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 Lyrics as written by Johnny Marr Steven Morrissey

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

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Handsome Devil song meanings
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74 Comments

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  • +10
    My Interpretation
    This 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
  • +7
    General Comment
    Well 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 Comment
    Quite 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
  • +4
    General Comment
    I 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
  • +4
    My Opinion
    I 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 Comment
    Conjugal doesn't mean virginity, it means marriage. So the conjugal bed would be a husband and wife's bed.
    kiltman67on April 13, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    Not only this song--but all over the SongMeanings.net entries for the Smiths and Morrissey--we find fans seizing upon a single lyric, or a brief snippet from an interview--proclaimed as disconfirming evidence, i.e. "Morrissey is not gay." One is reminded of the familiar line by Emerson re: consistency. Immediately upon coming to public attention, listeners and critics correctly identified the Smiths as something new: the expression of a gay sensibility in music, in a manner far more outspoken--and (usually) less concealed behind layers of euphemism or hidden meanings--than had ever been heard before. Not the first to tread this ground, but possessing a candor previously unseen. Following this initial wave of publicity and controversy, Morrissey gave interviews in which he repeatedly described himself as "celibate," seemingly addressing the issue of sexual orientation though in fact dodging it. Sometimes he added an explicit rejection of the "gay" label. I'll skim across the press furor over this particular song since it's been well documented, such as in Rogan's biography. A book Morrissey despises: presumably, he didn't appreciate being portrayed as petty, vindictive...and also how it revealed himself as having carefully cultivated--or fabricated--every aspect of his life for maximum media impact. Not that the latter should surprise anyone; Morrissey alluded to this himself, in the lyrics of "Accept Yourself": "I sat in my room and I drew up a plan." Yet he didn't sue, despite the UK's libel laws which strongly favor the plaintiff. Decide for yourself whether anything can be concluded from the fact. Returning to the lyrics of "Handsome Devil", we're presented with a scenario which, on the whole, seems to describe male-to-male desire and (hoped-for) assignations. How then to interpret such ambiguous or seemingly contradictory elements as the reference to "mammary glands"? Misdirection. From Morrissey's interviews we may conclude he feared being pigeonholed as a "gay musician." But prior to the emergence of Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields, it's difficult to think of anyone whose songwriting and public persona more visibly embraced a queer identity. Yes, you can cite this or that lyric--or line from an interview--which seems to contradict my assertion. To lean upon such slight "evidence" is to miss the forest for the trees. To be fair, I should say Morrissey has every right to self-identify in any way he chooses. I was livid when a certain clique of gay activists outed Bob Mould, with the justification that Bob had an "obligation" to be a role model for young gay men. Surely they too went through a time in their life when they weren't yet ready to tell the world. They understood the importance of privacy: yet denied it to someone else, to score political points. Having mentioned that, I fear I'll be interpreted as having indicated that Morrissey is gay but in the closet. More likely he (like Mould, before he was forced "out") doesn't regard himself as part of the gay community, and has no desire to join it. Perhaps because he feels he doesn't fit in anywhere: not with society and its constricting norms, nor with (a subgroup of) outcasts. I've been told "You don't look gay," and sometimes want to snap back, "What does a gay person look like?" Nevertheless if you look at Morrissey's work as a whole, its themes--even the way he speaks and dresses and otherwise presents himself to the world--it's difficult not to conclude he's queer as a three-dollar bill. "All men have secrets and here is mine..." "I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does." "He killed a policeman when he was thirteen, and somehow that really impressed me." (Is it any wonder the Smiths signed to indie label Rough Trade?) "Keats and Yeats are on your side, but Wilde is on mine." "William, it was really nothing; it was your eyes. How can you stay with a fat girl who'll say, 'Would you like to marry me?'" "This man said it's gruesome that someone so handsome should care." "...the rocks below say, 'Throw your skinny body down, son." AND "Deep in the cell of my heart I will feel so glad to go...There is another world; there is a better world...there must be." (Leading cause of death among LGBTQ teens and young adults: suicide.) "I'm not the man you think I am...Nature played this trick on me...She's too rough and I'm too delicate." "If the day came when I felt a natural emotion..." "When you're tied to your mother's apron, no one talks about castration." "You can pin and mount me like a butterfly." "How can they see the love in our eyes, and still they don't believe us?" "He's not strange. He just wants to live his life this way."
    foreverdroneon December 03, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    I 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 Comment
    In 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 Comment
    How 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

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