Marianne Faithfull's Broken English


In this article we look at Marianne’s classic album “Broken English” and Steve Winwood’s involvement on this album. The album was recorded and issued in 1979 on Island Records. Marianne said “I thought that I was going to die, that this was my last chance to make a record. It’s this sense, that fucking hell, before I die, I’m going to show you bastards who I am” and with this album she certainly did.

With her early work in pop and rock music in the 1960s, she was mainly known for her hit single “As tears go by”, which was subsequently overshadowed by her struggle with drug abuse in the 1970s. From 1966 to 1970, she had a publicised romantic relationship with The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger. She co-wrote “Sister Morphine” with Mick and Keith Richards, which is featured on the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album. Her solo version of this is included in the Deluxe Edition version of Broken English which we will be describing here. During the first two-thirds of the 70’s, she produced two barely noticed studio albums. But after a long commercial absence, she returned late in 1979 with the highly acclaimed album
Broken English.

As the decade was moving towards the end of the “Punk Rock” period, Marianne said that “Punk made the album possible”. Its attack and theme’s would not have seemed appropriate to record before then. Through 1978 and into ’79 with her band comprising of Joe Maverty and Barry Reynolds on guitar’s, Terry Stannard on Drums and Steve York on bass, they worked live continually on songs written with Marianne in mind for an intended album which would eventually become Broken English. Marianne said of that time that the audiences were expecting “As tears go by” but instead got “Why’d ya do it” and if you know this particular song, then you’ll know what a contrast it is against “As tears…” !
Broken English was also to reveal a dramatic change to Faithfull's singing voice. The melodic vocals on her early records were replaced with a raucous, deep voice, affected by severe laryngitis, years of smoking, drinking and drug use.

Producer Mark Miller Munday who was a Co-Producer on Steve Winwood’s 1977 first self titled solo album, attended one of her gigs and liked what he heard. He arranged for some demos of her songs to be recorded. They were in turn played to Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell who also liked what he heard and agreed to finance the recording of an album. Marianne and the band were pretty tight from constant gigging and working and reworking of the intended tunes, that recording the album took little time at all. The original mix of the album is included on Disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition which apparently Marianne much preferred to what was eventually released and recognised as the definitive version of the album.

Mark Miller Munday felt that the original mix of the album, although very good, could be improved somehow with an experimental edge. Perhaps by getting some “heavy friends” in to add flourishes. Marianne wasn’t too keen on that idea but when it was suggested that Steve Winwood come in and lay down keyboards and synthesisers she agreed, which he duly did and the album was re-mixed highlighting his contribution. Marianne said “ The only star that I would allow on the album was Steve Winwood and I wasn’t entirely sure about him. I had the rough mixes of just me and the band and I thought they were great. I was afraid when Steve came in that he would oversweeten it, over electrify and over synth it, so when he arrived at the session I made sure that I sat on his head. I directed Winwood. I wouldn’t let Munday say a thing. There was obvious tension between Steve and Munday. You could see he’d been through this before.”

Marianne later felt that the album was overproduced, her preferring the gutsier original mix. Over the years she somehow lost her copy of the original mix. However for the Deluxe Edition project, the original gutsier mix was found in Island Records tape vaults and appears on Disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition. And it makes for a very good comparison of how it originally was against the Winwood enhanced version that was released. In listening to both versions one after the other, Winwood’s contribution to the final product becomes clear.

Comparing the original mix against the album actually released.

1. Broken English.
This song was inspired by a book on The Bader Meinhof terrorists which was entitled Hitler’s Children. It was written by Marianne and her band.
The original mix features Marianne’s 4 piece Band as described above. No keyboards or synthesisers present.
The released version features bassy synthesiser added to the main rhythm of the song boosting its hook. Additionally other layers of synthesisers, some bubbling under and others flying out of both of the stereo channels

2. Witches Song. Written by Marianne and her band.
The original mix is guitar heavy, acoustic mainly. There is what sounds like a synthesiser present, perhaps played by a member of the band. But this is very subtle and quite low in the mix.
The released version starts with a kind of groaning or like wind howling synthesiser in the background. Additionally synthesiser boosts the melody hook and lifts it. Synthesiser flurries appear now and again across each channel and the groaning/howling loop makes further appearances.

3. Brain Drain. Written by Ben Brierley and Tim Hardin.
The original mix is of the band with a strong guitar, Bass and Drums rhythm. No keyboards present.
The released version. Hammond organ appears around 1 minute 30 seconds for a period and then comes back in around 3 minutes in and continues until the end of the song.

4. Guilt. A Barry Reynolds Song.
The original Mix. Guitar driven. An electric piano appears adding tone here and there but does not feature prominently. Also a little synthesiser on the right channel very low in the mix. Keyboards player unknown. Sax comes to the fore and electric piano and synth rise a little in the mix towards its end.
The released version. First notes are a Synthesiser which remains all the way through. Electric piano is higher in the mix this time. Synthesisers fly around in the background. Synthesiser comes in to boost the songs rhythm and layers of which continue to fly around in the background.

5. The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. A Shel Silverstein song.
The original mix. Guitar, bass and drums hammer out a rhythm with additional strummed guitar over the top. A little synth, low in the mix comes in on the left channel then fades away. Synth later reappears around 2 minutes in and then fades again. Synth comes in again around 2 minutes 40 seconds on both channels, discreetly and subtly the song continues on and then fades to close.
The released mix. Synthesiser over the top of the guitars lead the rhythm. Another synthesiser joins in and is then joined by a third. Synthesiser dominates this song, Mariannes vocal apart of course. Synthesiser plays the song out.

6. What’s the hurry. Written by Joe Maverty of Marianne’s band.
The original mix. Guitars multi tracked across both channels. No keyboards present.
The released mix. Guitars slightly lower. A synthesiser soaring above and around sporadically adding to the hook.

7. Working Class Hero. The John Lennon song. Yoko Ono later told Marianne that John very much liked her version of his song.
Original Mix. Guitar and bass hammer out the pulsating rhythm aided by a strong guitar over the top sporadically. Drums come in low, High Hat predominant and the bass drum thumping out a pulse. Additional guitars come in.
The released mix. Similar to the original mix at first. Synthesisers come in around the 1 minute 20 second point and burble and flurry around from that point on. Hammond Organ I believe also around the 2 minute 40 second point briefly.

8. Why’d’ ya do it. Written by Heathcoat Williams and Marianne and her band. This was based upon a Heathcote Williams poem that he wanted translated into a Rock n Roll Song. He originally envisioned Tina Turner recording it but was made to be convinced that Marianne would be exactly the right person to carry it off. Sexually explicit and containing four letter words. I just cannot imagine Tina Turner having ever recorded something like this. It might have damaged her career. Marianne’s career was all the better for it. Marianne sings this with venom, spite and anger in her powerful vocal. Her “Frankenstein” as she called it.
The original mix. Guitar heavy with a drum and bass pulsating rhythm. The melody is almost reggae like in parts. Hammond Organ present in the background. Sax floats around in the background midway into the song. This version comes in at 8 minutes 42 seconds.
The released mix. This comes in at 6 minutes 49 seconds and is better for it in my opinion. Hammond organ present as before in the original version although higher in the mix this time. Not sure if Steve is on this track, unless he re-recorded the Hammond part which is possible. There appears to be something towards the end of the song which seems artificially electric if I may call it that, perhaps synth based. It adds to the cacophony of noise as the song builds towards a close.

The two disc Deluxe edition features the released album Remastered. Clarity of instruments and the stereo soundstage sounds very good at least to my ears. Disc One also includes a 3 song video shot by “experimental” film maker Derek Jarman which is in MP4 format and can be viewed on your computer. On mine it opens in Quick Time for example.
It can be seen on youtube at:

Disc Two contains the Original Mix of the album (previously unreleased) and bonus tracks of Sister Morphine, three versions of Broken English being the 7inch Single Version, the 7inch Remix Version and what has been called “The Long Version” which is the most interesting of the three tracks because it has an extended synthesiser part. Finally the 12inch Remix Version of Why’d Ya Do It

In conclusion.

I bought this album on vinyl back in 1979 and played it to death at that time I recall. At least one or two cd versions have been released prior to this Deluxe Edition being issued early in 2013. Again, I’ve played it to death several times recently but this time more from a critique perspective. And I still love it and appreciate it even more now. Glad I waited until this Deluxe version was released. The original mix of the album, which in my opinion is very good, is enhanced by Steve Winwood’s keyboards in the final released version and you could say that his contribution helps to make it a classic album. But it’s Marianne’s album most definitely and that of her band whose togetherness and playing is just excellent. Winwood certainly plays keyboards on at least 6 of the songs on this album and possibly all eight. It was said somewhere that Marianne said that Steve played on the whole album, but I’m not sure where that quote came from.

It was also said somewhere I seem to recall and a friend said this also to me recently, that Marianne and Steve fell out after the album was released or at some other point. Whether this is true or not is not clear. But the evidence is that Marianne and Steve worked together again on her 1981 follow up album Dangerous Acquaintances. Together they co-wrote a song called “For Beauty’s sake”. Listening to the track it sounds like Winwood’s keyboard playing but I don’t believe he is credited as a musician on the album. But I could be wrong, maybe this is around the fall out point as mentioned earlier. It’s rumoured also that he played on at least one other track on this album, Tenderness having been quoted and perhaps one or two others. There again, perhaps this is another tale to be told.

Article by Eddie Gibbs. October 2013
with acknowledgement to sources.