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Random Jukebox: Marianne Faithfull’s Why’d Ya Do It?

Sometimes you just have to roll with the selections of the random jukebox, and today it picked a salacious little ditty and one of the spikier entries in the Marianne Faithfull catalogue. Like far too many, Marianne battled coronavirus in 2020; the after-effects of which have left her wheelchair-bound and living in Denville Hall, a residential care home near Elton John’s old stomping ground of Pinner. All things considered, this is a gleaming naughty nugget from the 1970s that you should know about.

An imperious English rose and mutable blonde wisp, Marianne Faithfull moved from cheesecake and coffeehouse folkie to Swingin‘ London hanger-on to Rolling Stones consort and Mick Jagger muse to David Bowie-duetting suicidal heroin wash-out in the space of about six years, eventually marrying a member of the Vibrators and living on the streets of Soho. Phew.

It took a while before the singer was in a position to be clambering from the wreckage and finding her own voice.

The end-of-decade album Broken English (lead single: the gorgeous Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, wonky electro production and all) was her proper return to the fray, While it’s true that the 1979 LP marked a clear kink in the road and is widely considered to be Faithfull’s masterpiece, it does sound a bit like a time-stamped product of the new wave era. Squelching synthesisers go in and out of fashion, but they have a whiff of post-punk cosplay, just as Mark Miller Mundy’s production is identifiably from the Island Records colour chart with its understated insinuations of Grace Jones-lite reggae and roots. (Though the Bumper girl was still in the business of perfecting her brand of Island ice).

If Faithfull sounded damaged – vocally, she did – the point was underlined. Three times over.

What makes the record work is the surprising harshness of Faithfull’s voice colouring the proud alienation of the songs, and the still shocking Why‘d Ya Do It was the record’s darkest provocation, a spooky crawlspace of betrayal where punk, reggae, disco, rock, and even tango gnashed at each other’s bare flesh.

Her raw and raspy reading of poet Heathcoate Williams’ graphic lyrics was vividly startling — what has this woman done, let alone seen? — with frigid synth loops completing the sultry, sod-off groove. “Why‘d ya do it?” she screamed, “After all we‘ve said / Every time I see your dick I see her cunt in my bed.“

Well, you don’t get that with Kate Bush.

Over four decades later and Why’d Ya Do It? remains an extreme song, with a jealous Faithfull snarling through a litany of sexual grievances (cock-sucking, snatch-spitting, cobwebbed fannies).

The workers at the Australian EMI plant where Antipodean copies of the record were pressed were so offended by the song’s lyrical content that they staged a walkout.

They weren’t too keen on me booming it out of the sound system during working hours at the Bull Hotel in Stony Stratford either, on a tape that an impish pen-pal from Bracknell had sent me, thus introducing me to the wonderful world of Marianne.

Beats sugary confectionary any day.

Steve Pafford

How come it tastes so good? © Steve Pafford, 2014

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