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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"I Want The One I Can't Have"- The Smiths Song Analysis

Reader Chris Hernandez asked for a song analysis of The Smith's "I Want The One I Can't Have" from their 1985 Meat Is Murder album. This was the second album by the band and their only one to hit #1 in the UK (it made it to only 110 on the US charts). Let's take a look.

The Song - "I Want The One I Can't Have" has a strange form, as do many of The Smith's and Morrissey's songs. It's made up of just verses and choruses, but the choruses are twice as long as the verses, so there are actually two parts to it. It looks something like this.

Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse (solo), Chorus, 4 bar outro

The song does have a surprising melody that goes to unexpected places, always a plus in songwriting.

The Arrangement - There's not very much to the arrangement of this song, and virtually no production. The only thing that really changes is Johnny Marr's guitar, which goes to big whole note strums in the chorus, with different guitar fills throughout the song.

The arrangement elements look like this:

   * The Foundation - Bass and drums, which rarely waver from their parts

   * The Pad - There's no traditional pad, but the whole note guitar strums in the chorus almost qualify

   * The Rhythm - The rhythm guitar

   * The Lead - The Lead vocal

   * The Fills - The various guitar fills throughout the song

The Sound - In general, not that great. The overall sound is very small with not much low end. The vocals have a lot of so-so sounding reverb, and are pushed way out in front, thereby taking away virtually any punch from the band.

The Performance - Johnny Marr is the king of clean guitar sounds. It sounded like there were about 4 lead/fill parts each with slightly different sounds, which could have been intentional, but maybe not. The vocal is pretty mediocre in that there are a lot of badly out-of-tune notes throughout the song. Since Marr and Morrissey produced the album, it sounds like the effort of a studio neophyte who doesn't know how to get the best performances and isn't even aware when they're unacceptable.

OK, I've ragged on this song enough. The fact of the matter is that this album was a big hit for the band and it goes to show that if you have great songs, the production, sound and performances don't have to be great to touch people. Songs are always the secret ingredient.

As always, email me if you have any song analysis requests.


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