The Smiths A-Z: "I Want the One I Can't Have"

Flibberty

Well-Known Member
Johnny Marr: "Happy Hour" was a complete rip-off of I Want the One I Can't Have"...
Indeed. It must have been somewhat galling for The Housemartins to have a much bigger chart hit than The Smiths ever managed.

Not that Johnny is a stranger to pinching the occasional musical idea, of course.
 

Flibberty

Well-Known Member
It's interesting that, according to Simon Goddard's book, Morrissey announced I Want the One I Can't Have as the group's next single. I imagine that the lyric about killing a policeman wouldn't exactly have helped with radio airplay.

This is a really strong album track and I think one of the many positives of Meat is Murder is the eclectic nature of the songs. This sounds nothing like Well I Wonder or Barbarism, for example.

The lyrics indicate Morrissey's interest in naughty boys which would become more pronounced (and sometimes more tedious) over the years.


Just to show other viewpoints and not because they should be considered in any way definitive...

In the poll on this board this song ranked 24th from 73 of the group's songs.
In the poll on the Hoffman board this song ranked 42nd from 73 of the group's songs.
 

Ketamine Sun

Now, today, tomorrow and always
Or entire songs. I mean, Marc Bolan should sue him from beyond the grave over Panic

or Patti Smith/Kral.


it’s not like Morrissey never pinched a line or two. Though, I guess it’s what you do with it, that counts.
 

The.Truth.

Every.Single.Time.
When singing "It's all over, all over, all over my face", does he refer to sp*rm in the face? Like in the pornography movies, that I've heard on the radio that they watch in e.g. England.
It's pretty obvious what he's saying but explaining the punchline of a joke ruins it.
 

T. H. Auden

Well-Known Member
It's pretty obvious what he's saying but explaining the punchline of a joke ruins it.
That is always an issue with literature analyses. What is the set up and what is the punching line in this lyric? It may not be «pretty obvious» for the foreign crowd. Whereas native speakers pick up on the nuances in the language in greater extent
 

The.Truth.

Every.Single.Time.
That is always an issue with literature analyses. What is the set up and what is the punching line in this lyric? It may not be «pretty obvious» for the foreign crowd. Whereas native speakers pick up on the nuances in the language in greater extent
This is a good point. Well the set up is in two parts. I'm going to do my little analysis without looking at the lyrics but I'll get the main points.
First is that he keeps singing "I want the one I can't have/ It's written all over my face." This establishes an association between these two lines. "It's written all over my face" or "it's written all over your face" is a similar saying to "wearing your heart on your sleeve."
It just means that you can tell just by looking, that some emotion is obvious. You can tell what someone is thinking or feeling if it's written all over their face.
But the last time he sings it he doesn't say the associated line, "I want the one I can't have" and he doesn't sing, "it's written all over my face." He just sings "it's all over my face."
So this kind of catches you off guard and subverts the original meaning in the same way a punchline of a joke works. You're expecting one thing but you get something different and you could quickly make the connection and see a new meaning.

The other part that makes this a set up is that we're given some context to make it a little more obvious.
"If you ever need self-validation just meet me in the alley by the railway station."
"Self-validation" can mean different things but in the context of a "meeting" "in the alley by the railway station" it probably means gratification. You kind of have to have an idea about the things that happen in alleys by railway stations and the types of people you might meet there.
It implies that Morrissey is "loitering with intent" to try to be a little subtle.

So when you think about the invitation he's offering and where it's taking place and then you add the modification of the line that has been sung a slightly different way throughout the song it seems pretty obvious, but at the same time subtle enough that you would have to be paying attention to get it. Lots of songs work this way and lots of social codes and signals work this way, too. It's really clever and it's not really "vulgar" because you have to make that connection in your own mind.

I hope this makes what I was saying more clear and not more confusing.
 
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