Once Upon a Time at the Top of the Charts: The Smiths, “Sheila Take a Bow”

Monday, May 11, 2015
Once Upon a Time at the Top of the Charts: The Smiths, “Sheila Take a Bow”

We don’t usually tend to shine the spotlight on the UK Indie Singles charts, mostly because there’s already so much material to discuss on the mainstream UK and US Singles charts, but sometimes a particular song is worthy of making an exception. Such is the case with The Smiths’ “Sheila Take a Bow,” which – as it happens – was tied with1984’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” as the highest charting mainstream UK single of the band’s career. Why is it so notable? Because as Sheila was taking a bow, so were the Smiths themselves: it was, in fact, the last song the Smiths ever performed in front of an audience.

“Sheila Take a Bow” was somewhat of a trial to record, and not just because The Smiths were in the process of imploding at the time. Morrissey had originally intended to have Sandie Shaw, the ‘60s chanteuse who’d recorded covers of “Hand in Glove” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything” in 1984, serve as a second vocalist on the song. Unfortunately, when she showed up for the session, Morrissey had called in sick, and given that it required a phone call to Morrissey for her to even get the melody of the song, it seems likely that she might not have turned in the best of all possible performances, which might explain why her version never saw the light of day. (Then again, it’s also possible that she simply might not have given it her all, since she later described it as “a horrid song.”)

The opening of the song features a sample of a brass band taken from the 1954 film Hobson’s Choice, which had apparently been a favorite film of someone in the band, most likely Morrissey, since the title could be found in the etchings of the “Bigmouth Strikes Again” single. There was originally supposed to be a proper video to accompany the single, but Morrissey refused to turn up for the filming. (We know, we’re as shocked as you are.) Thankfully, the band did perform it for two TV appearances, the second of which – on Top of the Pops – was utilized as a makeshift video.

Proper video or not, “Sheila Take a Bow” still managed to top the UK Indie Singles chart for several weeks, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that The Smiths only ever performed the song live for those two TV appearances. Oh, right, and it’s probably worth mentioning that the use of the word “performing” is a little dodgy for the Top of the Pops appearance, since they were miming the song. Still, it did require a performance, you must admit.