Meaning of How Soon Is Now by The Smiths

British rock band The Smiths were no strangers to controversy. Many songs of the famous band found themselves at the epicenter of heated debates that divided music lovers into its devoted fans and ardent haters. The musicians were accused of justifying the corruption of minors, of trying to profit from high-profile crimes, of insulting the queen and other sins.

In the track How Soon Is Now?, whose history will be discussed later, stiff critics saw the popularization of gay culture, which was not welcomed in the eighties, to put it mildly.

The history and meaning of the song How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths

Johnny Marr composed the melody of the future composition in June 1984, when he was in London’s Earl’s Court. For a long time he wanted to write a song built on one chord, and finally realized his plan, taking F♯ as a basis. He showed a demo called Swamp to producer John Porter. Then they worked on the track together.

They then sent a rough cut to Morrissey. Stephen immediately came to them and recorded the vocal part. How Soon Is Now? he composed almost as he went, collecting it from various sketches kept in his notebook.

the smith band

The song is sung from the perspective of a shy guy whose painful shyness prevents him from finding a mate. He probably meant Morrissey himself, who really was very timid in a relationship (which is hard to believe if you read his harsh statements in an interview).

The opening lines are an adaptation of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, which originally reads: “To be born the son of a Middlemarch manufacturer, and inevitable heir to nothing in particular”. The title of the song was a phrase from Marjorie Rosen’s book Popcorn Venus, which Morrissey was very fond of.

Recording How Soon Is Now?

While recording How Soon Is Now?, the band members were constantly using marijuana. Porter’s word:

We started smoking weed as soon as we got out of bed and continued until we went to bed.

A Light That Never Goes Out: the Enduring Saga of the Smiths, Tony Fletcher

In addition, to create a special atmosphere in the studio, the guys replaced the usual lamps with red ones.

But you are mistaken if you think that they worked carelessly. The musicians were very demanding about the process and tried to achieve an unusual sound. Johnny Marr was especially zealous, who later recalled:

I wanted it to be tense and at the same time addictive, like a quagmire. It was possible to give real tension to it by imposing a slide part.

The Guitar Magazine

I needed an intro that was almost as powerful as Layla’s. When she plays in a club or pub, everyone knows what it is.

Rolling stone

Inspired by the music of Bo Diddley, Hamilton Bohannon and Can, Marr and Porter added a tremolo effect to the guitar part. This technique has become one of the most striking features of the composition.

Single release

In the UK How Soon Is Now? was released on the back of the single William, It Was Really Nothing, because the Rough Trade label boss thought it was too uncharacteristic for The Smiths. Even John Porter’s frank indignation could not convince him. The track only peaked at number 24 on the UK Singles Chart, but received a lot of radio play.


In the US, the single How Soon Is Now? came out with Girl Afraid on the B-side and didn’t chart at all, although a music video was made to support it.

Despite the failures in the charts, the composition eventually became the hallmark of the group. Johnny Marr called it the band’s “most enduring record” and the head of Sire Records described the song as “Stairway to Heaven of the eighties”.

Rolling Stone included How Soon Is Now? on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. The song was also included in Q’s Top 100 Guitar Tracks and NME’s Top 50 Indie Anthems.

Clip How Soon Is Now?

Music video for How Soon Is Now? was filmed for a 4-minute version of the track. Members of The Smiths categorically did not like him. Morrissey says:

He had absolutely nothing to do with The Smiths. Naturally, we were inundated with letters from very upset American friends saying, “How could you make such a disgusting video?” Of course, you need to understand that it was Sire who made the video, and we watched it and said: “In no case should you release this … this is a humiliating video.” And they said, “Maybe you shouldn’t be on our label at all.” It was a real disaster.


Below you can watch the video clip of How Soon Is Now?

Interesting Facts

  • Some music critics find the song similar to Bo Diddley’s Mona by The Rolling Stones.
  • Music journalist Jon Savage stated that the song was reminiscent of the gay culture in Manchester clubs. This idea was quickly picked up by the American media, who called the track “an idiotic gay-rock propaganda”.
  • The cover of the single features actor Sean Barrett in the film Dunkirk. Since his hand is in a causal place, the record was banned in the USA, and the sleeve had to be redesigned.
  • The song is used in many famous films, including Witchcraft, The Wedding Singer, and Intimacy.
  • For the television series Charmed, the song was performed by the band Love Spit Love.
  • A cover version of How Soon Is Now? recorded by the Russian group tATu Morrissey liked her version, and Marr called it “stupid”.

How Soon Is Now Lyrics – The Smiths

I am the son
And the hair
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

I am the son
And the hair
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular


There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody
Who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die

When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone


How Soon Is Now Lyrics – The Smiths

I am the son
And heir
Criminally vulgar modesty
I am the son and heir of
What is nothing special

Shut up,
How dare you say
What am I doing wrong?
I’m human and I need love
Just like any other

I am the son
And heir
Criminally vulgar modesty
I am the son and heir of
What is nothing special


There’s one club if you want to go
There you can find the one
Who will truly love you
You walk and stand there alone
And you leave alone
And come home to cry
And you want to die

When you say it will happen “now”
What exactly do you mean?
You see I’ve been waiting too long
And there is no more hope


Song quote

I remember when I first heard How Soon Is Now, everything turned upside down in me. It was in 1984, I was at a friend’s apartment, which is in this really terrible building in Hollywood. We ate some terrible food with ketchup because there was no money at all, and it was on TV. The video was also great, but the song just eclipsed it. It was the first time I heard such words set to such music.

Jeff Buckley

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