Classic Rock Wiki

"How Soon Is Now?" is a song by the British alternative rock band The Smiths. Written by Smiths singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, it was originally a B-side of the 1984 single "William, It Was Really Nothing". "How Soon Is Now?" was subsequently featured on the compilation album Hatful of Hollow and on US, Canadian, Australian, and Warner UK editions of the group's second album Meat Is Murder (1985). It was belatedly released as a single in the UK in 1985, where it reached number 24 on the UK Singles Chart.

Sire Records chief Seymour Stein called it "the 'Stairway to Heaven' of the Eighties",[2][3] while co-writer Johnny Marr described it as "possibly our most enduring record. It's most people's favourite, I think."[4] Despite its prominent place in The Smiths' repertoire, it is not generally considered to be representative of the band's style.[1]Although a club favourite, "How Soon Is Now?" did not chart as well as expected. Most commentators put this down to the fact that the song had been out on vinyl in a number of forms before being released as a single in its own right. The original track runs for nearly seven minutes; however, the 7" single edit cut the length down to under four minutes. The complete version is generally used on compilations. The song has been widely praised for, among other things, the artistry of its lyrics.[5]

A cover of the song by Love Spit Love was used in the soundtrack for the 1996 film The Craft, and later appeared as the theme song of the television series Charmed for all eight of its seasons.



  • 1 Origin and recording
  • 2 Music and lyrics
  • 3 Release
  • 4 Reception
  • 5 Artwork
  • 6 Music video
  • 7 Etchings on vinyl
  • 8 Live versions
  • 9 Track listing
  • 10 Cover versions
    • 10.1 Paradise Lost
    • 10.2 Love Spit Love
    • 10.3 Snake River Conspiracy
    • 10.4 The Crying Spell
    • 10.5 t.A.T.u. version
      • 10.5.1 Background and release
      • 10.5.2 Critical reception
      • 10.5.3 Chart performance
      • 10.5.4 Track listings
      • 10.5.5 Chart performance
  • 11 Notes
  • 12 References
  • 13 External links

Origin and recording[edit][]

Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr wrote "How Soon Is Now?" along with the songs "William, It Was Really Nothing" and "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" during a four-day period in June 1984.[6] Marr recorded all three songs with bandmates Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce that July at London's Jam Studios. After a night out celebrating the session for "William, It Was Really Nothing" and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want", the trio reconvened the following afternoon to record "How Soon Is Now?". Producer John Porter was impressed by the basic riff Marr showed him, but felt the song needed something else. The pair's discussion turned to the early recordings of Elvis Presley, which led to an impromptu jam session of the song "That's All Right". During the jam, Marr worked on his chord progression for "How Soon Is Now?", which inspired the arrangement.[2]

While recording, Marr created the oscillating guitar effect that plays throughout the track, a rhythm that has been compared to the song "Mona" originally recorded by Bo Diddley and subsequently by The Rolling Stones.[7][8] After a break, Marr and Porter added a few overdubs, including a slide guitar part that "gave [the song] real tension", according to the guitarist.[7] That night Porter sent singer Morrissey a rough mix of the song in the mail. The following morning Morrissey arrived and laid down his vocals, culling lyrics from various works in progress in his notebook. According to Porter, the singer completed his vocals in two takes.[9]

Music and lyrics[edit][]

The song contains only one verse which is repeated twice, plus a chorus and a bridge. The subject is an individual who cannot find a way to overcome his crippling shyness and find a partner. Two couplets from the song are well known in pop culture, the opening to the verse:

I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular

and the chorus:

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.

The opening was adapted from a line in George Eliot's novel Middlemarch: "To be born the son of a Middlemarch manufacturer, and inevitable heir to nothing in particular".[9] Music journalist Jon Savage commented that the song's lyrics were evocative of contemporary Manchester gay club culture.[10]

The tune is built around a guitar chord that rapidly oscillates in volume. As to how the distinctive resonant sound was achieved, Marr gave the following account to Guitar Player magazine in 1990:


When Rough Trade owner Geoff Travis first heard "How Soon Is Now?", he felt it was too unrepresentative of The Smiths' sound to be released as a single. Despite pressure from Porter to save the song for a later single release as an A-side, "How Soon Is Now?" was included as B-side on the 12" single release of "William, It Was Really Nothing" in August 1984.[12] According to John Porter: "I thought 'This is it!'...but I don't think the record company liked it...They totally threw it away, wasted it".[13] However, almost immediately night-time British radio picked up on the song, and by autumn it had become the most-requested track on request shows by DJs John Peel, Janice Long, and Annie Nightingale.[14] It was subsequently included on The Smiths' compilation album Hatful of Hollow, released on 12 November 1984.

The song was released on Sire Records in the United States, backed with "Girl Afraid", in November 1984. It was expected to sell well and, for the first time, a video was made to promote a Smiths track. However, the song failed to chart. Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis blamed poor promotion: "I can't understand why 'How Soon Is Now?' wasn't a top 10 single, but perhaps I'm being naive. If only their singles had been played on the radio".[15] Morrissey expressed his disappointment in an interview with Creem magazine: "It's hard to believe that 'How Soon Is Now?' was not a hit. I thought that was the one...".[16] "How Soon Is Now?" was released as an A-side in the United Kingdom on 28 January 1985. The 7" featured an edited version of the track, and the B-side was "Well I Wonder", from the about-to-be-released Meat Is Murder album. The 12" single included a new instrumental track, "Oscillate Wildly". It peaked at No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart, a lower placing than the band's three previous singles, which had all hit the Top 20; according to John Porter, "Everybody knew the Smiths' fans already had it".[3]

Following the acquisition of the Rough Trade catalogue by Warner Bros. Records, "How Soon Is Now?" was issued again as a single in the United Kingdom in September 1992. A 7" single and cassette featured the edited version, backed with a live version of "Handsome Devil", recorded at The Haçienda on 4 February 1983 (this had originally been the B-side to The Smiths' first single "Hand in Glove"). Two CD singles featured tracks from The Smiths' back-catalogue which were, following the demise of Rough Trade, unavailable in the United Kingdom at that time. The re-issue reached number 16 in the UK singles chart.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [17]

"Morrissey and co have once again delved into their Sixties treasure-trove, and produced a visceral power capable of blowing the dust off Eighties inertia. The majestic ease of Morrissey's melancholic vocals are tinted with vitriol, as they move through vistas of misery with plaintive spirals around the pulse of Johnny Marr's vibrato guitar. The string's muted strains conjure wistful signs that bridge the schism between crass sentimentality and callous detachment. Each repeated phrase intensifies the hypnotic waves, with results that outflank anything since 'This Charming Man'. Catharsis has rarely been tinged with so much regret, and shared with so much crystalline purity." – Melody Maker, 2 February 1985

"For the most part, Morrissey is the Hilda Ogden of pop, harassed and hard done-by. I guess what seems like meat to one man sounds like murder to another." – Gavin Martin, New Musical Express, 9 February 1985

In 1989, WFNX Boston picked "How Soon Is Now" as the number 1 song of the 1980s.[18]

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine rated the song number 477 in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and number 90 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs.[19] In March 2005, Q magazine placed it at number 28 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2006, "How Soon Is Now?" was voted runner up in VH1's "Top Lyrics" poll for the lyrics, "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" and marginally missed out on top spot to U2's "One".[5] In May 2007, NME magazine placed "How Soon Is Now?" at number seven in its list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever. On the Blender magazine website, in their list of The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born, the song was ranked at number 72.[20]


The single's cover art was a still from the film Dunkirk (1958) featuring British actor Sean Barrett, praying but looking sufficiently as though he was holding his crotch to have the sleeve banned in the United States,[21]where a photograph of the band backstage at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival, which had previously appeared on the gatefold inside the Hatful of Hollow compilation, was used instead. It is the only time a portrait of the band has appeared on the cover of one of their releases.[22] Morrissey called it "an abhorrent sleeve – and [given] the time and the dedication that we put into the sleeves and artwork, it was tearful when we finally saw the record..."[23]

Music video[edit][]

Sire Records made an unauthorised music video to promote the song. It intercut clips of the band playing live (including a shot of Johnny Marr showing Morrissey how to play the guitar), an industrial part of a city, and a girl dancing.[24] The band were not pleased by the result. Morrissey told Creem in 1985, "We saw the video and we said to Sire, 'You can't possibly release this... this degrading video.' And they said, 'Well, maybe you shouldn't really be on our label.' It was quite disastrous".[23] Nonetheless, the video has been credited with helping make the song their most famous in the United States, along with heavy exposure on college radio.[25]

Etchings on vinyl[edit][]

British 7" and 12": THE TATTY TRUTH / TIM TOM[26]

Live versions[edit][]

"How Soon Is Now?" was considered a "major problem" to play in concert by The Smiths, and live versions by The Smiths are relatively rare.[27] One live Smiths performance was recorded during the concerts for the live album Rank (1988), but was not used. Instead, a raw version of this song (and entire concert) appeared on the bootleg A Bad Boy from a Good Family, and other versions have appeared on bootleg records such as A Kind of Loving (a rip of a performance in Oxford recorded and broadcast by the BBC). Morrissey revived the song in his own concerts as a solo artist, and it has been a live staple on all of his tours since 2004.[28] A live recording was used to open Morrissey's album Live at Earls Court (2005) and another was to be included on the aborted performance DVD Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The song has also been performed live by Johnny Marr, both solo and with his band the Healers.

Track listing[edit][]

7" RT176
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?" (7" edit) 3:41
2. "Well I Wonder"   4:00
  • in original green sleeve
12" RTT176
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?"   6:46
2. "Well I Wonder"   4:00
3. "Oscillate Wildly"   3:24
12" USA RTT176
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?"   6:46
2. "Girl Afraid"   2:46
3. "How Soon Is Now?" (USA edit) 3:53
CD 1 (1992)
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?" (7" edit) 3:41
2. "The Queen Is Dead"   6:25
3. "Handsome Devil" (BBC Radio Session) 2:50
4. "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish"   3:48
CD 2 (1992)
No. Title Length
1. "I Know It's Over"   5:49
2. "Suffer Little Children"   5:29
3. "Back to the Old House"   3:04
4. "How Soon Is Now?"   6:46
7" (1992)
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?" (7" edit) 3:41
2. "Hand in Glove" (single version) 3:16
Cassette Single (1992)
No. Title Length
1. "How Soon Is Now?"   6:46
2. "Hand in Glove" (single version) 3:16

Cover versions[edit][]

"How Soon Is Now?" has been covered by various artists. The guitar track was sampled, with the Smiths' approval, in 1990 by indie-dance band Soho on their UK Top 10 single "Hippychick". Artists to have covered the song include UK indie band Hundred Reasons, US post-hardcore band Quicksand (bonus track on their Slip album) in 1993, US post-grunge band Everclear, US punk band Meatmen (on the compilation "The World Still Won't Listen") and industrial rockers Snake River Conspiracy.

Paradise Lost[edit][]

UK band Paradise Lost covered the song as a bonus track on the Japanese Edition of their album One Second and it was also released on their single Say Just Words from the album as well.

Love Spit Love[edit][]

Near the end of 1995, Psychedelic Furs splinter group Love Spit Love was approached by the music supervisor of the movie The Craft, who inquired if the band might record a cover of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?". After initial reluctance, the band recorded the song, and it was released as a single from the movie's soundtrack in 1996.

The song became popular after The WB Television Network utilised the band's cover as the theme song for the witchcraft-themed television series Charmed.[29] It was re-mixed greatly for the show, with much different instrumentation and vocal takes. The song went on to appear on Charmed: The Soundtrack (2003) and as a UK and Australian bonus track on Charmed: The Book of Shadows (2005). Both soundtrack albums charted well in the US, with both reaching the top ten on the Billboard Top Soundtracks chart.

The song has since become a staple of '90s popular culture, and has been used in numerous media, including the movie trailer for Cruel Intentions.

Snake River Conspiracy[edit][]

The song was also covered by the alternative rock band Snake River Conspiracy and appears on their album Sonic Jihad. It reached No. 38 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart in 2000.[30]

The Crying Spell[edit][]

This song has also been covered by Seattle-based alternative rock band The Crying Spell on their debut album Through Hell to Heaven.[31]

t.A.T.u. version[edit][]

"How Soon Is Now?"
Russian cover
Single by t.A.T.u.
from the album 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
B-side "Ne Ver', Ne Boisia"
Released 7 July 2003
Format CD single
Recorded 2002
Genre Alternative rock, electro-rock
Length 3:15
Label Universal/Interscope
Writer(s) Johnny Marr, Morrissey
Producer(s) Martin Kierszenbaum, Robert Orton
t.A.T.u. singles chronology
"30 Minutes"


"How Soon Is Now?"


"All About Us"


200 km/h in the Wrong Lane track listing
"30 Minutes"


"How Soon Is Now?"


"Clowns (Can You See Me Now?)"


In 2002, the Russian recording duo t.A.T.u. covered "How Soon Is Now?" for their debut English language studio album 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane. Their version was produced by Martin Kierszenbaum and Robert Orton, with the original lyrics written by Marr and Morrissey. Upon the song's release, the song was considered a commercial success, compared to the original version. The song, however was never commercially released in the USA.

The song received mixed reviews from music critics, who felt it lacked originality, though compared to other covers, they praised this version as best. The song managed to have success on European music charts, peaking inside the top ten in Finland and Sweden. An accompanying music video was issued for the group, featuring them performing the song in behind-the-scenes sessions and live performances.

Background and release[edit][]

While the duo was promoting singles off their studio album, the group decided to release "Show Me Love" as the album's third single. However, for unknown reasons, the song was dropped and the group's single "30 Minutes" was then proceeded as the replacement, despite its lack of success on record charts and airplay.

The single was released on 7 July 2003, only four weeks after the group's single "30 Minutes" was released. The song was available in different formats. The master CD single was released with the group's Eurovision entry "Ne Ver', Ne Boysia", a remixes of "30 Minutes" and "Not Gonna Get Us".[32] A Promo CD was released in Japan, including "Ya Soshla S Uma" and an remix of "All The Things She Said".[33] The song was released as a CD Single in the United Kingdom in 2003, including "Ne Ver', Ne Boysia".[34]

Critical reception[edit][]

t.A.T.u.'s cover of "How Soon Is Now?" received mixed reviews from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic described the song as an "perennial anthem of tortured unrequited love and lust", but eventually highlighted the song as an album highlight.[35] A reviewer from said that though the song was a success, "their rather dour delivery suggests that the humour of the original completely passed them by."[36] James Martin from PopDust noted that reactions to t.A.T.u.'s cover were that it was "either completely hideous and should have remained untouched or the best cover the song has ever received [...]"[37]

Todd Burns from Stylus Magazine stated that though it "fails as an independent entity", he found it a highlight and said its worth a download.[38] Matt Cibula fromPopmatters was similar to the PopDust publication, questioning if "people fall all over themselves to either praise or damn the t.A.T.u cover of the Smith's "How Soon Is Now", but I can't get worked up one way or the other about it." Cibula concluded that though its "super-cheesy, which is a good thing", he found it "not as passionate as some people have claimed", criticising the band's vocals.[39]

From the original creators, Marr found t.A.T.u.'s version "just silly",[4] but Morrissey viewed it much more favourably:

Interviewer: Did you hear t.A.T.u's version of 'How Soon Is Now'?
Morrissey: Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don't know much about them.
Interviewer: They're the teenage Russian lesbians.
Morrissey: Well, aren't we all?[40]

Chart performance[edit][]

"How Soon Is Now?" debuted at number 37 in Australia, however it fell out at number 43 the next week. It managed to score the top ten in both the Finnish Singles Chart and Swedish Singles Chart, peaking at eight and ten. Elsewhere, the song was generally moderate in other European singles chart.

Track listings[edit][]

  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15
  2. "Ne Ver, Ne Boisia" (Eurovision 2003) – 3:02
  3. "30 Minutes" (Remix) – 5:52
  4. "Not Gonna Get Us" (Hardrum Remix) – 3:50
  • Bonus T-shirt transfer
CD single
  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15
  2. "Ne Ver, Ne Boisia" (Eurovision 2003) – 3:02
CD3 (Pock-It)
  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15
  2. "Not Gonna Get Us" (HarDrum Remix) – 3:50
Promo single
  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15
  2. "How Soon Is Now?" (music video) – 3:15
Japanese promo
  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15
  2. "Ya Soshla S Uma" – 3:34
  3. "All the Things She Said" (Running and Spinning Remix) – 6:15
Spanish promo
  1. "How Soon Is Now?" – 3:15

Chart performance[edit][]

Chart (2003) Peak


Australia (ARIA)[41] 37
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[42] 37
Chile (Chile Top 20)[43] 7
European Hot 100 Singles[44] 32
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[45] 27
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[46] 27
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[47] 8
Germany (Media Control Charts)[48] 33
Greece (Top 20)[49] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[50] 20
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[51] 10
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[52] 21