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Ask (The Smiths song)

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"Ask" is a song by the English rock band the Smiths, written by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. Released in October 1986, it reached No. 9 in the Irish Singles Chart and peaked at No. 14 on the UK Chart. An upbeat, positive song built around major chords, its lyrics touch on shyness and encourages the listener to release their inhibitions.

"Ask"
A yellow-tinted photograph a woman.
Single by The Smiths
Released 20 October 1986
Format
Recorded June 1986
Studio Jam Studios in London, England
Genre
Length 3:18 (album version)
3:10 (The Very Best... version)
2:59 (single version)
Label Rough Trade
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
The Smiths singles chronology
"Panic"
(1986)
"Ask"
(1986)
"Shoplifters of the World Unite"
(1987)
"Panic"
(1986)
"Ask"
(1986)
"Shoplifters of the World Unite"
(1987)

As with most of the Smiths' singles, it was not included on a studio album. It is featured on the compilation albums The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs (both 1987) as well as the live album Rank (1988).

Contents

BackgroundEdit

"Ask" was written as an intentionally more lighthearted song than its predecessor single, "Panic". Morrissey said: "If the next single had been a slight protest, regardless of the merits of the actual song, people would say, 'Here we go again'".[1]

The song's lyrics include the couplet "Writing frightening verse / To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg," which has been interpreted as a reference to Morrissey's youth, in which he frequently wrote letters to pen pals.[2] Simon Goddard, the author of Mozipedia, also traces the lyric "nature is a language, can't you read" to Alan Bennett's 1978 teleplay Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which contained the line, "Nature has a language, you see, if only we'd learn to read it."[1] Goddard additionally commented on the lyrics as a whole, writing: "a superficial plea to liberate one's inhibitions, the crux of 'Ask' appears to be its protagonist’s own fizzling sexual repression, amplified in Morrissey's exaggerated use of uppercase in its printed lyrics and his vivid metaphor of sexual desire as a unifying explosive."[3]

Recording and compositionEdit

"Ask" was recorded in June 1986 with producer John Porter at Jam Studios in London.[2] Kirsty MacColl provides backing vocals on the song. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com, by Alfred Music Publishing, the song is written in the key of G major, and moves at a tempo of 167 beats per minute. The general chord progression of the song is made from the progression G - Am - C - D. Morrissey's vocals in the song span from the note of G4 to the note of E5.[4] The song contains over five guitar parts, including dueling strumming between Marr and guitarist Craig Gannon, who played Martin acoustics.[2] Gannon was briefly a member of the band that year as rhythm guitarist, and has claimed he wrote the song's opening chord sequence and was cheated out of royalties:

Goddard states that "[a]s a common ascending chord configuration, it's not beyond reason that Gannon may have stumbled across something very close to it. However, without necessarily disputing Gannon's claim, it should be noted that Marr had used the exact same chord sequence within a home demo of what later became 'Is It Really So Strange?' several months earlier and was subconsciously predisposed to those specific chords to use them again as the basis of 'I Won't Share You'."[1] Marr himself disputed Gannon's claim in the book Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance.[2]

ReleaseEdit

The song was initially slated to be mixed by Porter at Jam Studios. "Originally “Ask” was a bit of a tour de force and it was pretty complicated. ... Then there was this bit in the middle where they wanted the sound of a waterfall crashing, all with guitars. [...] It was a jigsaw puzzle. You needed six hands to mix it properly and we didn't have automation at Jam Studios," Porter said. Goddard reports that Morrissey was threatened by Porter and Marr's camaraderie in the studio,[3] and instead requested Steve Lillywhite, MacColl's husband, mix "Ask" at his home studio in the London Borough of Ealing.[2] Marr was unhappy with the song's final mix, commenting, "I couldn't understand why it was being tampered with because it all came together very simply and with a definite sense of purpose. [The final version] wasn't dramatically different, but it felt kind of a little bit muted. Less spirited, absolutely."[3]

"Ask" was released as the Smiths' twelfth single on 20 October 1986 on both 7" and 12" formats; a limited release in the U.S. via Sire Records occurred the next month.[2] It continued a streak of top 20 singles for the group, peaking at number 14 on the UK Singles Chart during the week ending 2 November 1986.[5] The song also charted in Ireland, where it peaked at number 9 on the Irish Singles Chart.[6] In 1995, the single was re-released, and charted on the UK Singles Chart again, peaking at number 62.[7]

There are two versions of this song. The version that appears on the single releases and the compilation The Very Best of The Smiths (2001) fades out slightly sooner and has the vocal track lasting until the end of the song. The backing vocals in this version are also mixed differently and are louder. The version that appears on all albums (save for the one listed above) fades out later (though the end of the track is audible, albeit at a very low level) and has the vocal track ending before the fade begins.

Music videoEdit

Filmmaker Derek Jarman directed the song's music video.[1] A version mixing in live performance footage of the band was created; it is available on The Complete Picture (1992), a compilation home video release of the Smiths' videos and promotional films. In 1988, another video of the band playing live was issued to promote the release of Rank, the group's sole live album; it was directed by Peter Fowler and takes its footage from a live show while Gannon was still a member of the band.

Credits and personnelEdit

Credits adapted from the 12" single sleeve and label.[8]

Locations
Personnel

Track listingEdit

7" RT194
No. Title Length
1. "Ask" (single version) 2:59
2. "Cemetry Gates" 2:39
12" RTT194/CD RTT194CD
No. Title Length
1. "Ask" (single version) 2:59
2. "Cemetry Gates" 2:39
3. "Golden Lights" 2:38

Later re-releases of the "Ask" single would include the album version, which runs for 3:15, instead of the single version included on the original pressings.

ChartsEdit

Chart (1986) Peak
position
Ireland (IRMA)[6] 9
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[5] 14
Chart (1995) Peak
position
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[7] 62

ArtworkEdit

The single's sleeve cover depicts actress Yootha Joyce on the set of the 1965 film Catch Us If You Can.[1]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e Goddard, Simon (2010). Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths. Plume. ISBN 978-0452296671. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Luerssen, John D. (2015). The Smiths FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Most Important British Band of the 1980s. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1480394490. 
  3. ^ a b c Goddard, Simon (2013). Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised Edition): The Art of The Smiths 1982-87. Titan Books. ISBN 978-1781162583. 
  4. ^ "The Smiths "Ask" Sheet Music in G Major". Musicnotes.com. Alfred Music Publishing. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Ask". Irish Singles Chart.
  7. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  8. ^ Ask. Rough Trade Records (liner notes). The Smiths. London. 1986. RTT 194. 

External linksEdit