"Handsome Devil" as written by and Steven Patrick/marr Morrissey....
All the streets are crammed with things
Eager to be held
I know what hands are for
And I'd like to help myself
You ask me the time
But I sense something more
And I would like to give
What I think you're asking for
You handsome devil
Oh, you handsome devil
Let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say
I crack the whip
And you skip
But you deserve it
You deserve it, deserve it, deserve it
A boy in the bush
Is worth two in the hand
I think I can help you get through your exams
Oh, you handsome devil
Oh, let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say
I crack the whip
And you skip
But you deserve it
You deserve it, deserve it, deserve it
And when we're in your scholarly room
Who will swallow whom ?
When we're in your scholarly room
Who will swallow whom ?
You handsome devil
Oh, let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say
There's more to life than books, you know
But not much more
Oh, there's more to life than books, you know
But not much more, not much more
Oh, you handsome devil
Oh, you handsome devil
Ow


Lyrics submitted by Idan

"Handsome Devil" as written by Johnny Marr Steven Morrissey

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Handsome Devil song meanings
Add your thoughts

73 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +8
    Song MeaningThis is a character assassination of one of Morrissey's former teachers:
    "I crack the whip
    And you skip
    But you deserve it"
    The lyrics are written in the first person (I) but this is a device to lay bare the contents of the speaker's mind. This technique is confusing because the convention in pop music is for "I" to mean "me, the person singing the song", not some other character, as you find in literature.
    This teacher uses language with a flourish... language which Morrissey admires, "mammary, conjugal, etc..." but his sophistication is superficial and his motivations are base, i.e. lust.
    Morrissey is exploring what goes on inside this guy's head.... Morrissey suspects that his thoughts are full of sexual fantasies about his pupils.
    If you approach this guy with an innocent question (asking him the time) he will interpret it as a come-on.
    It doesn't matter whether the object of the speaker's lust is male or female... the song is about the speaker himself.
    Morrissey drops the technique of exploring another person's personality using a monologue.... within The Smiths' material anyway (can't speak for the rest)... because I think he realises that it works great in theatre but not in pop music.
    The next time Morrissey attacks his old teachers, he uses a much more straightforward bald statement of fact:
    "Beligerent ghouls run Manchester school, spineless swine, bastards all..."
    ursamyn0ron May 29, 2013   Link
  • +4
    General CommentWell I have a completely different take:

    As for the whole "boy in bush" thing- It's actually a twist on a proverb: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," which means that it is better to be satisfied with something you have than to risk losing it by trying to get something better you may not succeed in getting.

    When he sings the song I always hear this kind of snotty undertone, where he is bashing the whole race of "sex crazed men" who think are obsessed with fucking and dominating. He's referring to them as these naive boys who think they know it all, but secretly, he knows what they're up to. The guy is trying to hit on him, but he kinda sneers and says "oh- just you wait"

    So he reverses roles. The guy who thought he'd be the sly little fucker is now pinned under the character singing, being treated like the victim, being whipped and groped, and "he deserves it"

    Guys also have mammary glands as well- just not functioning (though some men do) I think he takes that one "feminine" part in men and exploits it, showing the new role the man now has.

    "The scholarly room" teaching them a lesson. "Who will swallow who?" I have this perfect image of him ready to pounce on someone, licking his licks and asking "Who do you think is going to dominate who this time? Do you know?" Kinda like a teasing little voice, when all the while you know who will be in control.

    As for the proverb- the song to me, as I said before, is kinda (can't find the right word) not pompous or bombastic- but you know what I mean- and I think as you listen to this song there becomes this sensory overload of so many elements- and the proverb is like the obsession the main character has with justice, that he's grabbing out for these men to punish, but he has to control himself.

    and the end (my favorite part) It's the end, he's done and used his victim, taught them their lesson about fucking around with people without emotion and now he's walking right out the room laughing, giving him this clever little line about what the once sex crazed boy has just experienced "There's more to life that books you know" He had to demonstrated "But not much more" And the task was as easy as letting the boy know what it's like to be the person being used on his "conjugal bed" (first time experience being dominated)

    I dunno... I like it. Morrissey is my hero, so when I hear it I just think "teach those perverts a lesson!" ha. That's just me though
    TheoWhaton September 12, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI really believe now that the "mammary glands" line was to throw everyone off. He was a clever devil. I think it is homoerotic. I remember listening to this song and dancing around in my house as a young (female) teenager and my father looking at me in horror when he heard these lyrics. ((Morrissey))
    Kelly20on September 17, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentQuite a lot of comments about this song, which is surprising since it is a relatively obscure song only being on the Hatful of Hollow compilation.

    I really love the driving music and sinister tone and lyrics of the song. The meaning seems pretty straightforward, to me at least. As others have stated, I think it is simply a song about sexual frustration. I'm surprised no one has interpreted the line "I know what hands are for, and I'd like to help myself" to be about masturbation. I think the lines that follow display the narrator's sexual fantasies- that someone asking him for the time wants to have sex, he sees the streets crammed with sexual objects, he thinks about groping, getting into bed and whipping a schoolboy. The frustration is evidenced through the active and forceful verbs he uses "crammed" "Let me" "whip" "grab" "swallow".

    The last line seems oddly out of place "there's more to life than books you know, but not much more". In explaining the song, Morrissey basically disregarded all of the lyrics and just focused on these, stating as a defense of the song that it was about the importance of education. Kind of a laughable ducking of the other 95% of the song! But that's Morrissey! But I think these lyrics could reference not the scholarly schoolboy's books, but rather Morrissey's own books- perhaps DH Lawrence novels or other erotic literature that created the fantasies that enabled him to "help himself". Morrissey was reportedly celibate at the time this song was recorded so it may be natural to assume that he was relying on books, fantasies and 'self-help' to get him through these times. Oh and the reference to mammary glands- could be a man's inactive breasts. Or could reference women. Morrissey had reportedly been with both men and women up to this point in life so it's quite possible that he was equally turned on by both sexes. Anyway, just another interpretation to consider.
    BillyBuddon April 30, 2010   Link
  • +3
    My OpinionI agree that the song is about sexual frustration, and generally being a sex-crazed teenager(probably). I agree with urbanbohemiac's interpretation of the opening lines. The 'you asked me the time' line I believe refers to a stranger on the street asking the narrator the time and him interpreting it as flirting. I honestly think that Morrissey was just having fun with this song. He seems to enjoy being rather sexually ambiguous, which is prominent in this song with the use of the title phrase, a term usually used in reference to men, and the 'mammary glands' line. The 'There's more to life than books' line has a sort of smiling cynicism to it, like 'The only worthwhile things in life are books and sex.' To me it seems to be pretty typical Morrissey to write a song like this; cynical, innuendo-laden, and intentionally possibly offensive to a casual listener.
    Corymanderon July 22, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentConjugal doesn't mean virginity, it means marriage. So the conjugal bed would be a husband and wife's bed.
    kiltman67on April 12, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI really, really love this song! Haven`t a clue where the child abuse fuss came from. Although, I listen to this song nearly everyday, I still cant figure out what its actually about. I think whatever its about is much more explicit then child abuse, Im just not smart enough to figure it out!!
    Han1991on October 13, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIn my opinion, it's about some sexual situation. Not sure if Morrisey is the one "playing" the protagonist role here or if it is about someone else.

    The only thing I wanted to point out is that men have undeveloped mammary glands, too (that's why guys have nipples just like women but can't do things such as lactation). I mention this just because I saw many people saying "he's talking about a woman" just because of that line when it still could be a about a guy.

    I still can't figure why are always people getting so "upset" with the well-known and, almost, trademark ambiguity on the Smiths' songs. It doesn't matter if they talk about a girl or a guy, the songs are awesome and the gender of the referred person won't ever change that. Period.
    kobaneon September 08, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHow could there be no posts about one of the Smiths' most controversial songs? It's not on any albums, but you can find the BBC version on Kazaa.

    The Smiths got into a lot of trouble over this one because of apparent allusions to statutory rape of boys. There are certainly some lines that would prove this to be true:
    A boy in the bush
    is worth two in the hand
    "I think I can help you get through your exams"
    "And when we're in your scholarly room
    who will swallow whom?"
    "There's more to life than books you know
    but not much more"
    However, I doubt the Smiths would write a song so blatantly about something I doubt they would do in the first place. Your opinions?
    esrevernidellepSon May 05, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwhy would a boy imply a mature woman ?
    sambo28on June 14, 2004   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain