Smiths (deluxe edition) and you can read more about the Troy Tate demos over at the excellent Passions Just Like Mine. But, to paraphrase Chris Tarrant, I don't want to give you those. To maximise the clandestine value of today's classic, instead let's go for a live recording from a gig at The Hacienda dating back to 4th February, 1983. I read somewhere that this was The Smiths' third gig proper, and the first for which a recording exists (albeit with pretty poor sound quality). Also the first as a four-piece (they'd had James Maker on-stage as a dancer prior to this). The night this was recorded I was twelve and a half and didn't know Morrissey existed. Little did I know how much The Smiths would mean to me over the next 30+ years. In a week when Morrissey has taken a lot of flack for comments that even I, a past apologist, struggle to explain away1, I choose instead to remember some music from a band that, for me, was, is and always shall be life-changing.

1. What did Morrissey say about the Manchester bombing? Here. Martin Rossiter's response? Here. For contrast, Moz's subsequent critique of Tory plans to reverse the fox hunting ban, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment