The Smiths A-Z: "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle"

BookishBoy

Well-Known Member















Our next track in the Smiths A-Z project is this song, originally recorded at the band's very first recording session (Decibel Studios in 1982 - the second clip above but you have to go on to YouTube to hear it), recorded again with Troy Tate in 1983 and then later that year with John Porter before being released on the debut album The Smiths in February 1984.

The song was played live by The Smiths a handful of times at their very earliest shows - the last time being in May 1983. It has never been performed by Morrissey.

What do we think?
 

Flibberty

Well-Known Member
It's really interesting to listen to the development of this song.

The Decibel demo is really all about Morrissey - both his lyrics (apparently written pre-Smiths) and his vocal melody. The music isn't something to get excited about.
The Troy Tate version must be one of the best efforts from those sessions. If all of the songs were of that quality, maybe there wouldn't have been so much of an issue.
The final John Porter recording is fairly different - with Morrissey apparently unhappy that the original guitar line was buried - but it's stronger than many songs on the debut LP.

Another intriguing thing to me is that many lyricists become famous and then attempt something controversial or easy to misinterpret. With this and Suffer Little Children, Morrissey was sticking his fork in the toaster from the very beginning.


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 48th from 73 of the group's songs.
In the poll on the Hoffman board this song ranked 50th from 73 of the group's songs.
 

Ketamine Sun

Now, today, tomorrow and always
Patti Lee!




‘A few days later, Morrissey made the return journey to Marr's rented room in Bowdon, where, over a melody lifted from Patti Smith's 'Kimberly', they mapped out the contours of a song called 'The Hand that Rocks the Cradle'
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
After 'Hand in Glove' this is another song that is very near the bottom of the pile for me. The music is very boring, just the same riff repeated over and over from start to finish, with very little development or variation. The only value from the song comes from Morrissey here, with an intruiging lyric that hints at something much darker and more sexual than the surface reading of an adult comforting a child ("all too soon I did return, like a moth to a flame...your mother she just never knew.").

But when all that's said and done, no matter how good the lyrics or vocals, I just find it terribly boring to listen to as a piece of music. It goes precisely nowhere. A rare instance of Johnny letting the side down. [6 out of 10]
 

BookishBoy

Well-Known Member
I've been in love with this song for almost 38 years now, and I can't imagine ever not being in love with it.

As Anonymous (above) mentioned, that's almost entirely due to Morrissey's voice and words, in this instance. The music is pretty - very pretty - but it's a fairly simple loop that goes round and round and round leaving Morrissey to weave his dark, beautiful, sinister magic. There's something profoundly creepy going on around the edges of this song but the overall effect (on me, at least) is haunting and mesmerising. One of my absolute favourites!
 
I've been in love with this song for almost 38 years now, and I can't imagine ever not being in love with it.

As Anonymous (above) mentioned, that's almost entirely due to Morrissey's voice and words, in this instance. The music is pretty - very pretty - but it's a fairly simple loop that goes round and round and round leaving Morrissey to weave his dark, beautiful, sinister magic. There's something profoundly creepy going on around the edges of this song but the overall effect (on me, at least) is haunting and mesmerising. One of my absolute favourites!
Absolutely spot on.
 

Mayfly

Well-Known Member
It is an intriguing lyric, but I never really managed to really grasp it.

Happy to hear Sinead’s rendition of that song, not an obvious choice for a cover but she managed to pull it off.
 

Amy

from the Ice Age to the dole age
I have a love/hate relationship with this song. It’s strange, hypnotic, the sound pulls you in and some of the lines are brilliant. It’s the creepy, abusive subtext I can’t enjoy – “Climb up on my knee, although you’re only three…” eurgh. Kills it for me.

In the live version, that awkward, bashful smile at 1.25-1.26 twists my insides - it's really sad to look back on, to see what they had (and lost).

 

Ketamine Sun

Now, today, tomorrow and always
Below are some interpretations/quotes pulled from
songmeanings.com, that more or less lean towards my understanding of the song’s lyric.


‘This is about a father who has ran away from his child and mother because he isnt ready for the responsibility of a child but he felt he had to return, something was drawing him back. He "never even asked his name" means that he didnt care for the child hence "never never never again", but as I said something has drawn him back "all too soon i did return just like a moth to a flame". He regrets leaving the child, ("see how words as old as sin,Fit me like a glove") because he loves him now ("Although you're only three, sonny boy You're - you're mine") and would do anything to protect it. Maybe the mother has died, that would explain "your mother she just never knew", he felt he had to return but obviously she wasnt there to see him love the child. "I did my best for her" suggests that he couldnt stay when the child was born, he tried his best but couldnt. This is my interpretation anyway, I may be wrong but I certainly don't think its about child molestation.’

- pukkapie


‘..... upon reading the lyrics on the sleeve of the 1984 'The Smiths' vinyl, which very interestingly states instead of 'I once had a child and it saved my life, but I never even asked his name', as he says on the album, reads 'I once had a child, it saved my life but whom I never even gave a name'. This suggests a completely different scenario and that the song relates to a child who has been born unto him and has been taken from him or that he gave away, rather than the tenuous suggestions that the song is about child abuse and the like.

This of course is based on my assumption that the lyric sheet is printed with the lyrics that Morrissey provides before recording, and he may have altered lyrics or just said what came naturally when recording his vocals for the track.

Nevertheless the difference between the written lyrics and what is actually said is very thought provoking, especially on such a poignant line.’

- AutumnAlmanac


Somethings to consider there.


I also think the ‘Sonny Boy’ lines
could simply be the father singing a song to his child. That the child is not actually three years old, or being told to climb upon anyone’s knee.

Basically, Father returns to his child that he deserted, why he returned? maybe the mother passed away? and now she’ll never know how much he (the father) does love the child, a child that saved his life from being just a beggar man that nobody really loved in those years he was away, escaping from his responsibility?


And then ....


Where did a song like 'Hand That Rocks The Cradle' come from?

"Well, that comes from a relationship I had that didn't really involve romance. So if we're talking about romance, well, I don't really know that much about it. But in other things, I'm quite capable of making an observation."

- Morrissey, Melody Maker, 16 March 1985


So that doesn’t help mine or anyone’s interpretation much.
 
J

j*e*t

Guest
Sorry if I've missed anyone's mention of this but the creepy-sounding 'climb upon my knee sonny boy/although you're only three' comes from Al Jolson's 'Sonny Boy' which used to be a well-known song.
 

Ketamine Sun

Now, today, tomorrow and always



Sorry if I've missed anyone's mention of this but the creepy-sounding 'climb upon my knee sonny boy/although you're only three' comes from Al Jolson's 'Sonny Boy' which used to be a well-known song.
 

Mayfly

Well-Known Member
Watchers that early live version a couple of times and I quite like it. It’s slightly faster than the recorded version, with more energy and a rawer / darker sound. Love the maracas that he is shakin. Noticed that JM provides some backing vocals.
 

Watson

Well-Known Member
I've been in love with this song for almost 38 years now, and I can't imagine ever not being in love with it.

As Anonymous (above) mentioned, that's almost entirely due to Morrissey's voice and words, in this instance. The music is pretty - very pretty - but it's a fairly simple loop that goes round and round and round leaving Morrissey to weave his dark, beautiful, sinister magic. There's something profoundly creepy going on around the edges of this song but the overall effect (on me, at least) is haunting and mesmerising. One of my absolute favourites!
Absolutely spot on. It is the song I go back to most from the debut album and I must have concocted 200 different interpretations of the lyrics. A slightly (very) dull anecdote...this is the song a gang of folks were singing when leaving the MEN after the May 2004 homecoming gig. It was turned into a terrace chant for a few minutes...perfect end to an incredible night.
 
J

j*e*t

Guest
I'm not claiming that this record was ever heard in the Morrissey home in the late 1970s but it's possible!
 

Ossie

Human Being
I have a love/hate relationship with this song. It’s strange, hypnotic, the sound pulls you in and some of the lines are brilliant. It’s the creepy, abusive subtext I can’t enjoy – “Climb up on my knee, although you’re only three…” eurgh. Kills it for me.

In the live version, that awkward, bashful smile at 1.25-1.26 twists my insides - it's really sad to look back on, to see what they had (and lost).


I notice Johnny is singing backing vocals into a microphone there. I didn’t realise they ever did that.
 
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