I remember hearing “Broken English” on WPRK-FM [Rollins College Radio] back when it was released to a waiting world. The ultracool bass synth groove insinuated itself in my 16 year old mind with great facility and I made sure that I got the incredible album of the same name. I knew that Marianne Faithfull was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend in the swinging sixties but I’d never even heard her original hit version of “As Tears Go By” at this point in time. This album was ultra contemporary. It was full of Old Wave Island Records mafioso like Darryl Way and Steve Winwood but didn’t sit in their treehouse. No, this was an album of raw nerves, angst and ragged rage. The music was sometimes coolly dispassionate, as on her electropulse cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Then again, it was sometimes incendiary as on the harrowing “Why D’Ya Do It.”
The album has sat as her classic recording that earned her countless fans over the following decades. It was most intriguing and delightful when I ran across a 12″ single of “Broken English” last month at Wax N’ Facts in Atlanta.
Marianne Faithfull: Broken English US 12″
- Broken English [ext. ver.] 5:59
- Why D’Ya Do It [alt. mix] 6:35
I had no previous knowledge of this release so when I saw the timing 5:59 when I checked out the label, I knew that I had to have it! “Broken English” was the song that made me a fan of Marianne Faithfull and the synth riff was obviously inspirational to Michael Jackson a few years later to become the obvious progenitor of the “Billie Jean” hook. That always stuck in my craw. The version of offer here features almost a minute and a half running time, achieved in the then timely tradition of instro vamping for a few bars here and there. I’ve only heard it once so far, but the only thing that can be said that was added to the song was an overabundance of the burbling synthesizers that are a mere dusting of filigree on the familiar album version. I have to admit that the addition of running time saps this one of some of its allure. On the upside, the 31 year old vinyl was incredibly hot and spotlessly clean! Digitally remastering this will be almost effortless!
After I listened to the A-side, I saw the B-side was roughly what I remembered the running time of the album cut of “Why D’Ya Do It.” Was there ever a more powerful album closer than that little ditty? If you’ve not heard it, please make the effort. Ms. Faithfull took the poem of the same name by Heathcote Williams and with her band, added appropriately jagged and atonal musical accompaniment. Word has it that the band were influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower.” It is the harshest excoriation of an unfaithful lover you will ever hear as it pulls no punches whatsoever. The language is so ear-blisteringly raw that the Australian pressing of this album has a blank space where the song normally sits on the vinyl! Knowing full well that singles often feature unannounced surprises, I cleaned and played the B-side to be treated to a very different mix of the familiar cut!
While the performances sound the same as the familiar album cut, the mix, balance and EQ all differ substantially. The guitars are placed differently in the mix. Ms. Faithfull’s vocals are bone dry and more prominent in the mix. The second half of the song is now shot through with saxophone and the backing vocals are much more prominent in the fade. It’s always delightful to hear a different take on an old favorite, and I’m really pleased that this is out there. You should definitely pick this up if you’re inclined and if you’ve never heard Marianne Faithfull, then this single should make you a fan. Hopefully, when “Broken English” gets a deluxe remaster, these cuts will be appended as bonus tracks. But until then, you know what to do.