Friday, 21 November 2008

The Smiths - 'What Difference Does It Make?' (1984)

Like the second sibling, floundering in the shadow of its predecessor, ‘What Difference...’ had a tough act to follow in the shape of 1983’s ‘This Charming Man’. Both Morrissey and Marr have spoken of it as the song that got away. “‘What Difference Does It Make’, I thought was absolutely awful the day after the record was pressed,” Morrissey confessed in an interview with Q magazine in 1992, whereas Marr put its relative chart success – it peaked at a very respectable 12 in the UK – down to it being part of ‘the peak’ that followed ‘This Charming Man’.

In fact, ‘What Difference…’ was the first single to come off The Smiths eponymous debut album, released just a few weeks later in February 1984. And while its opening riff wasn’t as brashly distinctive as that of ‘This Charming Man’, or its lyrics so boldly poetic, it is significant for its rambling catchiness, as evidence of just how early on in their career The Smiths honed their singular style.

The opening guitar riff was based on Jo Jo Gunne’s ‘Run Run Run’ of 1972, indicative of the importance of Marr in bringing the guitar-based sounds of the seventies back into vogue in a climate saturated in dance music. If you listen carefully to the recording, you’ll also hear a sample of children playing just before the final bridge, the reason for which is somewhat unclear given the lyrical theme of unrequited love.

It might have been panned, but on today’s ears ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ seems to embody more than ever that mordant humour and social realism that was so important when The Smiths emerged in the 80s. Their very name was chosen as the antidote to fanciful names found in 80s dance music, like Spandau Ballet and Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark. ‘What difference…’ is musically humdrum and lyrically fatalistic, and yet as one of the five most commercially successful Smiths songs ever released, the difference it made in the course of rock music history is immeasurable.

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