Smile

Lyrics

(1)

Tight faded male arse 
Decadence and Anarchy 
He said, he smiled 
Something to dance to
A certain style 
Smile!
Smile!
Smile!
Smile!
Meat Animals 
Smiled!
Smiled! 
Patchwork jacket, from the top of his ears 
Shaved
Relation with fellow age group, and opposite birds (2)
Smiles!
Wants anarchy
Smiled!
He raises club nerve and poses 
Physical awareness 
Smiles!
Take the chicken run, take the chicken run (3)
To the toilet 
In the above, designed from above club (4)
Makes ginger  (5)
"Go on, you can do it!" 
Smile!
Smiles! 
Wants anarchy
Smiled!
Is the fungus damp in the cellar? 
Positive G.B.H. (6)
Smiled!
With his friends, smiles
Ask for cigarettes 
Smiles!

Take it down... (7)


Sparks off
Repeal gun laws in my brain 
Sparks off
Give us a gun if I got one 
Damn! 
Grin 
Damn 
Grin 
UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP!
Smile! 
Smiled!  
Would ask for a "fag" in Texas (8)
Smiles 
Desires travel 
Well fed in welfare way 
Smiles! 
Smiled!
Smiles!
Lousy celebrity makes record 
Lick-spittle southerner
Waiting for next holiday by gas miser (9)
Smiles! 
Smiles!
Positive G.B.H.
Roar, encore, special vexation process 
Tight faded male arse, decadence and anarchy he said 
He smiles--
Smile!
Smiled! 
Well fed in roman nero way like the way you imagined 
In the roman nero films 

Notes

1. A few comments from the author may be found here:

Smith: "The lyric was aimed against the cocktail clubs that were on the rise, then." Was it also about a particular type of person, I asked. "Yes, about the hypocritical type that says he wants anarchy but are in fact very bourgeois. I now have the luxury of not hanging around with them. Those people didn't even like our music that much, but they hung around all the time anyway."

See the readers' comments below for some good theories about whom this is about. 

John Howard suggests that the song is at least partly inspired by Lou Reed's "Smiles" from Growing Up In Public. Some lyrics:

Smiles, they all smile on tv/The quizmaster with his withered crones/The talkshow hosting movie stars, the politician licking feet/The mugger, the rapist, the arsenic lover/All smile out from the news, at one time or another/Those smiles, those garish sickly smiles

According to Martin, these lyrics, more or less, "are present in the very first performance of the song (21 March 1983 The Venue, London) with an extra line about "firegun restrictions". There's also a mention of David Bellamy, who is an environmental campaigner and botanist: 'David Bellamy, lousy celebrity, makes record, smiles!'"

From Paul Hanley's book, Leave the Capital, p.176-177 (for what it's worth, we shouldn't assume Hanley is right about the song):
 


'Smile' featured a semi-affectionate pen portrait of Karl Burns's indiscreet personality and dress sense - 'Would ask for a fag in Texas' could go on his gravestone.

^

2. "Bird" is English slang for a woman; it is never, or almost never, used in the US, but is commonly known here, I think. Since we already know the subject of the song is male, "opposite birds" seems like a redundant phrase, but it could perhaps use more unpacking. My first impression is that it's a tongue-in-cheek permutation of "the opposite sex," and maybe there's an implication that the "birds" are younger (in conjunction with "fellow age group," with maybe an extra twist making a pun on "fellow" vs. "bird[s]"), but it's possible there's more to it. Dan suggests it could also mean relations with "birds" are "opposite" to those with "fellow age group," i.e. not so good (though it doesn't entirely make sense to contrast these two categories which would presumably overlap).

^

3. A chicken run is an outdoor yard for chickens. Here it perhaps suggests a crowded, and perhaps dirty, club. 

Ex-worker says "when I was a kid a 'chicken run' was a dare to run across the road in front of a car; I always took that line to be something like that, our hero needs the toilet but risks some unspecified threat on the way there. I think there's a Christopher Priest short story from the 70s called 'Chicken Run' on that car theme." Indeed one of Priest's early stories is called "The Run," and uses the phrase "chicken run" in just this way. So this may be what's intended here.

Do I Have One? adds "This song reminds me of nightclubs I used to go to in the 80's, very violent and dodgy places. Going to the toilet was one of the most dangerous parts of being there, as you had to leave the safety of your mates and usually came across someone wanting to fight. Also fits in with 'raises club nerve and poses' [three lines up]."

See note 4 below.

^

4. From the poem "London" from the blue lyrics book (see full text at note 8 below):

His mind is Parisien
Fifties situationalist
And neath his designs
You have no choice
Stay where you are
He's looking down on you
From his tech drawing board
Take the chicken run!
Run to the bog!

Thanks to Dan.

^

5. A mysterious phrase; it could mean he slept with someone with red hair. 

^

6. In English law, "G.B.H." means "grievous bodily harm." A punk band of that name was formed in 1978, with the name inspired by the singer's trial for the offence that bears the acronym; the backronym "Great Britain Hardcore" has also been attributed to the band.

^

7. An instruction to the band, who (only just) comply without showing much enthusiasm for the idea.

^

8. "Fag" means cigarette in England, but it means something else in Texas.

From Paul Hanley's book, Leave the Capital, p.176-177 (Dan): "'Smile' featured a semi-affectionate pen portrait of Karl Burns's indiscreet personality and dress sense - 'Would ask for a fag in Texas' could go on his gravestone."

^

9. The poem "London" from the Blue Lyrics Book also contains an echo of this lyric (see notes 3 and 4 above). The full text:

Decadent backbone of former empire
Spittle chin southerner looking forward to next holiday
Digitale Croydon, fourteen pound per hour
An immigration backlash type situation here
And theres an Indian clerk in the backroom
With a Literature degree
His boss is a flat roofed architect
Over bathed, intense
Project Victoriana Punish
His clothes are flappin United Nations
Japanese pants, odd boots,
Euro shirt
Is No shirt!
His mind is Parisien
Fifties situationalist
And neath his designs
You have no choice
Stay where you are
He's looking down on you
From his tech drawing board
Take the chicken run!
Run to the bog!
You can do it!
Do not
Warning!
Rumours of grey cancer builders
Greatly exaggerated

^

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More Information

Smile: Fall Tracks A-Z

The Story of the Fall: 1983

The poem "London" from the Blue Lyrics Book

Decadent backbone of former empire
Spittle chin southerner looking forward to next holiday
Digitale Croydon, fourteen pound per hour
An immigration backlash type situation here
And theres an Indian clerk in the backroom
With a Literature degree
His boss is a flat roofed architect
Over bathed, intense
Project Victoriana Punish
His clothes are flappin United Nations
Japanese pants, odd boots,
Euro shirt
Is No shirt!
His mind is Parisien
Fifties situationalist
And neath his designs
You have no choice
Stay where you are
He's looking down on you
From his tech drawing board
Take the chicken run!
Run to the bog!
You can do it!
Do not
Warning!
Rumours of grey cancer builders
Greatly exaggerated

Comments (59)

George Cochrane
  • 1. George Cochrane | 26/12/2013
MES adds some curious lyrics in a performance at The Palace, Hollywood, CA 3/22/85. "Crimson/sparks off/repeal gun laws/student/death/grin/he'd ask for a fag in Texas [U.S. audience very much gets the joke, and audibly responds]/order a lager in a town [whispering] Auschwitz." Creepy. An astonishing version.
Martin
  • 2. Martin | 30/01/2014
Probably completely erroneous, but I always heard "take the chick [= girl?] and run" as opposed to "chicken run". It would tie in with the mention of "birds".
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 15/02/2014
A good enough idea to mention in my note, although the orange book has "chicken run."
dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 23/05/2014
I'm hearing:

"Well fed in welfare way", not "a welfare way"

"Lousy celebrity makes record" not "joke record"

and the last line is:

"In the Roman Nero films", not "In the roman and nero kodak films"

I think the above is not the original album version.
bzfgt
  • 5. bzfgt | 28/05/2014
Yes, I took this from the Lyrics Parade and I don't remember if I ever checked it, probably not it seems. The extra words in question do not live on Peel either. The Lyrics Parade version, however, seems to be taken over exactly, including the capitalization and the choices between "SMILE," "SMILES" and "SMILED," from the orange lyrics book. I have no idea about the last (e, es, ed) but I changed the couple lines you point out as they accord more with the recording as I hear it.
Mark
  • 6. Mark | 29/07/2014
I think it's "Mates ginger", not "makes". As in, the character in question has a friend either called Ginger or has ginger hair.
rik
  • 7. rik | 20/02/2015
any thoughts on "patchwork jacket from the top of his ears" ???
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
Not in my head, but I'm all ears!
dannyno
  • 9. dannyno | 02/07/2015
I used to wonder if this song was about Stewart Home, who edited a magazine called SMILE. It would kind of fit. But then i read this: http://www.thekingsboropress.com/catalogue/gbmes2, and it's apparent that MES has never met Stewart Home before.
bzfgt
  • 10. bzfgt | 17/07/2015
Home really seems to fit though...
dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 12/09/2015
Alternatively, what about Steve Foley?

http://www.discogs.com/label/426724-Smile-Studios
factorybozo
  • 12. factorybozo | 08/11/2015
I always figured this song to be tied to Malcolm McLaren and/or the Sex Pistols. decadence/anarchy, makes ginger (red-headed Lydon), the bad dance/club records, Vicious yelling 'fags' in Texas...
Loupen
  • 13. Loupen | 29/12/2015
'London', the poem Mark recites in his 'Guide to Writing Guide', has similar elements:

"Take the chicken run to the bogs"
"Spittle-chin southerner waiting for next holiday"
"Neath his designs you have no choice...He is looking down on you from his tech drawing board" - which seems to echo the reference to "the above, designed from above club" in 'Smile'.

'London' also describes a character in motley dress, whose "mind is Parisian - 50s Situationalist". A portrait of Malcolm McClaren? Maybe the pseudo-anarchist pop svengali is the one who 'designs from above'.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 05/01/2016
Excellent stuff, Loupen, and I hope my suggestion to "look under" in my first post suffices here, I'm self-conscious about the length of the notes lately and I imagine most people would read the comments too...
Martin
  • 15. Martin | 21/04/2016
With reference to comment no 1, pretty much the same added lyrics are present in the very first performance of the song (21 March 1983 The Venue, London) with an extra line about "firegun restrictions". There's also a mention of David Bellamy, who is an environmental campaigner and botanist:

"David Bellamy, lousy celebrity, makes record, smiles!"

(Possibly referring to a song called "Brontosaurus Will You Wait For Me?")
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 10/09/2016
Could be that song, but if it is that means MES is referencing a single released in 1980 - 3 years previous. This seems unusually long ago.
John Howard
  • 17. John Howard | 08/01/2017
there is a Lou Reed song called "Smiles" on Growing Up in Public. Here's a verse:

Smiles, they all smile on tv
The quizmaster with his withered crones
The talkshow hosting movie stars, the politician licking feet
The mugger, the rapist, the arsonic lover
All smile out from the news, at one time or another
Those smiles, those garish sickly smiles
dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 27/10/2017
From Paul Hanley's book, Leave the Capital, p.176-177:


'Smile' featured a semi-affectionate pen portrait of Karl Burns's indiscreet personality and dress sense - 'Would ask for a fag in Texas' could go on his gravestone.
Mike Watts
  • 19. Mike Watts | 02/12/2017
'Meet animals' ?
Dhfhfj
  • 20. Dhfhfj | 03/12/2017
4 could be "mixed gender", not sure but matches the context
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
John Howard, that is all in note 1!

"Could be that song, but if it is that means MES is referencing a single released in 1980 - 3 years previous. This seems unusually long ago."

This again? Martin says he sang those lyrics. What is this "three years" stuff? "Jerusalem" was a century and a half!
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
MIKE: yes, maybe. It's in the orange book but that line is missing, and anyway those books are unreliable....

"Kodak films" and a lot of that other stuff is from the orange book. If I get a minute and feel patient I'll maybe list the discrepancies, but I'm starting to think that's not really that important...those books are so obviously not MES in some of the typewritten entries that it would be like saying "I know this guy who thinks he says 'kodak.' On the other hand if it's something entirely not on the record, it's possible it is MES so maybe I should...

...checking "makes ginger"/"mixed gender" (the latter seems to fit thematically)
bzfgt
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
There's no "something to dance to," is there? Does anyone have a way to scan and make into text the lyrics book version, and then I'll fix this by ear? It's a lot of work, maybe not tonight....
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
"Physical awareness" is wrong ("physical" is that is)
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
I can't find "makes ginger" OR "mixed gender"...a lot fo versions out there, too....oooog.
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
Crap, I was on the bonus version. Starting over.
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
This is better, I was worried. "Physical" is back, "makes ginger" is correct; I think it means he slept with a red haired woman.
bzfgt
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 23/12/2017
Ignore all the above; "something to dance to" is of course back too, etc.
dannyno
  • 29. dannyno | 23/12/2017
bzfgt, comment #21.

He sang the lyrics, but was it that Bellamy record he's referring to? Bellamy was on another record (an audiobook) which came out in 1982.

In January 1983, Bellamy deliberately got himself arrested and locked up for four days in Tasmania as part of a conservationist anti-dam building campaign stunt. He appeared on the "Wogan" chat show on 19 March 1983, alongside Peter Skellern, Sir Harry Secombe, and Jon Voigt, just a couple of days before the live debut of this song. Maybe he talked about making records?

But having said all that, I've just double checked the dates.

Discogs dates the Brontosaurus song to 1980. And the images of the record have (c) 1980.

But.

The Official UK Charts site dates it to 1983.

http://www.officialcharts.com/search/singles/brontosaurus-will-you-wait-for-me/

So my instincts were correct, this seems to be contemporary reference. It just seems the dating is a bit confused. A re-release?
dannyno
  • 30. dannyno | 23/12/2017
Dhfhfj, comment #20

4 could be "mixed gender", not sure but matches the context


It's an appealing thought, but I think it's anachronistic. I cannot find any references to "mixed gender" toilets c.1983. They were "unisex" then.
dannyno
  • 31. dannyno | 23/12/2017
Brontosaurus song.... OK, so the reason it's copyrighted to 1980, is that the composer, Mike Croft, originally released the songs in 1980:

https://www.discogs.com/Mike-Croft-Chris-Croft-The-Dinosaur-Record/release/1739636

The discogs entry for Bellamy's version has a 1980 release date, but this is clearly wrong - the copyright date is the date of the original songs.
Davis McArdle
  • 32. Davis McArdle | 22/01/2018
"Take the chicken run / Take the chicken run / To the toilet"

Always thought this was a carp at Joy Division's Still. From joydiv.org:

Groove notations (UK edition):
"The chicken won't stop" (side A), chicken tracks across the grooves (sides B & C), "The chicken stops here" (side D).
"The chicken won't stop" is from the Werner Herzog "Stroszek" movie.

Being charitable, maybe a dig at the more, uh... overwrought JD devotee rather than JD themselves.
dannyno
  • 33. dannyno | 23/01/2018
David McArdle, comment #32. OK, so the lyric includes a word which might echo (a year or so later, although i know everyone hates it when I comment on chronology, but I don't care!) a groove notation from a posthumous Joy Division compilation. Mmm. But what's "the dig"?
Davis McArdle
  • 34. Davis McArdle | 23/01/2018
dannymo

The "chicken" thing on Still refers to the film which folk reckon Curtis watched on the evening of his suicide, & near-ecclesiastical JD worship in 1983 was still a very real thing (Blue Monday?! Sell-out!! Etc). In autumn 1983, Factory had reissued Love Will Tear Us Apart on the back of Paul Young's unexpected cover version and it was back in the top 40, leading to various music paper retrospectives and the preparation of Mark Johnson's ludicrously awestruck JD biog Ideal For Living. So if playing Still with a sense of reverence = watching the chicken run, then the bathetic punchline "...to the toilet" is just a raspberry in the face of Factory apologists & Curtis cultists.

Typing it all out there, it does now seem specious, admittedly. But it's what went through my mind when I first heard PBL back in 1984, a few months after release - if it's bolleaux, it's at least not retro-conned hindsight bolleaux.
dannyno
  • 35. dannyno | 24/01/2018
Fair enough, there's little I hate more than retro-conned hindsight bolleaux. I don't buy your thought process, though I enjoy it.

I think we need to bear in mind what a "chicken run" is. It's a caged, fenced or otherwise enclosed area outside a chicken coop (the indoors area). So I suppose the question is, is this a pun of some kind? To me, it suggests a design feature of a building/club - a kind of corridor to the toilets, maybe the toilets are outside, even. Could be somewhere very specific. But "chicken" might be intended in the sense of cowardice - might fit since there's the "club nerve" line a few seconds earlier. So maybe it signifies an escape from the club.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/87/bd/f8/87bdf867cd0c482f45bcbdf9d906fcc5.jpg

Dan
dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 24/01/2018
I mean, that's already in the notes and everything. I just have this image of how, if we treat it as as literal, it might look within or without a club....
HarryP
  • 37. HarryP | 30/01/2018
Is "cocktail clubs" in the quotation from MES a veiled reference to gay clubs? There are a few lyrics that could be interpreted as referencing gay culture - the chickens in the chicken run, fairly well known gay slang; "ginger" also rhyming slang for queer.

There are other bits and pieces as well, maybe they're just suggestive.
dannyno
  • 38. dannyno | 01/02/2018
There's an article to be written on MES's use of rhyming slang - does he, or not? It seems unlikely, but there are some possible examples. Anyway, i take "cocktail clubs" to mean "cocktail clubs". But the other connotations are there are they are there for you.
bzfgt
  • 39. bzfgt (link) | 04/02/2018
Thanks for the comments, HarryP. It seems like a bit of a stretch but certainly possible, and anyway it's good to have as many speculations as can possibly hold water in the comments here...
carl e will
  • 40. carl e will | 14/02/2018
Its about the buddha's smile of reflective transcendence into godhood as opposed to the false samadhi type thing of the material world.
bzfgt
  • 41. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
Doubtlessly it is, but so is everything...
ex worker man
  • 42. ex worker man | 14/03/2018
re point 3 - when I was a kid a "chicken run" was a dare to run across the road in front of a car, i always took that line to be something like that, our hero needs the toilet but risks some unspecified threat on the way there. I think there's a Christopher Priest short story from the 70s called Chicken Run on that car theme
Do I Have one?
  • 43. Do I Have one? | 16/03/2018
Agree with ex worker man on "take the chicken run to the toilet". This song reminds me of nightclubs I used to go to in the 80's, very violent and dodgy places. Going to the toilet was one of the most dangerous parts of being there, as you had to leave the saftey of your mates and usually came across someone wanting to fight. Also fits in with "raises club nerve and poses".
dannyno
  • 44. dannyno | 09/07/2018
In the blue lyrics book is a poem entitled "London" (noted in comment #13 also), which includes the following:


Take the chicken run!
Run to the bog!
You can do it!
nutterwain
  • 45. nutterwain | 22/07/2018
"Relation with fellow age group and opposite birds"
Slits? Ari Up - Lydon
dannyno
  • 46. dannyno | 23/07/2018
Comment #45: why, though?
bzfgt
  • 47. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
Do we have good reason to think it's about Lydon? You're not the first to suggest it. And is there anything in particular that connects "opposite birds" with Ari Up, or just that if it's about Lydon, she was connected to him?
dannyno
  • 48. dannyno | 07/08/2018
Note 2, "opposite birds". While "opposite" might indeed be a pleonasm if "birds" does mean "girls", it could be emphasis: as with "wet water" or "burning fire". However, it might also be intended to indicate the spacial location of said girls - i.e. they are across the way from the narrator.

But it should also be noted that first bit of the entire line "Relation with fellow age group, and opposite birds" doesn't seem to make grammatical sense either. "Relation with"? Might suggest good relations with people of the same age, but an oppositional stance towards "birds". Might mean "relationship" or "relations" (either in the sense of interpersonal interactions or in the sense of family member).

And perhaps "birds" literally means chickens, since chickens are also in the lyric. I don't think I believe that, but still.
bzfgt
  • 49. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2018
Oh good point, opposite to the relation with age group maybe
nutterwain
  • 50. nutterwain | 23/08/2018
Wasn't Ari Up the daughter of Lydon's wife? Hence "relation with.."
bzfgt
  • 51. bzfgt (link) | 25/08/2018
So it's maybe about Lydon but we have little reason to think it is, and then we are picking a random female out of hundreds that Lydon had a "relation with" and that's who it's about? Or is there something else going on here that I am failing to grasp? Was Ari Up's nickname "The Bird" or something?
dannyno
  • 52. dannyno | 28/08/2018
What reason is there to think it's about Lydon, even, let alone his wife's daughter?
nutterwain
  • 53. nutterwain | 30/08/2018
Isn't the whole song about Lydon/McLaren or am I missing something in your question Dan?
bzfgt
  • 54. bzfgt (link) | 01/09/2018
Why do we think the whole song is about Lydon/McLaren? What am I missing? I'm not saying it isn't, but where is there evidence that it is, beyond the fact that a few details would fit? And then we start filling in family members?

Even if it is about Lydon though, Ari Up seems like a stretch. There must be all kinds of opposite birds Lydon had/has some sort of connection to...
dannyno
  • 55. dannyno | 02/09/2018
nutterwain, comment #53.

Isn't the whole song about Lydon/McLaren or am I missing something in your question Dan?


No, you've not missed anything. I'm asking what reason there is to think the whole song is about Lydon/McLaren.
dannyno
  • 56. dannyno | 02/09/2018
The poem "London", in the Blue Lyrics Book, contains - as already noted - a line about "take the chicken run".

But it also has these lines, which also echo this song.

Spittle chin southerner looking forward to next holiday
dannyno
  • 57. dannyno | 02/09/2018
And also

And neath his designs
You have no choice
Stay where you are
Hes looking down on you
From his tech drawing board


Which echoes the lines "In the above, designed from above club".
bzfgt
  • 58. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
Remarkably, the computer let me copy that poem from the image file and paste it here as text. It only required a few corrections...I had no idea the computer could do that. I don't think it could a few years ago, I remember having to use some kind of site to convert images of text (with just as many errors). It must be the latest OS I updated to.
dvd
  • 59. dvd | 16/11/2018
I think of 'positive punk' when I hear this (southern death cult, gene loves jezebel). When you say 'positive' followed by GBH, what word are you thinking of besides 'punk' at least in the US, where Charged GBH were a huge 'punk' band in the 80s.

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