'These charming men' from Manchester charted on 24 January 1984 at No. 26, rising to No. 12 on 14 February. No. 1 on the 'Independent' charts for five weeks.
I think for at least one of those weeks, they had all the top 3 indie singles.
Heard in isolation, 'What Difference Does It Make?' is unmistakeably a product of its time. The most striking feature is Mike Joyce's big thumping kick-drum, but that background drone that starts the track also reminds me of the heavy use of "pad" sounds in big productions of that time. And yet, when you hear this track following Howard Jones it immediately sounds a bit of a misfit and that was presumably the intention of this and some of the other early singles: something that was mainstream enough to get heard but unusual enough to attract people who wanted something different. All this is a little to the detriment of the 21st century listener; perhaps that's why the current The Sound of the Smiths compilation favours the Peel Session recording.
Of course, in many respects the song exists as a showcase for Morrissey, who certainly makes his presence felt on this one: he's never seemed afraid of the limelight, and he throws himself into every corner, right down to the (possibly slightly annoying) falsetto bits at the end. Johnny Marr apparently disliked having his guitar parts referred to as "jangly" because there was more to them but there is an admirable chiming quality to them. And, er, I'm sure Andy Rourke is playing the bass somewhere in the mix. Mrs Brown has suggested that the lyric is about a man telling his girlfriend that he's bisexual, which makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, the mystery is probably meant to be a selling point.
I've got the impression in recent years that Smiths fans aren't all that keen on this track, which I guess just proves that I'm not much of a fan. Perhaps appropriately, this was to be their only Now appearance.
Available on:The Smiths