"How Soon Is Now?"|
The song was written in June 1984. It was called "Swamp" by Johnny when he wrote the instrumental, before Morrissey put words to it. It was recorded at Jam Studios in London in July 1984, with producer John Porter.
Another version was recorded on 1 August 1984 for the band's third appearance on John Peel's BBC programme (broadcast 9 August 1984), with producer John Porter. It was built mostly of samples from the original version; only bass and one or two guitars seem to have been recorded for the session.
The song has been performed live 85 times by the Smiths, perhaps up to 89 times when taking into account the number of unknown setlists from the early Smiths days. It was introduced in September 1984 and apparently played every night to the end of the year (total 11 performances, perhaps up to 13). It was on the setlist on every date of the 1985 Meat Is Murder tour except for three nights in Scotland in the autumn, for a total of 43 airings. After the release of the Queen Is Dead album in the middle of 1986, it was performed another 31 times (perhaps even 33 times) before the end of the year, which means every night bar a handful over the first few weeks and a few more here and there. The Smiths featured Craig Gannon as second guitarist on the Queen Is Dead tour, making it possible to beef up the sound of this number which had been found hard to reproduce adequately in concert.
It took a very long time for Morrissey to include this Smiths classic into his solo set, but he did the song so assiduously after its re-introduction that it quickly rose to the top 5 of his 'live hall of fame', with a total of 402 performances. The song was re-introduced at the end of August, a few months into the 2004 You Are The Quarry tour and played non-stop on the remaining 41 dates that year. Its uninterrupted run carried over the Tour Of The Tormentors MMVI when the song was done at each and every one of the 93 dates, then on the 2007-2008 Greatest Hits tour where it was done a further 89 times, so every night except for the two shows that were interrupted early. The song remained a live fixture on the Tour Of Refusal where it was played everywhere with the exception of the BBC concert at the top of the year (total 67 performances), and on the Swords tour where it was only missed on two dates when the set was interrupted early (total 24 performances). It was absent on the 2011 dates, but returned in force on the two subsequent tours, played 51 times out of 56 concerts in 2012 and 13 times out of 15 dates in 2013. It was done twice on the American leg and 22 times on the European leg of the 2014 tour .
No demos or studio outtakes of this song have leaked to the general public at this point in time.
"Singles-wise, my favorite is 'How Soon Is Now?'... 'How Soon Is Now' was in F# tuning. I wanted a very swampy sound, a modern bayou song. It's a straight E riff, followed by open G and F#m7. The chorus uses open B, A, and D shapes with the top two strings ringing out. The vibrato sound is fucking incredible, and it took a long time. I put down the rhythm track on an Epiphone Casino through a Fender Twin Reverb without vibrato. Then we played the track back through four old Twins, one on each side. We had to keep all the amps vibratoing in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting the track, recording it in 10-second bursts. This sounds incredibly egotistical, but I wanted an intro that was almost as potent as 'Layla' -- when that song plays in a club or a pub, everyone knows what it is instantly. 'How Soon Is Now' is certainly one of the most identifiable songs I've done, and it's the track most people talk to me about. I wish I could remember exactly how we did the slide part -- not writing it down is one of the banes of my life! We did it in three passes through a harmonizer, set to some weird interval, like a sixth. There was a different harmonization for each pass. For the line in harmonics, I retuned the guitar so that I could play it all at the 12th fret with natural harmonics. It's doubled several times."
"John Porter and Johnny pretty much did 'How Soon Is Now?' in an all-night session in a studio. I remember really liking it. I think it took us a few weeks to realise how good it was. Obviously it came out as a single in its own right later. Maybe you could say we made a mistake not releasing that as the A-side (of William)."
"We did it at Jam Studios in Finsbury Park. Everybody was a bit hungover from the night before. I don't know what had gone on. (...) Johnny played me a little chord sequence which I thought was kind of interesting, but very pretty. And I seem to remember saying to him, 'Play what you think is "That's All Right"' - you know, the old Arthur Crudup tune. 'Play your impression of that.' So he did. So I said, 'Right, now play your chord sequence two octaves down from where you've done it, and let's bolt it on to this other part.' And that sort of happened. They did three takes. It was a Saturday. I don't think Morrissey was there. I posted it, or somebody posted it, through Morrissey's letterbox that night and then he came in the next day with his book and sang possibly one or two takes. And it was done. I thought, 'Right, well, now we're starting to move into second gear. Now we've got something that we can sell in America. Now we've got a band that could be like R.E.M. are now.' We were all really, really excited. In the evening I called Scott and Scott came down. He loved it. He said, 'Yes! Fantastic!' He took the tape. Went back to Rough Trade. And Geoff was kind of... he didn't really like it. Which rather deflated me. And subsequently they just put it out as a fucking B-side. I mean, they murdered it."
"How Soon Is Now? was the one, though. I wanted to write a track with an intro that you couldn't forget, something that you knew straight away was The Smiths. In that regard it was very 'worked on'. I arrived at the studio with a demo of the whole thing, apart from the tremolo effect - though that was bound to surface on a Smiths track sooner or later, 'cos at that time I was playing Bo Diddley stuff everywhere I went. I wanted it to be really, really tense and swampy, all at the same time. Layering the slide part was what gave it the real tension. As soon as I played that bit on the second and third strings, John Porter put an AMS harmoniser on it. Then we recorded each individual string with the harmoniser, then we tuned the B string down a half step and harmonised the whole thing. The tremolo effect came from laying down a regular rhythm part (with a capo at the 2nd fret) on a Les Paul, then sending that out in to the live room to four Fender Twins. John was controlling the tremolo on two of them and I was controlling the other two, and whenever they went out of sync we just had to stop the track and start all over again. It took an eternity. God bless the sampler, 'cos it would have been so much easier! But it was just one of those great moments. When Morrissey sang the vocal it was the first time we'd all heard it. John Porter said, 'Oh, great - he's singing about the elements! I am the sun and the air...' But of course it was really, 'I am the son and the heir/of a shyness that is criminally vulgar'... A great track."